The Polish Problem


[The Independent; September 7, 1918]

The conference of the Kaisers at the German Headquarters has added a new complication to the already sufficiently perplexing problem of the future of Poland. Prince Radziwill, "the leader of the Polish delegation at the conference telegraphs back in triumph to Warsaw that all the demands of the Poles were conceded except the right to choose their own sovereign. We may surmize that he personally is not distrest about this exception since the king imposed upon Poland, the Austrian Archduke Stephen, has a Radziwill son-in-law.

The object of this new maneuver of the Central Powers is obviously to take the wind, out of the sails of the Allies by presenting as an accomplished fact what the Allies promised to do. When the Kaiser the other day received the Finnish Liberty Medal for his assistance in establishing the independence of Finland he boasted: "By our deeds we succeeded, without much talking, in accomplishing what our enemies never tire of proclaiming as their aim but which they never intend to realize, namely, the protection of small nations in their struggle for freedom." Next we may expect that he will be awarded another Liberty medal by his Polish partizans and will again brag of having anticipated the Allies in extending a helping hand to a nation struggling for freedom.

Now we know—and so do most of the Poles and Finns even in the countries concerned—that the factitious and fictitious freedom conferred by the Kaiser is a very different thing from the genuine independence designed by the Allies. Poland even under the Czars has never suffered more than during the three years it has been under the Kaisers. Its population has decreased from 14,000,000 to 10,500,000. Finland, under the German control, is being forced into a war against the Allies and America, and Poland is likely soon to be forced into the same situation. Poland under an Austrian sovereign and Finland under a German sovereign are not the lands for whose freedom Kosciusko fell and Svinhufvud was sent to Siberia.

But it is not enough for us to know these things. We must take care to make appearances correspond with facts. There is great danger that we may suffer a diplomatic defeat at the moment of military victory. The Germans are now bragging that by force of arms they freed France from the tyranny of Napoleon in 1871 and Russia from the tyranny of the Czar in 1917. It would be very embarrassing to us if history should record that, the Russian republic was overthrown and the Czar restored by aid of the Allies and America or that Finland, having gained its freedom by German arms, should by Allied and American arms be restored to Russia, which never had any right to it.

This is the diplomatic trap that is set for us and we must carefully if we would not fall into it. Our intervention in Russia has revived the hopes of the monarchists and there is danger lest they should dominate the combination of all the factions opposed to the Bolsheviki which is now forming under our protection. The Cossack General Semenov, whom our engineers and soldiers are aiding in Siberia, is avowedly fighting for the restoration of the Czar to the throne and of the Russian empire to its original extent.

Senator Lodge in his maiden speech as Republican leader in the Upper House on August 23 asserted as an "irreducible minimum" of the terms of peace that "The Polish people must have an independent Poland. The Russian provinces taken from Russia by the villainous peace of Brest-Litovsk must be restored to Russia." We wish Senator Lodge had been a little more clear and explicit in so important a pronunciamento. It sounds contradictory. Why does he except Poland and no other of the lost territories? Does he then hold that Finland, Courland, Esthonia, Livonia, Lithuania, Ukrainia, Bessarabia, Taurida, Caucasia, etc., are "Russian provinces taken from Russia by the villainous peace of Brest-Litovsk" and hence "must be restored to Russia" at any cost to us? If not, to which would he give the right of exclusion and why? As it stands, the statement might and doubtless will be used to give aid and comfort to the enemy for any of these people now rejoicing in the prospect of release from Russia might take it as an indication that the Allies and America are arrayed against them. Senator Lodge in this speech professes to be supporting the President, yet he calls the Soviet Government to which Mr. Wilson and Mr. Gompers sent fraternal greetings on March 11, as "dangerous to the world as the government of the Hohenzollerns." We quite agree with Mr. Lodge that the Brest-Litovsk treaty was "infamous" and that the Bolsheviki "masquerade under the name of democracy and by a combination of treachery, corruption and ignorance have reduced Russia to servitude under Germany." But on the other hand it would be intolerable to put America into the position of desiring to reverse the Russian revolution and to restore to Russian sovereignty those peoples who really want to get rid of it.

