The Future of Poland
By Herbert Adams Gibbons
[The Century Magazine, December 1916]
The Poles no longer have a common country, but they have a common language. They will remain, then, united by the strongest and most durable of all bonds. They will arrive, under foreign domination, to the age of manhood, and the moment they reach that age will not be far from that in which, emancipated, they will all be attached once more to one center.—Talleyrand, after his return from the Congress of Vienna, 1815.
Great Britain and France, as well as Russia, Austria, and Prussia, were signatories of the Treaty of Vienna, and were bound by their signatures to enforce its provisions. The first article of the final act of the Congress of Vienna declared solemnly, "The Poles, subjects respectively of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, will obtain national representation and national institutions." Russia, in addition, undertook to preserve separate and autonomous the kingdom of Poland, which was to enjoy its own laws, language, and constitution. During the hundred years that Europe lived under the regime established by the Congress of Vienna, Russia, Austria, and Prussia constantly and consistently regarded their international obligation toward the Poles as a "scrap of paper." British and French diplomats of successive ministries never lifted a finger to help the Poles to retain those rights guaranteed to them at Vienna. They were content to send notes of mild remonstrance to Russia after the disgraceful events of 1831 and 1863. and to Austria when the republic of Cracow was suppressed in 1846. It is only since the beginning of the present war that the surprising thesis has been developed in London and Paris that a nation is materialistic and has no sense of honor when it does not rush into war over questions of principle and humanity which do not vitally affect its own national interests, and that it is a sign of weakness, pusillanimity, and indecision for statesmen to send notes!
Among enlightened liberals in all nations, and especially in France, there has been deep sympathy for the martyrdom of Poland, and a desire to see her historic wrongs righted. But during the decade preceding the outbreak of the European War the Poles learned that they had no friends anywhere among the nations. For when Germany and Russia entered into a new era of persecution, more formidable than any experienced in the past, there was no protest except from Austria-Hungary, who had manifestly an ax to grind. More than that, old friends in Great Britain and France, with an eye to conciliating Russia, not only became indifferent in the hour of trial, but even attempted to justify, or at least condone, the crimes of Russia. Long before the events of August, 1914, proved the reality of the Triple Entente, the approaching Anglo-Russo-French alliance was foreshadowed by the way London and Paris journalism handled the Polish question. If there is one lesson for Americans in the European War and the events which preceded it, it is that we must write our own history and do our own reporting. Otherwise we are sure to be misinformed about what has been done and is being done in Europe. Prejudice, hopeless bias, insincerity, special pleading are the order of the day among European writers.
The violation of Russia's international obligations to Poland and Finland have been explained on the ground that the old Russian policy was dictated by the bureaucracy, and that all would be changed when the will of enlightened Russian liberalism began to make itself felt. The institution of the Duma was hailed as the beginning of a new era for Russia, just as the reestablishment of Abdul-Hamid's constitution was hailed as the beginning of a new era for Turkey. There seemed to be a curious failure, and there still is, on the part of Occidental observers to realize that the attempt to graft our constitutionalism upon these two Oriental organisms could not bring forth the fruit confidently predicted and immediately expected. The democracy of western Europe is a slow growth, born of Rome, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, nurtured by the tears and blood of our ancestors through many generations, and made secure through general education. What can we hope for in eastern Europe and Asia in less than a decade?
Poland and Finland have fared far worse at the hands of Russia since the Duma came into being than before. The Russian liberals are nationalists of the most virulent type, and they believe that the full play of constitutionalism is possible only after the entire empire has undergone thorough Russification. So they have waged a bitter war against the Poles by reducing Polish representation in the Duma, by opposing local self-government for municipalities, by refusing the Poles the privilege of being educated in their own language, and by searching for the development of existing laws and the invention of new laws to ruin the Poles economically. It is the fashion to-day to hold up Austria-Hungary under the Hapsburgs as the shining example of the oppressor of small nationalities that have been seeking to lead their own lives. Certainly none can deny the oppression of the Slavic nationalities in the dual monarchy by the German and Magyar bureaucrats of Vienna and Budapest. I was in Agram, the capital of Croatia, during that memorable spring of 1912, when the iniquity of Austro-Hungarian oflficialdom was laid bare before the world. Only three months later I was in Helsingfors, the capital of Finland, and it was while I was investigating the Russian persecution of the Finns that I read an "inspired" news article from Petrograd which attempted to justify the separation of the province of Khelm from the kingdom of Poland. Never, in the worst days of the iron heel, had the old Russian despotism gone so far as to impair the territorial integrity of the Poland intrusted to Russia by the Congress of Vienna.
