The New Europe/Volume 3/Poles, Czechs and Jugoslavs

The New Europe, vol. III, no. 34  (1917) 
Poles, Czechs and Jugoslavs by Panther

The New Europe
Vol. III, No. 34. 7 June 1917

Poles, Czechs and Jugoslavs

There are 10 million Germans in Austria among 28 1/2 million inhabitants, and 10 million Magyars in Hungary in 21 millions. Why, then, did these other nationalities of the Monarchy, whom a German-Magyar victory would threaten with disaster, let themselves be drawn into the war? In the case of Hungary, the answer is very simple: its non-Magyar nationalities have no more influence on their Government than had the helots in Sparta. But the same cannot be said of Austria. The Czech, Polish and Jugoslav districts alone, though under-represented in Parliament when compared with the German provinces, had yet a total of representatives equal to that of the German members. Why, then, in spite of the numerical strength of these three nationalities, have the Germans and Magyars been able to dominate the foreign policy of the Habsburg Monarchy?

The Poles in Austria did not co-operate with the Czechs and Jugoslavs, and this has enabled the Germans to wreck Austrian Parliamentary life and to deprive the Austrian Parliament of any influence upon foreign policy. In the crisis of 1897 the compact minority of German Nationalists proved stronger than the composite and loosely-knit Slav majority, and, by sheer violence, overthrew the Cabinet supported by the Slav and Roman Catholic majority. The majority, very largely owing to the unwillingness of the Poles to go into opposition against any Government of His Habsburg Majesty, was unable to uphold its rights. The German minority thus established its absolute veto on legislation, and, in the interest of its own nationality, destroyed Parliamentary government in Austria. For, in reality, the Slavs had a greater interest in the maintenance of Parliamentary government than the Germans, who, forming the predominant element in the central Government offices in Vienna, could make their will felt without Parliament. Moreover, the Viennese Court is predominantly German; and, in the absence of a properly-constituted Parliament, the public opinion of the capital, which everywhere tends to exercise an undue influence on governments, acquires excessive importance. By the monopoly which the Magyars have fraudulently established for themselves in the Budapest Parliament, they have excluded the other nationalities of Hungary from all influence on foreign policy. In Austria the Germans have achieved the same result by wrecking Parliament.

They were able to do so because the Austrian Slavs failed to work together; there was practically no political connection between the Poles on the one hand and the Czechs and Jugoslavs on the other. They stood in different relations to the Austrian State and cherished different aims. “There is one striking fact in the life of our province (Galicia),” wrote, in 1866, Count Stanislas Tarnowski, one of the greatest statesmen of Austrian Poland, and now one of the few surviving actors of those fateful days, “and that is that, during all the time that we have been part of the Austrian State, we have established no connection with any of the other nations which form that State. . . . Apart from a fairly common sympathy for the Magyars, one would search in vain for any feeling for the other nationalities subject to the same rule as ourselves. . . . We have exercised no influence on any of them; we have been, and remain to the present day, strangers to them—they do not know us. . . . It is easy to understand why we have taken so little interest in those nationalities. They have a different past, different conditions of life, and, finally, a different centre of gravitation. Yet it is a pity, a great pity, that such are our relations.” These words can be repeated at the present day without any change. If anything, the relations between the Poles and the Czechs and Jugoslavs have become even less intimate than they were half a century ago.

In 1866 the Poles in Austria were dissatisfied irredentists, and their dissatisfaction with the Viennese Government and their desire to rid themselves of its interference in the affairs of Galicia formed a link between them and the other non-German nationalities of the Habsburg Monarchy. During the decade which followed on the establishment of the Dual System in 1867, and of constitutional government in Austria, they obtained a very large measure of home rule in Galicia. But they never thought of their inclusion in Austria as anything but provisional; a re-united Poland remained their ultimate ideal. Hence the profound difference between the Poles, Czechs, and Italians in their attitude towards the Habsburg Monarchy. The Italians have a national State of their own, and no settlement in Austria could ever satisfy them; their natural aim is immediate separation from Austria. The Czechs see their entire nation united within the Habsburg Monarchy; could they have transformed that Monarchy in a way which would have realised their national and constitutional claims they would not to-day be working for its destruction. The Poles did not wish to break off immediately like the Italians, nor did they ever think of working out for themselves a final constitutional settlement in Austria as the Czechs did for several generations—the Polish question cannot find its solution within the limits of Austria. Provided the Poles were given what they considered the necessary conditions for their national development in Galicia, they were willing to remain part of the Austrian State—only so long, of course, as there was no chance of their being re-united in an independent Poland. They lived in Austria but never felt themselves part of it. Their spiritual centre was not in the Habsburg Monarchy; it lay beyond the frontiers of their own province, in Warsaw, the capital of the kingdom of Poland. The political transformations of Russian Poland have been the determining factor in the history and politics of Galicia. The key to its life is a knowledge of the course of events in Warsaw just as the cause of the-movements of a satellite is revealed in those of its sun. The main political movements in Galicia have received their stimulus from Warsaw; in many of them the leaders were, and are, actually Russian Poles, frequently political refugees. All the windows of Austrian Poland opened in one direction: against Austria stood a blind wall. Thus the very conditions of their intellectual and political life predisposed the Austrian Poles to indifference towards the other nationalities of the Habsburg Monarchy.