The Allies were placed in a very embarrassing position in the first years of the war by their inability to promise independence to Poland. On November 5, 1916, the German and Austrian emperors declared their intention to form "a national state with a hereditary monarchy and a constitutional government" and to guarantee "the free development of its own forces." This offer to the Poles could not then be matched by England and France, altho these countries had always been enthusiastic for a free Poland when Germany and Austria were conspiring with Russia to crush her out of existence. On the contrary, the Allies were obliged by their alliance with the Czar to deny independence to Poland. In the answer of the Allies to the President's request for their war aims they declared for the liberation of the Ruthenians, Rumanians and Poles under Austrian rule but said nothing about the Ruthenians, Rumanians and Poles under Russian rule, altho they had suffered more. The Poles, according to the Allies, might be granted autonomy but must remain "under the scepter of the Czar." So, while Austria commissioned a Polish socialist to form a Polish Legion to fight for his country's liberty, the French and British press were obliged even to stop talking about it for fear of hurting the Czar's feelings. In a statement of the Allies' terms of peace made by Professor Milyukov in The Independent of September 25, 1916, he said:

It can be definitely stated that Russia cannot tolerate the idea of an independent Poland, even as a buffer state between Russia and Germany.

The Jewish question in Poland must be regarded a matter of internal politics. The Poles cannot permit them to use their own language in the schools nor in public life.

Professor Milyukov is now the leader of the new monarchist party, the "League for the Rebirth of Russia," which is looking to the Allies and America to set up the throne kicked over by the Bolsheviki. But even he has changed his views or at least his policy since the revolution, and while he wants the restoration of the monarchy he does not ask for the restoration of the entire empire. He and his party are willing to leave out Poland and the Baltic provinces. Does Senator Lodge accept this or does he claim more than the Russian monarchists?

The, attitude of the old Russian government and the Constitutional Democratic party as exprest in the quotation from Professor Milyukov gave the Germans a chance and they took advantage of it when they occupied Poland by extending the privileges of the Jews as well as promising independence to the Poles; fortunately for us the German administrator may be counted upon to alienate any friends that the German diplomat may make. German rule in Poland has of late been decidedly anti-Semitic. The factories have been robbed of their brass, leather and machinery. Polish children have been starved that Polish-grown food might be sent to Germany. The Polish councils have been dismissed when they showed any independence and the Polish armies have been abolished. We have, then, a good chance to recover the lost ground if 1915-16.

President Wilson, being free from entangling alliances, was able to give the first satisfactory assurance to the Poles. In his address to the Senate January, 22, 1917, he declared that "there should be united, independent and autonomous Poland." This went farther than either side had dared go, for Germany and Austria could not promise a "united" Poland, because it meant for all three a sacrifice of territory. President Wilson also asserted the right of every great people to a direct outlet to the sea, if not by means of the cession of territory then by neutralizing the rights of way. The new Austro-German arrangement professes to solve the question in the second of these alternatives, by promising the Poles free rail connection, free navigation of the Vistula and a free port at Danzig. Probably the Allies, if they were in Germany's position, would adopt much the same solution, for to give Poland the city of Danzig, which contains only four per cent of Poles, would violate the principle of nationality proclaimed by the Allies and would not be conducive to permanent peace. But a river, railroad or port under guarantee of a League of Nations would be a very different thing than being dependant upon the promise of Germany for such privileges.

In 1916 the Central Powers had the advantage in that they alone were in a position to promise independence to Poland. In 1918 the Central powers had the advantage in that they alone are in a position to give independence to Poland now. But the Poles, who in 1916 trusted the silence of the Allies rather than the promise of Germany and Austria, will now put more faith in the promise of the Allies than in the performance of Germany and Austria. Even the Polish Socialists in America, who two years ago were sending money to Warsaw to support the Polish Legion fighting under German command, are now enlisting in the army of pianist Paderewski to fight against the Germans. Over 100,000 Poles are now serving in the American army and the daily death lists that come from over the water show that they are among the foremost in the fight. The ancient flag of Poland, furled for a century, has again been flung to the breeze in France by the hand of President Poincaré. In spite, then, of this new Pan-Germanic scheme we have now, if we make no diplomatic blunder, a good chance to win the Poles altho the enemy has won Poland.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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