During the last decade the Prussian Government, also, without interference from the imperial Reichstag, has carried on a brutal and cynical war against the Poles of Posnania and eastern Prussia. The aim of German statesmen, like those of Russia, has been to stamp out Polish nationality by every possible means. Some Socialists and a certain section of the Catholic Center protested in the Reichstag and in the press against Prussia's anti-Polish measures, pointing out their folly as well as their illegality; but the great bulk of the German lawmakers profess the same narrow nationalism as the Russian lawmakers. They are determined to give no quarter to Poles who have the misfortune to be German subjects until they abandon their nationality and their language. From 1848 until the outbreak of the present war Germany has displayed complete solidarity with Russia in her treatment of the Polish question. The dictum has been: 'Poland is dead. She must never be resuscitated."
Of the partitioners, Austria alone gave the Poles autonomy, and allowed them freedom in the development of their national life and their national institutions. Galicia has enjoyed a peculiarly fortunate geographical and political position since the formation of the dual monarchy in 1867. To keep the Bohemians in check, to prevent the spread of Russian propaganda, to forestall the possibility of the German element being put in a minority in the Vienna Reichsrath by a Panslavic combination, Austrian statesmen have consistently curried favor with the Poles. Thanks to the exigencies of Austrian internal politics, Galicia has become the foyer of Polish nationalism, and from Cracow and Lemberg has gone forth the light that has kept alive and fostered the hope of the ultimate realization of the aspirations of the Polish people. Many Poles have resented deeply what they call the Galicians' indifference to, or, as it is sometimes more strongly put, betrayal of, the Pan-Polish ideal. But it is not because they refuse to put themselves in the other man's place and to realize that he who gets must give. It would be strange indeed if the Galicians, comparing their lot with that of Poles under the Romanoffs and the Hohenzollerns, should remain uncompromising and unwilling, if only for policy's sake, to give a certain measure of loyalty and show a certain measure of appreciation to the Hapsburgs.
But from an economic point of view the Poles under the Hapsburgs have suffered serious handicaps for which political autonomy was only a partial recompense. If we believe in the principle that all subjects of a state have a right to free and unrestricted enjoyment of the advantages accruing from membership in that state, and are not to be discriminated against or exploited for the profits of others, there is ground for a serious indictment against the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy in the treatment of the Poles, however favored they may have been politically. Nearly one third of Austria's grain, more than two fifths of her potatoes, one half of her horses, and one fourth of her cattle are raised in Galicia. Hungary and portions of Austria specialize in the same products, so that the agriculture and stock-raising of Galicia are not essential to the well-being of the empire. And by refusing logical railways and canal construction, Austria and Hungary have kept Galicia in a position of inferiority for export of agricultural products and stock. There has been equal malevolence in the way Austria has blocked the development of Galicia's salt to prevent competition with Salzburg, and Galicia's coal and iron to prevent industrial competition. Austria, enjoying free trade with Galicia, has forced her manufactured products upon the Poles, and they have been powerless to compel her to take from Galicia a full equivalent in Galician products. Only the discovery of petroleum, which is not found elsewhere in the dual monarch, has enabled Galicia to prosper in the face of artificial economic disadvantages.
