Romantic Nationalism in Eastern Europe: Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian Political Imaginations

Romantic Nationalism in Eastern Europe: Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian Political Imaginations

by Serhiy Bilenky


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Romantic Nationalism in Eastern Europe: Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian Political Imaginations by Serhiy Bilenky

This book explores the political imagination of Eastern Europe in the 1830s and 1840s, when Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian intellectuals came to identify themselves as belonging to communities known as nations or nationalities. Bilenky approaches this topic from a transnational perspective, revealing the ways in which modern Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian nationalities were formed and refashioned through the challenges they presented to one another, both as neighboring communities and as minorities within a given community. Further, all three nations defined themselves as a result of their interactions with the Russian and Austrian empires. Fueled by the Romantic search for national roots, they developed a number of separate yet often overlapping and inclusive senses of national identity, thereby producing myriad versions of Russianness, Polishness, and Ukrainianness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804778060
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 05/16/2012
Series: Stanford Studies on Central and Eastern Europe
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Serhiy Bilenky is Term Assistant Professor of History, Columbia University, and a Fellow at the Chair of Ukrainian Studies, University of Toronto. His Mykhailo Maksymovych and Educational Practices in Right-Bank Ukraine in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century was published in Ukrainian in 1999.

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Romantic Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian Political Imaginations
By Serhiy Bilenky

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7806-0

Chapter One

"From the Baltic to the Black Sea" Poland's Borders

The Polish Vision

After the final disappearance of "Poland" from the map of Europe in 1795, Poles were forced to reinterpret their historical understanding of a "gentry nation" as a "community of tradition and spirit" beyond existing political and social borders. This redefinition of a nationality could have led to a similar redefinition (or at least to an initial confusion) of a traditional Polish geography. But this did not happen. Instead, Poles clung to the familiar patterns of geography, keeping in mind what had disappeared from political maps.

To designate the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Poles used such names as "Poland" (Polska), "our Fatherland" (ojczyzna nasza), "our provinces" (nasze prowincje), or simply "the country/ our country" (kraj/nasz kraj) and "our land" (ziemia nasza). Even when the Poles used the vaguest of designations, like kraj, they seemed to know exactly the territorial extent of their virtual country. At the same time, there was an increasing tendency to identify a Poland proper with ethnic Polish territories (for writers Józef Korzeniowski and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski in the 1840s, "Poland" became synonymous with the Congress Kingdom), reserving for other parts of historic Poland, especially for its eastern territories, the term borderlands (kresy). Not everyone, however, was prepared to reduce "Poland" to its core, the Kingdom of Poland (known also as the Congress Kingdom), which had been created by Russia in 1815.

In the 1830s one of the leaders of the November uprising and later radical émigré, Maurycy Mochnacki, stubbornly opposed this reductionist tendency and refused to identify "the Congress region" (kraj kongresowy), that is, the Congress Poland with Poland proper. In the words of Mochnacki: "The Constitutional Kingdom between the rivers Prosna and Bug is one of those ephemeral creations [jeden z tych efemerycznych utworów] in politics that, as we see especially in contemporary history, emerge without an underlying ground [...], only as a result of protocols and conferences." Instead, he wrote, Poland was the "republic of all Crown [koronnych], Lithuanian, and Ruthenian lands," adding that Poles "do not get it in a different shape!" (W innym ksztalcie i dzisiaj jej nie pojmujemy!). Mochnacki alluded to the existence of several entities within the Russian Empire that seemingly had equal claims to the name of "Poland." These were Vistula Poland (Polska nadwislanska), Wilia Poland (Polska nadwilejska), Bug Poland (Polska nadbuzanska), and Dnieper Poland (Polska naddnieprowa), all deriving their names from the major local rivers. This taxonomy became popular with Polish émigrés, and as late as the 1850s Franciszek Duchinski, once a student of Kyiv University, wrote about "Western Poland" or "Vistula Poland" (Polska nadwislanska), along with "Eastern Poland," consisting of "Dniester Poland" (Polska naddniestrzanska) and "Dnieper Poland" (Polska naddnieprzanska).

