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  • Poland in the Russian Empire
  • Darius Staliūnas
Malte Rolf, Imperiale Herrschaft im Weichselland: Das Königreich Polen im Russischen Imperium (1864–1915) (Imperial Rule in the Vistula Region: The Kingdom of Poland in the Russian Empire [1864–1917]). 532pp. Oldenburg: De Gruyter, 2015. ISBN-13 978-3486781427. €54.95.

As the Polish historian Andrzej Nowak wrote almost a decade ago, interpretations of Russian imperial policies in the Polish lands in the 19th century have changed numerous times over the last hundred years. During the inter-war period Polish historians presented the relationship between the empire and its Polish subjects as one of relentless confrontation—“Poles against the empire, and the empire against the Poles.” During the Soviet period they were forced to study revolutionary ties between Poles and Russians rather than the Russian imperial regime. Even though a number of significant works analyzing Russian policy in the Kingdom of Poland have appeared in recent decades, we still lack studies that take a complex approach to Russian policy in this region.1 Malte Rolf’s monograph is important because it fills this gap.

Rolf analyzes how the Kingdom of Poland (or, as it was called from 1864, the Vistula Region) figured within the mental maps of Russian officialdom, as well as the policies that St. Petersburg pursued in the region after the Rebellion of 1863 and the impact of state policies on the region’s population (chapters 2 and 5). At the center of the study lies the imperial elite of the area: above all, the governors-general (subchapter 5 is dedicated to their biographies) but also officials of the education district and the civilian governors. In addition to personalities, Rolf studies several policy areas as they applied to the region—namely, censorship and confessional policy (subchapters 7 and 8, [End Page 909] respectively)—while education receives significantly less attention, underscoring the intense interaction that occurred between the imperial government and local society in Warsaw (chapter 3) and suggesting that many of the reforms implemented in the city were possible only because of close cooperation between the sides.2 He even concludes that “Petersburg’s hegemony cannot be described simply as a hegemony of oppression and interference. Instead it was the product of a particular context, one that fundamentally affected local development” (279).

One particularly effective chapter focuses on Warsaw, the “capital” of the Vistula Region, to consider the formation of the Russian community in the city. This community, which was fairly large (approximately 40,000 people in the late imperial period), included a number of Russian professors at Warsaw University, many of whom, as Rolf notes, tended to support a far more radical pro-Russian nationalist policy in the region than the imperial administration (see, e.g., 288). Thus Rolf, like other researchers, tends to highlight the differences between government ideology and the nationalist views that were prevalent within local Russian society.3 At the same time he notes the influence of Russian nationalism on the ruling elite (10, 32, 120, 318, 421) and ultimately concludes that the more the empire’s ruling elite adopted a pro-Russian nationalist view that saw the empire as “belonging” to the Russians, the less likely its members were to find common ground with peoples of other nationalities—Poles, in the first instance (434).

Rolf analyzes both the influence of Russian nationalism on the imperial bureaucracy and the various ways in which officialdom affected society. An important observation that flows from this approach is that several government measures either backfired and hurt the regime or simply did not work. Strict censorship, for example, meant that a certain share of Polish-language publishing ended up being transferred, ironically enough, to Habsburg Galicia (422), where Poles enjoyed far greater autonomy. Rolf also outlines areas of mutual influence between state policy and antistate Polish nationalism. [End Page 910] For instance, the politicization of religion affected both the definitions of Russianness as premised on Russian Orthodoxy and of Polish identity based on Catholicism (423). He claims that violence used by one side often pushed those on the other side to take violent action, thus contributing to an ever rising spiral of violence and retribution (18).

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