From the point of view of intention, and in execution, the Russian exploitation of Poland has been far worse. Since 1865, Polish proprietors in Ruthenia and Lithuania have been compelled to pay into the Russian treasury a super-tax of ten per cent. on their incomes. The kingdom of Poland, with only one fifteenth of the population, has of recent years been mulcted for nearly one fourth of the entire revenue of the Russian Empire. Besides supporting between two and three hundred thousand foreign functionaries, oppressors, and criminals, the Poles have furnished a large part of the funds for Russia's activities in Siberia and central Asia, for the money raised by taxes is not spent in the country. The Poles, powerless to legislate for themselves and to control the expenditures of the tremendous taxes wrung from them, have had to struggle against the handicap of the most miserable roads in Europe. In this day of international commerce, when transportation facilities mean much, Russian Poland, both in proportion to inhabitants and to area, has fewer railways than any other country in Europe. Taking wagon-roads and railways together, Russian Poland holds the lowest place among the civilized countries of the world. Russian Poland is perhaps also the only country of the world where public primary education has fallen off in the last four hundred years. The Russian exploiters, filling their treasury with Polish money, maintained, according to the census of 1912, only 4641 primary schools in Poland, with 282,000 pupils. This means one school for every 2750 inhabitants, while the rest of Russia enjoys a school for every 1430 inhabitants. In the same territory, in the year 1500, the Poles had a primary school for every 2250 inhabitants. The most sweeping suppression of public education in Poland has come since the establishment of the Duma. In 1906 nearly a thousand primary schools were closed in Poland without explanation or justification. In the kingdom of Poland, right down to the opening of the present war, the regime of bitter oppression continued. There was no liberty of speech, of association, of teaching, of press, and even the private expression of one's opinion led to banishment, imprisonment, or death.
Despite the ill will and incompetency of the bureaucracy, Russian Poland has prospered wonderfully from the industrial point of view, and has gained steadily in importance as a manufacturing country. Warsaw has grown to over a million inhabitants, and the growth of Lodz is comparable to that of the great industrial cities of Germany, England, and America. In their industrial life the people of Poland have benefited by the union with Russia, for they have been able to develop their manufactures with the view of supplying the needs of the greatest country of Europe—a country in which industry is far behind that of other nations. It is not surprising that those who have benefited by the open door to Russian markets have been willing to submit to political persecution and even to economic discrimination. What matters it if railway rates are so arranged that freight from Warsaw to Moscow pays a considerably higher tariff than freight from Moscow to Warsaw? As long as Russia cannot compete with Poland in manufactures, the industrial element in Poland is willing to grin and bear this discrimination. But it is not the same for agriculture, which is, after all, the chief source of wealth of every country. Russian Poland is marvelously rich, and its inhabitants are as industrious as any in the world. They get along. But how much better they could do if they had a fair chance! Under Russian rule Poles have emigrated in great numbers, and hundreds of thousands who ought to have plenty to do at home must go every year to Germany to find work at living wages.
From the purely material point of view the Poles cannot claim to be badly off under German rule. They have benefited fully as much as the Germans themselves by the prosperity of the German Empire since its unification. Roads are good and well kept up. Railways are abundant. The economic organization is superb. One has only to study the figures of Polish bank balances in Prussia to see that the Poles have received their full share of the prosperity which has come to Germany in the last thirty years. More than this, despite hostile legislation, they have personally enjoyed the protection and privileges of the German laws. There are schools for all in Prussian Poland. Polish working-men share in the benefits of enlightened German social legislation. The press is free. For this reason Posen, and not Warsaw, has become the center for books, magazines, and newspapers in the Polish language. German Poles have everything but the right to be Poles and govern themselves. The attitude of the Prussian Junker to the Pole is very similar to that of the English Tory to the Irishman: "You have the full dinner-pail. Your union with us is of enormous benefit to you. Why, in the name of Heaven, are you not satisfied?"
Up to the outbreak of the war in 1914, Russia, Germany, and to a certain extent Austria, ignored the possibility of the resurrection of the Polish nation. They had declared so repeatedly that the independence of Poland was a chimera, that "agitators" who kept alive the feeling of nationality among their Poles were criminals and working against the best interest of their people, that the rest of Europe, the whole world, in fact, had ended by believing that the Polish question was dead. No more striking illustration of this can be found than in the simple fact that three years ago a writer could not get published in a big newspaper, much less in a leading magazine or review, any article dealing with the possibility of the resurrection of Poland. I know, for I have tried. The invariable answer was that there was no interest in the Polish question or that the Polish question did not exist.