But there were still other powerful factors which worked against a closer connection between the Poles on the one hand and the Czechs and Jugoslavs on the other. Within Austria the Poles have hardly any interests conflicting with those of the Germans. Galicia contains practically no German population; the German provinces of Austria contain no Polish minorities. Whilst the Czechs and Jugoslavs have to fight in their own homes a most bitter struggle against the Germans, since 1867 no very serious conflict has occurred between the Poles and the Austrian Germans. In fact, the most extreme German Chauvinists in Austria demand that Galicia should be given the most complete self-government in order that its representatives should leave the Austrian Parliament. This would enable the Germans to gain a clear majority in that Parliament, and they could then reduce the other Austrian nationalities—the Czechs and Jugoslavs—to the same position to which the Magyars have reduced their “subject races.” As a well-known Austrian-German historian once put it, “Since 1867 the German centralising ambitions in Austria have always stopped at the frontier of Galicia.”

Nor had the Poles any conflicting interests with the Magyars. The Czecho-Slovaks, Jugoslavs and Little Russians suffer harsh oppression in Hungary, but there are but few Poles within the Magyar dominions. The Poles, therefore, do not share the hostility which the other Slavs feel against the Magyars. Indeed, as Count Stanislas Tarnowski put it, the Magyars are the only nationality of the Habsburg Monarchy which enjoys a wide popularity among the Austrian Poles. Historic traditions and similar social conditions and institutions are a link between them—there are hardly any other two nations in Europe whose constitutional and social histories are so much alike. Their States were democracies within a wide class of nobility, something like the citizen community of Athens which, democratic in its own circle, was an uncompromising, exclusive aristocracy against outsiders. In both countries the idea of the nation was limited to the nobility, which was not bound either by language or race, but by caste and the ownership of land. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Polish nobility assimilated the upper classes of the Lithuanians, White Russians and Little Russians, just as did the Magyar nobility the Slovak and Roumanian gentry. These noble communities developed a peculiar culture of their own and made Latin their official language. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries little would have stood in the way of a still wider political union embracing Poland and Hungary; and, indeed, such a union was several times near realisation, but geographical reasons prevented it.

When the new linguistic conception of nationality came to assert itself against that of privileged citizenship, the Poles and Magyars found themselves again in a very similar position. Their gentries covered an infinitely wider area than that inhabited by the populations speaking their own tongues. The rise of democracy undermined Polish and Magyar imperialism. But the Poles and the Magyars do not intend to give in without a struggle; landed gentry do not commit harakiri for the benefit of their peasantry. The nationality of East Galicia is Little Russian, but the Polish nobility, which owns practically all the big landed estates in the country, has no intention of conceding its government to the Little Russians, just as the Magyar nobles and their new bourgeois associates refuse to submit to democratic Slav and Ruman majorities in the non-Magyar parts of Hungary.

The case of the Czechs and Jugoslavs in Austria was the very opposite to that of the Poles; their upper classes had very largely succumbed to the process of Germanisation, and, as in Ireland, democracy was their national interest. There could be but little sympathy between the Polish magnates and the Czech and Jugoslav peasant-democrats. The rising Slav nations of Western Austria and Hungary reminded the Polish nobility of Galicia too much of the Little Russian peasants. Even if they reminded them of their own Polish peasants of Western Galicia, the impression was hardly more reassuring. The Polish landowning gentry has lived in continual terror of its peasants, and this has given to the Austrian Government a peculiar hold over the representatives of the Polish nobility in Parliament. The Czechs and Jugoslavs had hardly any reason to fear the wrath of Vienna. The bodies and souls of the nation were, and are, their only status posssidendi, and these, at least in peace time, are inviolable. But the Polish upper classes of Galicia lived in a glass house, and could not throw stones at the Austrian Government, or else their privileges, economic and national, might have been broken. In return for the protection of these privileges they have served Vienna as the prætorians of the Habsburg dynasty. These Musterknaben were favourites of the dynasty, which always prefers aristocratic landowners to educated peasants.

