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30 GENNADY F. MATVEYEV POLISH-SOVIET RELATIONS, 1917–1921 FOR A LONG time, before the collapse of the tsarist regime, the “Polish issue” in Russian politics was the only question in Russia that could undoubtedly be referred to as a national one, that is, a question that could be resolved only by fundamentally changing the nation’s status within the empire. Moreover , before the 1890s, the idea of a Polish national identity occupied mostly the Polish gentry, clergy, and intellectuals, whereas since the end of the nineteenth century, nationalist ideas have occupied the “lower” classes—workers, peasants, and the lower middle class. None of Petersburg’s projects for transforming the Poles of the Kingdom of Poland into loyal subjects of the Romanovs achieved unconditional success, unlike the case of the Baltic Germans. It is true that a large number of Poles did business and took jobs in the non-Polish regions of the empire , joined the army or civil service, entered into “mixed” marriages, and assimilated. However, the majority of the population went on living in the Kingdom of Poland and cultivated their Polish identity, protecting their language , culture, and faith. The results of military conscription into the Russian army at the beginning of World War I exceeded all expectations. This influx, combined with a complete lack of popular support for the rebellious project initiated by Józef Piłsudski, revealed the effectiveness of anti-German propaganda by those who had spent many years convincing the Poles that the Germans were their most bitter enemy, as opposed to demonstrating the loyalty of the Polish population to the Romanovs. This effect was also reinforced in August 1914, when German artillery destroyed the peaceful Polish town of Kalisz and killed eighty innocent civilians, thereby undermining the position of Germany’s potential allies in the Kingdom of Poland. Even before the war, the authorities in Petersburg had been well aware that there was no better way to solve the so-called Polish issue than by initiating a controlled process of restoring national statehood. Some advisors suggested 31 POLISH-SOVIET RELATIONS, 1917–1921 granting complete independence to the Kingdom of Poland, though there were concerns that this move could provoke Germany to war with Russia. It could also set a precedent for other nations within the empire, the Finns primarily, who already enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. Neither domestic nor international political conditions were appropriate for such radical reform . However, the authorities did not consider the situation to be hopeless and thus were not ready to risk such potentially self-destructive steps. The war that broke out, which would later be called World War I, was fundamentally different from all previous wars, primarily because the front and rear, army and civilians, were united as never before. The acting army’s morale and fighting spirit could easily be influenced by those not on the front lines. According to the original Russian warfare plan, once the mobilization of reserves was completed, the army should have withdrawn from the left-bank part of Poland and consolidated on the right bank of the Wisła. The plan became irrelevant almost immediately. To help France, which was suffering from a powerful assault by the German army, Russia decided to mount an offensive in East Prussia and Galicia. Poland was to become a base for offensive operations. Abandoning Poland was out of the question. It was important to establish with whom the Polish citizens would sympathize. The Polish population came to understand the attitudes of both warring parties toward the Polish issue in August 1914. The Austro-Hungarian and German Eastern Front Command addressed the Poles on 9 August with a proclamation inspired primarily by Piłsudski’s ideas—we are Europeans, we will liberate you from the Asians, and so forth—but it did not refer to other parts of the divided Poland. The Russian supreme commander in chief, Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich , addressed Poland on 14 August. His proclamation was composed with due consideration of Polish expectations as voiced by National Democrats . It contained a promise to reunite all parts of the divided Poland “under the scepter of the Russian Tsar” and to grant liberty of faith, language, and self-administration. However, it did not elaborate on the scope of selfadministration , and the attitude toward the future Polish border was plainly equivocal. The words “one-hundred and fifty years ago the living body of Poland was torn to pieces” could have been interpreted as a promise to...


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