Similarly, nineteenth-century Polish patriots never considered the restoration of a Polish state without the kresy (Lithuania, Belarus, and Right Bank Ukraine),9 and as late as the 1840s they claimed to represent "twenty million" inhabitants of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 10 The formulation "twenty million," which became an almost cabalistic number in Polish nationalist demography, clearly referred to all the inhabitants of prepartitioned Poland regardless of ethnic background. This inclusive tendency found its expression both in poetry and in politics among writers of all ideological spectrums.

The poetic geography, or geografia serca as it was then called, was best encapsulated by a Romantic poet from Galicia, Wincenty Pol, in his poem "Piesn o ziemi naszej" (The song of our land, 1835), in which he provided a sociocultural description of the lands of prepartitioned Poland. The poet allotted much space to a description of Lithuania and Rus' at the expense of the ethnically more "Polish" western and northern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He simply was not familiar with the idea of an ethnically based Poland. Before elaborating on each land, Pol addressed the inhabitants of prepartitioned Poland, making sure that they knew the full extent of their "native country" (ziemia). According to Pol, that country consisted of various ethnic groups that made up one Polish "tribe":

Do you know, young brother? Your tribes united by common blood? Those Highlanders [from around Cracow] and Lithuanians? And the holy Samogitians and Ruthenians?

Those various Polish "tribes" (rody) lived on territory from the Oder River in the west (Stara ziemia Piasta or "the old Piast land") to "Ukraine" and "old Kyiv" in the east, and from the shores of the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea coast, "where in the south flows the Dnieper" (na poludnie Dniepr tam plynie!). In an earlier poem, "Piesn Janusza" (Janusz's song), Pol expressed the idea of Poland's borders "from sea to sea" even more clearly:

I was in Lithuania and in the Crown [Congress] Poland, I was in this and that side, I was here and there; From Beskid [Carpathian] Mountains to the Baltic sea coast, From Lithuania as far as to Zaporozhia [the Dnieper rapids] I know the entire Poland. I know this whole fair tribe, Polish seas and Polish land, And the Polish salt; And I dream of all this, fantasize, And all this is like mine, As if I'm Polish king.

When Polish Romantic poets such as Pol, Mickiewicz, Lenartowicz, or Józef-Bohdan Zaleski sang about their native regions, they did with the understanding that they represented pars pro toto; each land (like Ukraine) was only a part of the entire motherland—Poland. They imagined their motherland as a single entity and identified their native land (Ukraine, Lithuania, Podolia) with an "ideological motherland": the separate "lands" were not only geographical places but also the symbolical embodiment of a common motherland, which contained an entire nationality.

Polish writers, even those who were quite apolitical, always had recourse to the mental geography of prepartitioned Poland. Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, while rejecting "the Ukrainian fashion" in Polish literature, charted his own version of the poetic geography of historical Poland: "In the land that was once Polish, the residents of Cracow, the Highlanders, the Red Ruthenians, the Great Poles, the Lithuanians do not have a peculiar and distinct poetry that is exclusively their own?" Józef Korzeniowski, who lived in the 1830s–1840s in Kyiv and Kharkiv, presented in his novel Emeryt (The emeritus) a sort of chart of the provinces whose inhabitants did the most "reading." "In the first place stood Ukraine, then Lithuania, Podolia, followed by Galicia, and finally the Congress Kingdom and Volhynia." As we see, one did not have to be a radical émigré in order to live in the virtual space of a historic Poland. However, Kharkiv, where Korzeniowski spent several years, was outside the boundaries of an imagined Poland. Gustav Olizar, once a leader of Polish gentry of the Kyiv province, while referring to the lands of prepartitioned Poland as "our motherland" (ojczyzna nasza), "native country" (kraj nasz), or "our provinces" (nasze prowincye), unambiguously called the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv a "Muscovite city" (moskiewskie miasto).