To sum up: whilst, before the war, the Czecho-Slovaks, who are all included within the Habsburg Monarchy, were bound to work for a fundamental reconstruction which might secure for them their historic rights within the Monarchy, the Poles could desire nothing more than a profitable, temporary compromise. The final settlement of their national claims lay beyond the frontiers of Austria. Whilst the most vital national interests of the Czecho-Slovaks and the Jugoslavs clash with those of the Austrian Germans or of the Magyars, those of the Poles nowhere are in conflict with them. On the contrary, the Austrian Poles have their own imperialist status possidendi to maintain in Eastern Galicia, and if their merely provisional connection with Austria rendered a compromise tolerable for them, if the absence of interests clashing with those of the Germans and Magyars rendered it possible, the imperialist and class interests of the Polish gentry in Galicia rendered it necessary. In consequence, a silent agreement was established between the Poles and the Austrian Germans, which still further estranged the Czechs and Jugoslavs from the Poles.

It is only on a wider European plan that the Poles share the anti-German interest of the Czechs and Jugoslavs; their lands, taken together, extend between the Baltic and the Adriatic—they close the road to the German advance to the east and form a barrier against which the waves of German aggression had broken in the formative centuries of the Middle Ages. These waves have been returning with increased force in our own days, surging against the barrier and undermining its foundations; yet the anti-German interest has failed to unite the three Western Slav nations on one common issue. Each of them has had to fight on two fronts, both west and east; but whilst the eastern neighbour and oppressor of the Czecho-Slovaks and Jugoslavs was the Magyar régime at Budapest, to the Poles it was the double-faced reactionary Government of St. Petersburg. “A German in disguise,” as the Russian revolutionary leader, Michael Bakunin described it, it shared with Berlin the autocratic and anti-Polish interest. But, at the same time, it professed Panslavism in the Balkans, often not without sincerity, though in a narrow, Greek-Orthodox spirit; it worked for the liberation of the Balkan nationalities from Turkish rule, and opposed Austria’s plans for aggrandisement in the Peninsula. Lastly, in the name of nationality, Russia raised a claim against the Habsburg Monarchy for the unredeemed Little Russian land in East Galicia, in the Bukovina, and in north-eastern Hungary, though, again, its. autocracy managed to give to that claim a most unlovely form. To the Czecho-Slovaks and Jugoslavs Russia, the enemy of German rule in Austria, of Magyar dominion over Hungary and Croatia, and of Turkish empire in the Balkans, was the natural ally and protector. A free Russia is to them an infinitely dearer and truer friend than could be the old Russia, governed as it was by a German Court and by German feudal barons from the Baltic provinces. Yet, whatever German intrigue has managed to do against the Czechs and Jugoslavs in Petrograd (even during this war), Russia, under any form of government, remained to them the one Great Power with a Slav interest—their “big brother.” But the Poles had nothing to hope for from the pro-Germans at the old St. Petersburg, and even the just claims of nationality raised against Austria-Hungary for the Little Russian provinces ran counter to Polish Jingo-Imperialism in East Galicia. In recent years the position in East Galicia had become more complicated. The old Polish Uniate intrigue, taken up by the Austrian Government, had finally blossomed into an Ukrainian separatism of a most extreme type, which, when taken up by Berlin, led to an inextricable confusion of issues. East Galician politics became the happy hunting-ground of all the lowest intriguers, and their history during the last twenty years is almost equally discreditable to all parties concerned. There is good hope that the Russian Revolution will send fresh streams through these foul backwaters.

The Polish conflict with Berlin and St. Petersburg—both, until 1871, enemies of the Habsburgs; the feasibility of an arrangement between the Poles, the Germans and the Magyars within the Habsburg Monarchy; the fact that of the three partitioning Powers Austria alone was Roman Catholic: these three circumstances suggested at an early date to the Austrian Poles the idea of joining their interests to those of the Habsburgs, as against Prussia and Russia.

“In Your Majesty’s statement that he wishes to recognise and respect our nationality, we perceive the desire to put aside the treaties whereby Poland has been partitioned,” said Prince George Lubomirski, the spokesman of a Galician deputation to the Austrian Emperor in March, 1848. “Sire! If you care for the integrity of your throne and the well-being of your peoples, do not be too long in pronouncing the word of salvation. God has spoken it in heaven; you speak it on earth. . . . The Treaty of Vienna is broken all over Europe. War appears inevitable.” “Galicia, that province of ancient Poland, whose acquisition is acknowledged to have been illegal,” runs a resolution passed by the German Estates of Lower Austria on 20 April, 1848, “. . . aims at a reunion with the parts which have been appropriated by Prussia and Russia. It is not for Austria to repress the national aspirations of the Poles. . . .