But when the participants of Poland came to blows among themselves, the world awoke suddenly to the fact that the Polish question was not dead, that the Poles had kept alive through a century of martyrdom their consciousness of race, and that they were numerous enough to have a decisive effect upon the issue of the war. How bitterly the Germans must have rued the Prussian policy of antagonizing the Poles! What an advantage the Central Powers would have enjoyed had the Prussian Landtag shown toward the Poles in the last decade the same liberal spirit as the Austrian Reichsrath! If Germany and Austria-Hungary had been able to get together at the very beginning of the war, and had announced to all the Poles that they intended to restore Poland as an independent nation, Russia would have been powerless to strike a blow on the eastern front. But chickens came home to roost for Germany immediately. In view of the bitter Prussian persecution during the last decade, how could the Poles be expected to have more faith in German promises than in the words of the Grand Duke Nicholas? The Poles did not know where they stood, and had little reason to put any faith at all in the fair promises of either side.
The first months of the war were a period of enthusiasm, when clear, detached thinking was virtually impossible for any one. No man with red blood in his veins could be really neutral. One simply had to take sides, and the fact that Russia was the ally of France, and that the offensive movement of the Russian armies relieved the pressure upon Paris, was sufficient for men of liberal thought throughout the whole world to do their very best to accept and believe the Russian promises made to Poland in the Grand Duke Nicholas's proclamation.
Even in August, 1914, however, it was very difficult to take at face-value this stirring appeal for Polish friendship. The Russian change of heart lay under the natural suspicion of being due to expediency and determined by the military exigencies of the moment. This suspicion grew when the grand duke's promises were not confirmed by an imperial ukase. Then came the temporary Russian successes in Galicia and the capture of Lemberg. Russia had her moment of great opportunity. But instead of conserving Polish liberties enjoyed under Austrian rule in this historic Polish city, Russian officials, military and civil, started right in on the old policy of sweeping Russification, and let the Poles understand clearly that there was no hope of emancipation from Russia. It is not too much to say that had Russia been successful in her initial campaign and kept the Germans out of Poland, we should have heard no more of the promises of August, 1914.
Hard a blow as it was, then, to the cause of the Allies, the entry of the Germans into Warsaw was a distinct step forward for the realization of Polish aspirations; while the failure of the Russians to capture Cracow and their debacle in eastern Galicia could not be looked upon by the Poles in any other light than as rescue from a great danger. I do not mean to infer by this that the success of the Central Powers, if permanent, would have resulted in the restoration of Poland to independence or autonomy. The decisive success of either group of belligerents, in a short war, would have meant for the Poles merely the passing from Scylla to Charybdis. Victorious Germany would not have needed to conciliate the Poles any more than victorious Russia. In fact, had the war lasted only one or two years, the question of Poland and her aspirations would easily and quickly have been forgotten in the peace conference. Had Germany been victorious, no voice would have been raised to compel her to settle the destinies of central and eastern Europe in any other way than in accordance with her own selfish desires. Certainly a protest in behalf of Poland would never have come from the German people. Is not the impotence of liberal sentiment in the imperial Reichstag to prevent the execution of Prussian iniquitous measures in Posnania during the last decade sufficient proof of this? On the other hand, had Russia been immediately and overwhelmingly successful, could liberal public sentiment in France and England have forced the czar's government to do the square thing by the Poles? We cannot forget the remarkable words of Lord Castlereagh to the House of Commons after his return from the Congress of Vienna in 1815. His comment upon the failure to resuscitate Poland was simply this: "There was undoubtedly a strong feeling in England upon the subject of independence and a separate government of Poland; indeed, there was, I believe, but one feeling, and, as far as I was able, I exerted myself to obtain that object." Nothing was ever done for Poland, even at the time of the events of 1831, 1846, and 1863, by the British Government and the British people.
But now that the Great War has entered its third winter, and the destinies of Europe are still in the balance, the question of Poland is more acute than ever before, and Poland has at last her opportunity to reappear upon the map of Europe. Both groups of belligerents have come to the realization that complete and overwhelming victory, even if they cherish the hope that it is still possible, will be too dearly purchased by the indefinite continuation of straight fighting. They are paying much more attention to scoring moves by manoeuvers of diplomacy than they did before the failure of the Verdun and Somme offensives. No field for conciliation and bargaining seems more profitable than that of Poland.