According to one of the best experts on Polish democratic thought, Slawomir Kalembka, there were no differences among the attitudes of Polish émigré groups on the question of Poland's borders. Their dominant idea was the restoration of Poland according to its 1772 borders, that is, from the Carpathians to the Dvina River and from the Baltic Sea to the lower Dnieper River. The idea of the restoration of Poland's historical borders began to take shape right after the November uprising of 1830–31, especially among the Polish émigrés in France. Long before this, however, Poles had hoped for the union of the Kingdom of Poland—established after the Congress of Vienna in 1815—with eight provinces (gubernias) of Russia, several of which had been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth prior to the 1790s. At first, they placed their hopes in Russian monarchs themselves, particularly Alexander I. Then, during the November uprising, the radicalized Polish diet, on May 5, 1831, proclaimed the incorporation of the "western gubernias" into the Polish state, its core being the Congress Kingdom.

One of the first declarations concerning the borders of the future Poland comes from 1832, when the newly established Polish Democratic Society (Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie or TDP) outlined its platform. According to the TDP's "Protestation Against Treatises from 1772 Until 1815 That Had Dismembered Poland," "We want the return of Poland's old borders"; in other words, the society hoped to restore Poland to its prepartitioned geographical shape. Here, the eastern borders of Poland went as far as the Dnieper River, which was the border of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth prior to the 1790s. In a subsequent "Manifesto" from 1836 the TDP went even beyond the concept of historical (prepartitioned) borders and fantasized about an uprising of those "twenty million" in Poland "from the Oder River and the Carpathians all the way to the Dnieper and the Dvina, and from the Baltic to the Black Sea" (od Odry i Karpat az poza Dniepr i Dzwine, od Baltyckiego do Czarnego Morza). TDP leaders like Wiktor Heltman could not imagine a future Polish uprising occurring in a space smaller than that which stretched "from the Oder to beyond the Dnieper and Dvina, from the Baltic to the Carpathians and the Black Sea."

Maurycy Mochnacki, who was not close to the TDP, also included the Black Sea shore within his "ideological fatherland." He called for the "restoration of a part of our country that from the cape of Courland stretches to the Black Sea." The leaders of the TDP used economic arguments when they considered the possibility "of aspiring for a Poland larger than that before 1772": a Poland "without the provinces adjacent to the Black Sea thus being deprived of a free delivery of its goods from this side, would be the entity not accomplished yet."

Moderate democrats from the circle of the most famous Polish historian, Joachim Lelewel, shared a territorial program similar to that of the TDP. As early as 1832 the Lelewelist group, known as The Revenge of the People (Zemsta Ludu), was preparing a constitution for a free Poland that was patterned on a federative constitution like that of the United States. According to the document, the borders of the new state would be "enveloped by the Black and Baltic Seas, and by the Oder, Dnieper, and Danube rivers." Each province should be given self-government, which would not, however, conflict with the federal laws.

It is worth noting that in 1836 another Lelewelist group countered the idea of "natural borders," as advocated by partitioning powers with the idea of Polish historical borders from before 1772, condemning the "disgusting politics that sought deceitfully [wymyslnie] natural borders." It was, however, easy for the Poles to appropriate the idea of "natural" borders. One of the first uses of "natural" borders in political discourse came from Michal Wollowicz, who perished in 1833 trying to organize another uprising. He elaborated the territorial shape of a new Poland: "We want to have an independent fatherland and to give it the old borders of the Baltic, the Dvina and Dnieper rivers, set against the shores of the Black Sea, the Carpathian Mountains, and the course of the Oder River."

In the mid-1830s the formula of Poland's "natural" borders began to dominate all ideological flanks, as reflected in a statement by yet another liberal group in 1837: "Poland [is] united and undivided [Polska jedna i nierozdzielna]. From the Oder to the Dnieper, and from the Baltic to the Black Sea [po Euxyn od Baltyku], these are the borders of its mightiness. Such a Poland will respond with dignity to its calling and fulfill its high mission among the Slavs." In 1847, the philosopher Bronislaw Trentowski summed up the idea of Poland's natural borders from sea to sea using not only the arguments of nature per se but also those of race and civilization. The natural situation of Polish lands cried out for a distinct state separated by nature itself from Asian civilization and race:

The natural situation of Poland is such that it should and ought to become a separate state. Already its thousand-year old distinctiveness bears witness to this [...]. On the north Poland is surrounded by the Baltic, on the south the Tatra Mountains and the Black Sea make their appearance. From the Baltic but rather from the Courland haven to the Black Sea there spread out wide steppes, deserts, and swamps filtered by huge rivers, which create a deep semicircle and make entry difficult, beyond which the land and its inhabitants take on an absolutely different, Asiatic character, losing altogether the mark of a Caucasian race.

