Poland in the Irish Nationalist Imagination, 1772-1922: Anti-Colonialism within Europe, by Roisin Healy.
A scholarly survey of Irish attitudes toward Polish struggles for independence since the partitions in the eighteenth century. It is clear that the author's knowledge of Polish affairs is limited; she is primarily an expert on Ireland. However, she judicially uses the information she possesses and does not overgeneralize on the basis of limited knowledge.
Healy begins with analyzing attitudes toward the Polish cause in nineteenth-century Europe. She rightly points out that the majority of Polish emigres lived in France rather than Ireland.
However, the Irish perceived many similarities between their own situation in the British Empire and the numerous Polish risings that were met with sympathy (tea and sympathy, one would like to add) in Western Europe. She pays strong attention to the November 1830 Rising in Poland and compares it to the Young Ireland movement. The January 1863 Rising and its disastrous consequences for Polish social and cultural life are then juxtaposed with the Home Rule Bills and Minorities Policy in the British Empire up to the First World War. The book concludes with the achievement of statehood in both Poland and Ireland.
While there is little to disagree with in the book, two issues require clarification. Professor Healy sees the Russian Empire as somewhat similar to the British. While all empires share certain features, the differences here are significant. I subscribe to the view that the Russian Empire's political and social culture substantially derives from that of the Mongols rather than being European in origin. Hence for a country like Poland--as well as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Georgia--Russian bondage was both alien and immeasurably destructive. Most Western Europeans remain blind to the deep nonEuropean roots of Russia's culture and/or consider them a nonproblem. After all, anthropologically speaking, Russians look pretty much like their European neighbors to the west. This misleading biological similarity hides deep psychological differences. The second issue concerns the minorities of whom prepartitioned Poland had a good number. It does not take much political savvy to realize that during the partitions of Poland, the occupying powers (Russia, Prussia, and Austria) did everything they could to turn the minorities against the majority Polish population, and vice versa. Catherine the Great issued an order about the Pale of Settlement that expelled Jews from the properly Russian parts of the Empire into Polish territory. One can imagine how the high density of the Jewish population and competition for jobs influenced Polish-Jewish relations. Austria did its best to cultivate the attitude of alienation from the Poles in Ruthenian peasantry: it is largely to Austrians that Ukrainians owe their modern sense of nationhood. Bismarckian Prussia did its best to uproot Catholicism and denationalize Polish peasantry; it partially succeeded. Had the partitions of Poland not taken place, Poland might have remained the largest European country and its republican tradition might have accommodated the Ukrainian and Belarusian nations. Healy does not make note of these aspects of the Polish struggle for independence. (SB)
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2017|
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