On the principle that when the whole loaf cannot be obtained half a loaf is better than nothing, tremendous pressure is being brought upon Russia by France and Great Britain to speak out plainly and unreservedly on the question of the future of Poland. It is being represented to Russia that 'the errors which followed the Galician victories of 1914 be not repeated after the Galician victories of 1916. Above all, the Poles must be offered the union, fully safeguarded, of Russia's Polish territories with whatever Polish territory may be wrested from Austria-Hungary and Germany. Germany has reached a similar conclusion in regard to the Poles, and has taken advantage of the Austro-Hungarian reverses at the hands of Russia and Italy to force the Austrians and Hungarians to reason. The Central Powers will undoubtedly establish an autonomous regime for reconstituted Poland in the very near future. If, through the stubbornness of Russia, the Allied Governments are foolish enough to allow themselves to be anticipated in making such an offer to the Poles, they will in self-defense have to match the proposal of the Central Powers. Otherwise, not only will they antagonize the Poles, but they will also alienate the sympathy of neutrals and of the genuinely liberal elements of their own electorates. For have they not proclaimed from the housetops that they are waging this war for the freeing of oppressed and subject nationalities?
The Poles are undoubtedly placed in an extremely embarrassing and delicate situation. For nearly one and one half million Poles are fighting on opposing sides, and another half-million of military age are within the spheres of influence of the two groups of belligerents, and are being called upon to take arms "against the oppressor" in "liberating" armies. What Sir Roger Casement did in Germany is being done to-day among prisoners of war in all the prison camps of Europe. The invitation to treason (for it is treason to fight with the enemy against the nation of which one is a subject) is being given to Poles everywhere. The invitation is coupled with a threat. Both sides tell the unhappy Poles that if they do not now choose to "fight for Poland," the promises will naturally be withdrawn. As Germany and Austria have the greatest number of Polish prisoners and hold virtually all of what is ethnographically Polish territory, the danger is greatest to Poles of Russian subjection who are at present at the mercy of the Central Powers. There is only one way of safety, and that is for the Poles to stick resolutely, on technical grounds, to their present allegiance, and not to spoil the future by acting for one or the other of the belligerent groups. The people of Russian Poland may suffer at the hands of Germany by such a stand, but they will not lose in the long run. For if they are loyal to Russia during this period of trial, the self-respect of the Allies will never tolerate putting them back again under Russian slavery when the war is ended. Similarly, after what has happened in Ireland, the English people cannot hold against the Poles of Galicia and Posnania the fact that they remain loyal for the duration of the war to Austria and Germany.
All the world is longing for peace. We must begin now to prepare for the difficult task of making peace. A durable peace can come only through the determination of enlightened men throughout the whole world to see that justice is done to every race involved in the struggle. Otherwise, another treaty of Vienna or of Berlin will impose upon our children and our grandchildren a sacrifice of blood and treasure and a burden of human suffering similar to that which we are making and bearing during these years of horror.
Foremost among the problems to be solved is that of the future of Poland. There is only one satisfactory solution—the renascence of Poland as an independent state. Lovers of justice and friends of peace must work for this object with all their heart and soul. To this end it behooves us to establish a propaganda of information, free from bias and prejudice, so that the reasons for this only safe and just solution of the Polish problem be put clearly before those who are fighting, those who are paying the price of the fighting, and those whose sympathy goes out to the fighters and the sufferers.
There are four considerations that we would do well to comprehend and ponder over in connection with the future of Poland.
1. The reconstituted Polish state must not be made subject in any way to Russia. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of ink that is being used these days to prove that Russia is the "big sister" of the Slavs, it is certainly not true in connection with the Poles, and it is doubtful if it is true in connection with any Slavic nation. We cannot bank on what Russia some day may become. To-day she is far behind other European nations in civilization, and will remain so as long as eighty per cent. of her population is illiterate.
Her Government is a corrupt Oriental despotism. The blood of her people is mixed, and the Asiatic strain is large and recent. During the approaching period of constitutional development her leaders are bound to show a narrow and fanatical nationalism, which makes impossible understanding of or proper relations with a subject nationality. The Poles, on the other hand, are a pure Slavic race who have received their culture and laws and religion from the West. They have nothing in common with the Russians. As a part of the Russian Empire they would prove the same thorn in the flesh to the Russians of the twentieth century as they have been to the Russians of the nineteenth century. After the experiment of the last hundred years it is unwise to yoke together again two nations in a different stage of development, of different background, and with different ideals, making the more advanced nation the political inferior of its social inferior. It may be advanced that the "guaranty of Europe" would protect autonomous Poland from Russian bad faith and aggression. But is bitter experience no teacher? In a great political organism only the relative feebleness of the predominant nationality safeguards the autonomy of other nationalities.