The “universal war for the freedom of nations” for which the Poles prayed in 1848 failed to come. But during the eventful period of international politics, which extends between 1848–1871, the talk never subsided about “the historic mission of Austria,” and schemes were continually spun by Poles for a universal war against Berlin and St. Petersburg. These schemes usually presupposed the co-operation of France and Italy, sometimes also of Great Britain, and they ranged the entire gamut from the Vatican to Garibaldi. To some it was a Roman Catholic League which was to liberate Poland, to others a Young Europe. Even such a sober and cautious politician as Count A. Goluchowski (the-father of the Count Goluchowski, who was Austro-Hungarian Foreign Secretary 1895–1906) is known to have entertained such plans, and it ought to be mentioned in his honour that he, for one, kept in closer touch with the Czech and Jugoslav leaders than with Magyar pseudo-Liberals of the Kossuth type.

By 1871 the Polish schemes for a war against both Prussia and autocratic had passed into “the land where the dead dreams go.” Where was an ally to be found equal to such an enterprise? Great Britain kept aloof from Continental entanglements; France and Austria-Hungary, still staggering from the defeats of 1866 and 1870, had themselves to seek stronger allies; official Italy, equally afraid of republican revolution and clerical reaction, was no longer to be counted on. Thus the most which the Austrian Poles could reasonably attempt was to preserve to the full their national liberties in Galicia. There was, in fact, only one force in Europe with which the Poles could have thrown in their lot, had they been able to believe in its power and face the light of its burning fires—the Russian Revolution. It alone could work the miracle of Poland’s liberation. But even in Russian Poland itself could a landed gentry, an ultra-conservative aristocratic Church hierarchy, and the place-hunting preachers of Realpolitsk, be expected to answer the fiery call of revolutionary beacon-lights? The working classes of Russian Poland answered them in 1905. A flame of enthusiasm ran through Galicia, and every face was turned towards the East. During the next two years the Polish radicals and socialists fought the battle both against the Russian Government and against their own reactionary masters. Their aim was a Constituent Assembly at Warsaw, elected by universal suffrage to settle the future of Poland—the very terms held out to Poland in the Proclamation which the new Russia issued on 29 March, 1917. They fought the battle shoulder to shoulder with revolutionary Russia. Had the revolution of 1905 been successful and had its repercussion liberated the democratic forces in Austria-Hungary or, at least, by settling the Polish question in Russia, provided the three Western Slav nations of Austria with a common basis for an anti-Prussian foreign policy, who knows whether this war would ever have been needed? But freedom was not to come as yet. Reaction triumphed in Russia, and, as far as Poland was concerned, only so much was left of the achievements of 1905 as enabled the Polish reactionaries to negotiate with the reactionary Russian Government for a division of spoils and power. A new wave of refugees swept over Galicia—men who, having seen the collapse of the mighty Russian Revolution, began to doubt whether its victory could possibly be expected in their lifetime.

The votaries of Realpolitik from Austrian Poland were enriched by a new specious argument: all hopes built on Russian liberalism were vain; separation from Russia—that was the only hope for Poland In view of the Austro-German alliance, it was most convenient for the prætorians of the Vienna Hofburg to declare Russia the chief enemy, and to profess to believe in the possible “conversion” of the German Government. Mutatis mutandis—the same was done by the Polish would-be prætorians of the reactionary Government of Petrograd.