A similar idea was expressed in the ideology of Prince Adam Czartoryski, who can be called the main geopolitical thinker among Polish émigrés. In an anonymous article in the French-language periodical Le Polonaise, he divided the Russian Empire into three "national" belts, the first of which included Poland stretching from the Baltic port of Palanga to the Black Sea port of Odessa ("la Pologne ... depuis Polangen jusqu' à Odessa"). Czartoryski and his conservative circle, though initially invoking the spirit of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, increasingly distanced themselves from any form of legitimism and advocated instead the prepartitioned or "natural" borders of Poland, including the Black Sea shore.

Yet in his note to the English government from 1833, Czartoryski referred to the legality of the Vienna Congress when he demanded the incorporation of "Polish provinces" into the constitutional Congress Kingdom; in his words, the "unification of all Polish provinces with the Kingdom." He called these provinces "Polish from all angles" and pointed to the "identity of the nation" as the main reason for the unification of the eastern lands of the former commonwealth. In one of his letters from 1834, Prince Czartoryski called for the "brotherly union of all provinces that constitute an old Poland." The prince called on Poles to develop mutual "action, feeling, and unity" throughout the entire extent of "Polish country" where the "Polish tribe" lived.

The collaborators of Prince Adam Czartoryski developed the broadest territorial agenda for the future Poland. Michal Czajkowski, one of the most active members of the Paris-based Hôtel Lambert, envisioned the border between Poland and a prospective state of the Don Cossacks somewhere in the "steppes of Voronezh and Kharkiv, along the border that once separated Poland from Muscovy." The city of Kharkiv most probably was to appear on the Polish side. Another possibility, though not favored by Czajkowski, was the inclusion of the Don Cossacks in a federation with Poland.

Even for the extremely conservative ex-collaborator of Adam Czartoryski, Waclaw Jablonowski, who suddenly turned into a Romanov dynasty loyalist, the devotion to a separate Congress Poland was yet another "negation [negacja] of nationality and integrity of the country." Instead, Jablonowski wanted the restoration of a prepartitioned Poland under the Romanov dynasty.

The utopian socialists from the group called "The Polish People" (Lud Polski) also stood for the 1772 borders. In their programmatic documents, they stated that they wanted "a Poland of 20 million [people]." Propagating the idea of a separate fatherland for the common people (lud) as opposed to the gentry, they argued against the independence of the Congress Kingdom alone:

it is only gentry that can desire [the preservation of] Congress Poland, because they know it is the only way they are able to preserve their privileges and power to oppress miserable folk. We found out at last that the Polish cause is a European one, and that the Poland we aspire for will be the bulwark of European civilization while the Congress Poland would be just another ally of a tsar of Russia.


Excerpted from Romantic Nationalism in Eastern Europe by Serhiy Bilenky Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction: Intellectual and Sociopolitical Background 1

Part I Mapping Imagined Communities: Mental Geography

1 "From the Baltic to the Black Sea": Poland's Borders 17

2 "Independent Part of the Universe": Russia's Borders 44

3 "Russia's Italy," or "Between Poland and the Crimea": Ukraine's Borders 71

Part II Representing Imagined Communities: Idioms of Nationality

4 Reconsidering Nationality: Poland 103

5 "Stretching the Skin of the Nation": Russia's Empire and Nationality 182

6 Making One Nationality Through the Unmaking of Others: Ukraine 253

Conclusion 303

Notes 309

Bibliography 363

Index 375

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