Poland From the Inside.

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Historical Survey

Poland's claim to be a great realm is based upon what is said to be history. The Poles state that their country once stretched to the very centre of Europe. But the truth is that the Slavonic groups distributed thinly throughout this area were by no means all Polish. The mere fact that a few families settled for a while in this or that district does not offer a good basis for a legal claim on the part of a State.

Historically, Poland first made her mark in the 10th century, when she was a kind of vassal State linked up with the German Empire. The first actual reference to the State as such was in the year 963. Shortly afterwards, Poland became the centre of wholesale fighting between Slavonic tribes. This was really the beginning of the struggles between the Russians and the Poles, which did not end when the Czarist regime fell, but continued until the Poles drove the Bolsheviks across the frontiers at a time when peace was supposed to have succeeded the Great War.

Internal dissention was fairly general under Mieczyslav II and III, Casimir I and II, Boleslav II, III, IV and V, [12] and the three Vladislavs, as well as under Leszek the White, Leszek the Black and Przemyslav. The latter was murdered. But during their rule the sovereignty of the German Empire was repeatedly acknowledged. All these Polish rulers bore the title of Duke, and it was not until the 14th century that a king was crowned and a certain amount of law and order established, in place of the struggles between the rival ducal factions. Shortly after, Poland was united with Hungary, but this was purely a personal union under King Louis (1370-1382), which ceased on his death.

Peace was not, however, to last long. The nobles repeatedly tried to overawe the people, and there was later a war with Sweden. In the second half of the seventeenth century civil war broke out.

Domestic strife actually survived two partitions, the second in 1793, when most of the formerly Polish territory went to Russia, with a population of 3 millions, while Prussia received a strip with 1,100,000 inhabitants. Kosciusco tried in 1794 to unite the Poles, and many poems tell of his prowess. But shortly afterwards he was defeated at Praga (not to be confused with Prague in Bohemia), and a third partition took place, Russia, Prussia and Austria obtaining the territory. Russia again took over the largest part. During the Napoleonic wars, the Poles established a kind of independence, following the Peace of Tilsit. The Peace of Vienna added to this Polish State, and hopes were placed in Napoleon by [13] many Poles. But they were doomed to disappointment. All the French wished for in Poland was to raise an army to help the "petit caporal" defeat Russia. In 1812 the new State, known as the Duchy of Warsaw, came to a sudden collapse. In 1815 the Poles were promised a certain representation, with two chambers, by Czar Alexander I. The first Parliament did meet, it is true, but it had no real power, and things became still worse when Alexander died. In 1830 the Poles revolted, and drove the Russians across the borders. The Polish nobility took over the reins of government, but party strife prevented any real work of reconstruction. The nobles and people could not agree, and the way was thus paved for the return of the Russians. Chlopicki established himself as dictator, and tried to negotiate with Russia, with the object of keeping the Polish people from overruling the nobility, but the Russians demanded complete capitulation. Had the Poles remained united, they could have maintained their full independence, but when one party endeavoured to make terms with Russia at the expense of the other, Poland lost her liberty. Marshal Diebitsch assembled an army of 120,000 men, and advanced on Warsaw. After brave resistance, the Poles were defeated, and their leader sought refuge in Austria. It is interesting to note that in 1831, just over a century ago, the Poles appealed for aid in London and Paris, but met with little sympathy.

[14] Most of those known to have played a leading part in the revolt were sent to Siberia in chains, a few escaped to Austria and Prussia. The frontiers were occupied by secret police, and Poland was to all intents and purposes cut off from all connection with foreign States. For long years no Pole could attend a university, while in 1833 a law demanded that only Russian schools could be attended. In 1840 an edict declared that no person without a perfect command of the Russian language might occupy a public position.

News circulated slowly in those days, but the world was aware of these happenings. No single State offered to assist the Poles. Polish revolutionaries gathered in Germany, France and Italy, as well as, on a smaller scale, in England. The Poles under Prussia also attempted a rising, but their leaders were imprisoned. In contrast to Russia, Berlin pardoned the revolutionaries after a brief period of imprisonment, and promised the Poles a settlement in accordance with their wishes on condition that they refrained from further risings while the arrangements were being made. The Poles continued to arm, however, although their own schools, courts and administrative bodies were speedily established, and a Prussian force was dispatched to end the revolt.

One insurrection followed the other in Russian Poland. In 1867 the Czar even went so far as to refuse the Polish clergy all contact with Rome, and the property of Poles was confiscated. There was little [15] improvement when the present century dawned, and a bitter hatred of the Russians prevails in Poland to this day, for after the Bolshevik revolution the new Moscow authorities showed no change of attitude.

The Poles and Germans lived in parts of Prussia on fairly good terms in more recent years preceding the War. Conditions improved as a result of Germany's industrial expansion, which assured ample opportunities for all. Many Poles were more than satisfied, and when the Great War came they fought solidly with the Germans and Austrians, while those compelled to serve with the Russian army deserted at the first opportunity. There were, however, exceptions, and some Poles dreamed of an Empire stretching to Berlin and Stettin. Indeed, one side of the River Havel, which almost skirts Berlin, was repeatedly quoted as Polish. The War did not fulfil their dreams. It brought them areas containing many non-Poles, but not the vast Empire they had hoped for. Lithuania was also to be included and, as a matter of fact, the Vilna district was taken from the Lithuanians by the Poles in defiance to the Allies. The most recent addition to the Polish Republic is Teschen, which was Warsaw's share in the partition of Czecho-Slovakia. Its cession to Poland resulted in new dreams of Empire.

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Poland From the Inside