Which of these two cries found the greater echo in Austrian Poland? No one who has watched it can doubt that, however much the anti-German feeling was increasing in Galicia during recent years, the anti-Russian trend was still predominant in the popular feeling of the province. Galicia has always felt much more strongly with Russian Poland than with Posnania. Geographically, western Galicia is part of Russian Poland, a strip of land cut off at its base, for the Carpathians are the natural and ethnographical southern frontier of Poland. With Posnania, the centre of the Polish districts of Germany, Galicia has no frontier in common. Galicia remained continually in touch with the revolutionary movements of Russian Poland; ever since 1830 the most active and most vigorous elements from Russian Poland, when defeated in battle or caught in conspiracies, sought and found an asylum in Galicia—the anti-Russian interests of the Austrian Government securing to these fighters for liberty what Habsburg principles would otherwise never have conceded. The struggle of the Prussian Poles against German oppression was no less bitter but never culminated in violent outbreaks, and never drove its champions into exile. The fight against Tsardom was thus eternally before the eyes of the Austrian Poles in the persons of those who had waged it, whilst the systematic struggle against German economic and linguistic aggression did not appeal to them in an equally visible manner. Also, the character which the struggle against Tsarism produced in those who participated in it made the stronger appeal to popular imagination. In the slow, everyday fight against the Germans, the Poles of Posnania have acquired the virtues of hard labour and good management, and have gained in determination; they have become economically sound and vigorous, and have achieved a degree of democratic development unequalled in any other part of Poland. But, unfortunately, men learn from their enemies almost more than from their friends. Pious Christians scalping or impaling their enemies or revolutionaries using the very methods of terrorism from which they have suffered, are only outstanding illustrations of that rule. The Poles of Posnania have paid heavily for what they have learnt in the struggle against the Germans; they have become a narrow, uninspired and uninspiring petite bourgeoisie which, since about 1850, has failed to produce any intellectual movement, and from which its poets and artists fled in self-defence. On the other hand, Russian Poland, in spite of its official political representatives, has preserved the great traditions of the fighters for liberty. Intellectual leaders and heroes arose to fight and suffer in common with the Russian revolutionaries. The glamour of an heroic legend has surrounded these men in the eyes of their countrymen across the Austrian frontier, but over there in Galicia the echoes of the Polish struggle against Tsarism assumed a predominantly national character. An anti-Russian feeling grew up among the Austrian Poles far more melodramatic than in Russian Poland itself. Irishmen resident in Great Britain see their own national problem as part of a wider question; Irishmen in Ireland have witnessed the profound changes in the attitude of Great Britain, but the children of Irish emigrants in America who have never been either to Ireland or Great Britain are liable to hold to the present day views which are merely a sentimental survival of the Fenian days. The case of the Poles is very similar. Those who live scattered in Russia proper or in Lithuania have co-operated to the full with the Russians in the common work for a better future. The Polish leader from Moscow, Mr. Lednicki, was among those who signed the manifesto of Viborg, and fought the battle of Russian liberalism through thick and thin; he is now the acknowledged leader of the Polish democrats in Russia. The Poles from the Kingdom, although in contact with a much poorer type of Russians—very largely representatives of the late reactionary Government—have yet known the human side of the question, and were able to grasp that it was both possible and desirable to act in conjunction with the Russian nation. But to a large majority of the Galician Poles Russia had become a bogey; her name reminded them of Siberia, prisons and the knout; she was the Apocalyptic beast of their legends. Vienna triumphed once more. In international affairs there was even less chance for co-operation between the Czechs and Jugoslavs and the Poles than in home politics.

On the outbreak of war the idea of the “historic mission of Austria” with regard to Poland became the common platform of the Polish leaders in Galicia. The fact that the war was not fought against both Berlin and St. Petersburg, though no doubt always painfully present to the minds of the Galician Poles, was yet passed over by them. To the Polish Radicals war against Russia was a revolution against Tsarism; to the Galician Conservatives it was the natural continuation of the “prætorian” policy which they had followed out for half a century. The Galician Poles were building on the Habsburg basis, whilst, to the Czechs and Jagoslavs, liberty and national union could come only from the complete break-up of Austria-Hungary.

Then suddenly, in the third year of the war, the miracle of the Russian Revolution changed all the values in East European politics. Will the Poles draw the consequences from what has happened? Will they recognise that their own liberty can be firmly re-established only if the same principle of self-determination which Russia has conceded to them is extended also to the Czecho-Slovaks and Jugoslavs? Will they recognise that their indifference towards these nations, if explicable and excusable in the past, would now be a crime towards liberty and a menace to their own future? Will they rally to the cause of democracy, or will they intrigue for peace on an iniquitous basis, maintaining and even strengthening the German dominion over Austria and the Magyar rule in Hungary, satisfied if only their own independence can be bought at this price? That is the question which they will have to answer during the coming months. Anyone who understands their present position, their endeavours to build up a government and an army, the necessity for doing so in a country under Austrian and German occupation, can realise the enormous difficulties with which they are confronted. But the Poles must also understand to the full their responsibility to the world at large and to the liberty of other nations, and give up the game of reactionary Realpolitik through which, in the past, the honourable name of Pole has only too often been unworthily associated in the political life of Austria and Russia, with the sad activities of the unprincipled politician.

This work was published before January 1, 1927 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.