It is unsafe for the future of Europe to increase the dominions of Russia toward the west by the extension of the czar's sovereignty over German and Austrian Poland. This statement needs neither amplification nor argument to thinking man.
2. The reconstituted Polish state must not be made subject in any way to Germany. Germany, with less excuse than Russia (for she pretends to, and actually does, enjoy a far higher degree of civilization and enlightenment), has a black record of arrogance toward and intolerance of other nations whose legitimate aspirations have stood in the path of her political and commercial expansion. Her good faith cannot be depended upon. If Poland, either as a semi-independent or autonomous state, is placed under the tutelage of Germany, the Germans will leave no stone unturned to bind the Poles hand and foot. Although the new Polish state would have about fifteen million inhabitants, it would stand little chance of resisting German aggression. For ninety per cent. of the Poles follow agricultural pursuits. Their industries and commerce are almost entirely in the hands of Germans and Jews; so they would be powerless to use the weapon of economic boycott against Germany, and would gradually be assimilated by their powerful Western neighbor. German statesmen and publicists know this fatal weakness of Poland, which can be remedied only by a wholly independent national life. The Germans have studied their trump-cards, and do not hesitate to undertake the management of a united Poland. The suggestion that reunited Poland be made a constituent member of the Hapsburg dominions is equally inimical to the realization of Polish aspirations. The present war has irrevocably committed Austria-Hungary to a common destiny with Teutonic Europe. Vienna and Budapest will continue to act with Berlin.
3. The boundaries of the reconstituted state must be determined not on historical grounds, but solely by conservative, unsentimental ethnological considerations, and by sound economic and political considerations.
In this the Polish question is similar to many other questions that will come before the makers of the new map of Europe. The most perplexing problem of forming national boundaries, of reconciling conflicting national aspirations, is that of irredentism. Irredentism is a term used to describe the desire of states which have come into existence in the nineteenth century to extend their boundaries so as to include adjacent populations of the same race and language and adjacent territories which were in the past historically theirs. Most of the later states that have appeared on the map of Europe are strongly influenced by irredentism. Irredentism is the cause of the antagonism and rivalry between the Balkan States. Irredentism is the cause of Italy's and Rumania's intervention in the war. It is the disease which has denatured the German people. It is the rock upon which Poland may he shipwrecked.
In solving irredentist difficulties, it is important to keep two facts in mind: that nationalism is a product of the nineteenth century, and that the formation and evolution of political organisms have been, and always will be, influenced fully as much by economic as by racial considerations. In dealing with the Balkan problem one must emphasize the cardinal fact that the various races of the Balkan peninsula were subjected to the Ottoman yoke centuries before the feeling of nationality was born in the European races. Therefore any attempt to go back to tradition and historic claims in the formation of a modern state is illogical and mischievous. The Germans found this to their cost when they annexed Alsace and Lorraine on the ground of irredentism. They sowed the seed for another war. Will Italy attempt to saddle herself with a similar cause for inevitable future conflict with Teuton and Slav by trying to annex the territories at the head of the Adriatic? Will Rumania try to cross the Carpathians?
One reads the abundant literature of Polish nationalists with misgiving and sinking of the heart. Poland went to her downfall as an independent nation by refusing to recognize the loss of territories on the west and northwest through the working of economic laws, and by diffusing her energies and making herself vulnerable to the extension of her political system over eastern and southeastern territories that could not be assimilated. In the last generations of her existence she went on the principle of all or nothing. The result was two partitions and nothing. It is altogether hopeless for the Poles of to-day to believe that they can include in their new Poland all their historic territories. No cataclysm of defeat, whichever way the fortune of war turns, is going to compel Germany and Russia to give up Silesia, the Prussian Baltic coastline, Lithuania, Volhynia, and Podolia, and it is doubtful if the Poles can make good their claim to the eastern portion of Galicia. Even if economic and political considerations do not militate against the Polish claims to these territories, the hard facts of present ethnological conditions are not in favor of the Poles.
Many patriotic Poles who read these words will think either that I am misinformed and an ignoramus or that I have at heart no real sympathy with or understanding of Polish aspirations. The limits of a magazine article do not permit me to elaborate the arguments against unreasonable Polish irredentism. But how can you argue with the man who, when you point out to him that the population of Dantsic is only four per cent. Polish, replies, "We have been under the German yoke: now they must taste ours"? His mind is fixed not only upon unrealities, but also upon impossibilities. Who is going to force Russia and Germany to give up historic Polish territories, and some of them lost centuries before the first partition? Certainly not the Poles, or the rest of Europe combined. Never in the history of the world has it been more imperative for us all to face cold facts than it is to-day. Irredentism, except where it is a question of a homogeneous population whose economic interests would be favored by union with the mother country, has nothing in common with facts and logic.
Possible independent Poland would include about two thirds of Posnania from Germany; the kingdom of Poland, including Khelm, from Russia; and Galicia, excluding the eastern territory known as Red Ruthenia, from Austria. It is conceivable that the issue of the war may compel or persuade the three partitioners of Poland to yield these territories to an independent Polish state.
4. The reconstitution of Poland as an independent state is not only a wise political step in establishing a durable peace, but is also an act of justice to one of the largest and best races of Europe, which has purchased the right to be free by heroic sacrifices willingly made and by the ability amply demonstrated to survive and thrive through four generations of persecution.
Poland is the best example of the wisdom of the buffer-state theory. Russia and Germany, the largest and most powerful states in Europe, have been endeavoring to expand each in the direction of the other. The partition of Poland was long held to be the bond that kept peace between them, for they were partners in crime. But their common frontier eventually brought them into conflict. German statesmen and publicists have frequently told me since the beginning of the war that the underlying, as well as the direct, cause of the present conflict w\as the ever-present nightmare of the Panslavic "Westward ho!" and that the Germans were fighting for European civilization against Asiatic invasion. On the other hand Russian polemicists claim that the Teutonic Drang nach Osten is the basic cause of the war from the point of view of their particular national interest. If this is true as far as the issue between Germany and Russia is concerned, why not restore Poland to her traditional historic post as the defender of Slavs against Teutons, and the outpost of Occidental Europe against invasion from the East?
The creation of an artificial buffer state closely allied in race and sympathies with one of the other of the rival powers or too weak to resist her neighbors would be a makeshift and a farce. But the Poles are neither pro-German nor pro-Russian, nor are they weak. In numbers, in brains, in vitality, in wealth, in unity of spirit, they are stronger to-day than ever in their history, and as an independent nation would very rapidly become the seventh great power of Europe. In considering the fitness of the Poles for independence it is just as absurd to hark back to the weakness and the faults of Poland of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as to judge Germany and Italy of to-day by the Germans and Italians of two hundred years ago. It is what the Poles are to-day that counts. Poland was partitioned before the Poles became a nation. Their birth as a nation has come in the period of bondage. Now they are ready to break the bonds, for they have arrived at that age of manhood which Talleyrand prophesied.
The Poles were once as enlightened and cultivated a people as any in Europe. They have come back to their former place in Galicia. In Posnania they have confounded every effort of German Kultur and organization to assimilate them, and in the face of Prussian Landtag, Prussian officials, and Prussian schoolmasters, they have gained in lands, in wealth, and in knowledge of their own language and literature since 1896. In Russian Poland economic and political handicaps have brought an increasing degree of superiority in wealth and culture to their oppressors.
There are more Poles to-day in the world than ever before, and their fecundity is unrivaled. Their national feeling was never deeper-rooted and more intelligent. If a Pole tells you he is in favor of autonomy under Germany or Russia or Austria, he is lying for expediency's sake or he is a Jew or he has some narrow selfish business interest stronger than patriotism. The Poles want only one thing, and that is independence. In this are they not like every other nation worth its salt? Would you not despise them if they did not long for that which you yourself hold to be the most precious thing in the world?
"Are you a patriot?" said Napoleon in 1810 to John Sniadecki, rector of the University of Vilna.
"Sire," answered the rector, "from my birth I have learned to love my country, and her misfortunes have only strengthened the love I bear for her." After an additional century of Poland's misfortunes, her children, scattered over the whole world, would give the same answer. And there are seven times as many of them now as there were then.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald