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Poland in the Russian empire.

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

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 interwar 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, 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 proRussian 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.

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).

Reading this argument, one recalls the German historian Rudolf Jaworski's astute observation that the differences among the three states that partitioned the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth invariably led to the creation of disparate forms of rule and social resistance in the three regions. Thus the recklessly repressive policy implemented by the Russian Empire provoked conspiratorial activities and armed uprisings; the systematic denationalization program pursued by the Prussians (and later by imperial Germany) encouraged Poles to embrace legal and systematic activities to boost community spirit; and in Austria (later Austria-Hungary) both sides usually managed to compromise. (4)

The reader will undoubtedly find numerous interesting conclusions here pertaining to many aspects of Russian rule in the Kingdom of Poland. Let me focus, however, on Rolf's reflections on Russification.

In keeping with the current historiography on the topic, Rolf stresses the overall inconsistency of Russian policy (41, 412-14, 420). (5) As he sees it, the lack of clear and consistent directives on the part of the government allowed considerable room for discretion among state officials--in particular, the governors-general who then took full advantage. The book convincingly shows the differences, for example, between the conservative Iosif Gurko (89-95), and the much more moderate Petr Al'bedinskii. (6) In fact, Rolf describes a fundamental ambivalence within Gurko himself, given that he insisted on the primacy of Russianness and Orthodoxy in the region while remaining skeptical of Russification, which he described as an "interventionist course" (94).

Particularly significant changes occurred in the aftermath of the revolution of 1905. As Rolf suggests, this was when the Catholic clergy found itself dethroned from its position as Enemy no. 1 in the eyes of the government, replaced by the socialists. It was also the time when the Polish national democrats, of all people, seemed to emerge as the governments allies (179, 367-74, 426). Though of critical importance to the empire, the government had no clear agenda for the Vistula Region in the early 20th century (427). As Rolf makes clear, the result of all this was a highly contradictory situation, but as long as the empire was at peace, it was sustainable (429-30). Rolf's conclusion on this score is somewhat surprising, as he seems to be suggesting that the kingdom's inhabitants would have been obedient subjects of the empire even without a huge tsarist military presence in the region. Even stranger: in another section of the book, Rolf correctly observes that no other region of the empire experienced as much tension between the imperial government and society as the Vistula Region (433).

As Rolf suggests, the government's main goal in the kingdom was the pacification of the country and at least part of society--primarily the peasantry--making them into loyal subjects of the empire (58-59). Rolf asserts that the imperial government did not seek the Russification of Poles (sometimes Russification is written with quotation marks, sometimes without) --that is, their ethnocultural assimilation. In Rolf's view, the term "administrative Russification" (introduced by Edward C. Thaden) can be misleading, since most reforms in the second half of the 19th century in the Kingdom of Poland were part of the so-called Great Reforms implemented throughout the empire. These changes were part of the attempt to "normalize" state structures (62). In the 1880s, however, as Rolf notes, the elements of a different policy emerged: Rolf associates it with the activity of the head of the Warsaw Education District Aleksandr Apukhtin. Apukhtin enacted policies aimed at the "cultural Russification" of schoolchildren; however, Rolf notes that "even Apukhtin may not have believed [in the likelihood] of making Russians out of Poles." Apukhtin expected Poles to internalize Russian culture during childhood (64-65). In this sense, policy at that time was edging toward pro-Russian acculturation. (7) Rolf does not, however, observe elements of this policy in the later decades.

Overall, I would agree with the general assessment of imperial policy toward the Kingdom of Poland that is presented in this book, yet certain nuances deserve further discussion.

One should note, for example, that the first elements of the acculturation policy that would become more prominent in the 1880s were already visible in the decade after the uprising. As Rolf suggests, the introduction of Russian as the language of instruction in secondary schools was supposed to reduce the dominance of Polish in the public sphere and ensure that the kingdom's administrative system would function in sync with that of the broader empire. This goal required that all officials be able to speak and write Russian (64). The logic behind this way of thinking is clear, but it is not quite clear why Russian was introduced as a language of teaching: to meet the goal, would it not have been enough to teach Polish children advanced Russian in school? In addition, during the 1860s, the Kingdom of Poland witnessed a publishing boom in Polish textbooks written in the Cyrillic script. As the Polish researcher Maria Strycharska-Brzezina has noted, these texts were assigned in primary schools in the Kingdom of Poland at least until the end of the 1869-70 school year. (8)

Rolf offers an important detail by suggesting that the administration's "Russification" represented de facto de-Polonization, even as some Polish officials remained in their posts. Incidentally, four of the region's governorsgeneral were not Russians (or at least, not completely so), including the aforementioned Gurko, who descended from a Lithuanian noble family. Rolf concludes that ethnicity was not an important factor when it came to official appointments. These observations are correct, but they do not necessarily change the overall assessment of Russification. The fact that the imperial government found itself forced to keep Polish officials in office is well known. As Rolf correctly notes, the essential criteria for national identity in the Russian discourse of the day was religion rather than ethnicity (156-58,422-23). So, if ethnicity was not important in regard to national identity, how could it be important in regards to directing Russification?

In discussing Russification in the Kingdom, Rolf focuses overwhelmingly on imperial policy toward the Poles. By comparison, he has much less to say about the "Jewish question." To be fair, from the imperial elite's point of view, Poles were without a doubt the most politically important actors in the region, yet for all that, it is impossible to analyze government policy in regard to Jews in the Vistula Region without touching on policies in the Pale of Settlement, and if Rolf had done this, it would have broadened the scope of his research considerably. (9) More attention to the Jewish factor appears only in relation to the 1912 Duma elections, which were followed by an intense anti-Jewish campaign in Poland (398-411). Much like other contemporary authors who have analyzed anti-Jewish pogroms in the Pale and absolved the government of direct responsibility, Rolf also believes that the government, which he describes as more of an observer than an actor in the pogroms, should not be blamed for the rise of anti-Jewish sentiments in Poland (411). At the same time, the claim that the governments efforts prevented anti-Jewish pogroms from taking place in the kingdom does not appear very convincing. While there is no doubt that imperial officials tried to halt pogroms in Poland, they did much the same thing in the Pale of Settlement. The difference in the scale of violence that we see directed against Jews appears to be more a function of conditions in a given area rather than anything to do with state policy per se. (10)

Government policy toward the Lithuanians also receives only a brief mention in the book, which is understandable up to a point. Lithuanians were the numerically dominant ethnicity in only one of the kingdom's provinces--Suwalki. Nonetheless, Rolf states, the government did make use of the Lithuanian factor in its anti-Polish politics, most notably as a way to stress the kingdom's multinational rather than purely Polish character and as a wedge against Polish clamorings for autonomy (409). (11) Rolf also sees certain elements of a "divide and conquer" approach vis-a-vis the Lithuanian-Polish question (161-62, 409), yet it is not clear whether he has much evidence for this.

Yet Rolf's work is interesting not only because it has a lot to say about imperial policy in the Kingdom of Poland but also because Rolf makes it clear that events in the Vistula Region had a significant influence on the empire more generally. Rolf thus asserts that the region served as a kind of a "laboratory" or "proving ground" where St. Petersburg would often experiment with a variety of political practices or strategies of integration. Political experience gained in the kingdom was deployed in other parts of the empire, including Russian provinces. In this way, the periphery had an impact on the center (5, 15-16, 436-38, 443-49). One example of this was the constitution granted to the kingdom in 1815, which, although never adopted, was talked about as a model for the state (28, 437). (12)

The thesis that the Polish rebellions of the 19th century changed government policy not only toward the kingdom itself but on a grander scale is not new, of course. (13) In this sense, one can hardly disagree that the "Polish question" had a broad imperial impact. Just as convincing is the thesis that officials' experiences in the region ultimately effected changes in their attitudes toward the empire, views on questions of nationalism, and choices in terms of cultural integration in other parts of the state (443-44). Equally convincing is the authors observation that those who served in the borderlands were often bound by a sense of solidarity. (14) (The same could probably be said about imperial officials' experiences in other imperial borderlands--for example, in the so-called Western Territory.) Yet it is also worth noting that certain officials (e.g., Al'bedinskii) arrived in the kingdom after having already held positions in other borderlands. In that sense, in addition to serving as an initial testing ground for new policies, one might see the kingdom as a site for implementing policies tested elsewhere as well.

Indeed, this thesis seems worth discussing further for a number of reasons. First, as Rolf asserts, the Kingdom of Poland tended to be seen as a foreign place on the mental map of the Russian bureaucracy (411, 421, 434, 435), while the Western Territory (the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Rightbank Ukraine), by contrast, tended to be understood as Russian "national territory." (15) These contrasting visions of how territories figured vis-a-vis the core of the state then often led imperial officials to implement different policies in different places. Thus, for example, the "Jewish emancipation" introduced in the kingdom in 1862 was never "transferred" (i.e., applied) to the Pale of Settlement; zemstvos were never introduced in the Vistula Region, yet they were opened (just before World War I) in six of the nine Western Territory provinces; Polish textbooks in Cyrillic script were distributed in the kingdom but not in the Western Territory, and so forth. (16)

Second, the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire considerably earlier than the ethnic Polish lands, and it was precisely here (that is, in the Western Territory) that the government first implemented a number of key integrational measures, with similar efforts following only much later in the kingdom (for example, the abolition of the Uniate Church, which occurred in 1839 in the Western Territory and only in 1875 in the Kingdom of Poland). There is a lack of consistency in this regard, since sometimes Rolf speaks about the whole "Polish question" (437, 446-47), thus incorporating the Western Territory, even though his research is said to concern only the Kingdom of Poland. (17)

Third, it would be difficult to agree with the claim that the government's measures in the Vistula Region were a model for approaches later pursued in the Baltic provinces and in Finland (438). After all, almost 40 years passed between 1864 and the beginning of so-called Finnish Russification. Furthermore, Russification in Finland was in no way similar to the measures implemented in the Polish lands. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, St. Petersburg's goal was to secure its full legal authority over Helsinki, to eliminate Finland's right to maintain its own military, and to equalize rights between Russia and the grand duchy. Thus Russian became the official language of the territory, and the governor-general's rule attained higher authority, yet in the early 20th century there was still a Finnish parliament, a separate monetary system, separate customs, and so forth. Government policy in the Baltic provinces was relatively moderate as well.

In sum, Rolf's book will be of great value not just to scholars interested in Russia's rule over the Kingdom of Poland, the interrelationship between government and society in imperial politics, and the question of how policies implemented in Russian Poland affected other imperial territories but also to readers interested in a much wider context. This is a book that anyone seeking to understand modern Russia should read, including those who focus on the so-called Russian interior. As Rolf makes vividly clear, events in the borderlands, specifically the Kingdom of Poland, affected not only the rulers of St. Petersburg but the development of the empire more broadly as well.

Lithuanian Institute of History

Kraziu 5, 01108

Vilnius, Lithuania


(1) Andrzej Nowak, "Bor'ba za okrainy, bor'ba za vyzhivanie: Rossiiskaia imperiia XIX v. i poliaki, poliaki i imperiia (Obzor sovremennoi pol'skoi istoriografii)," in Zapadnye okrainy Rossiiskoi imperii, ed. Mikhail Dolbilov and Aleksei Miller (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2006), 429-64.

(2) The lack of attention paid to education may reflect the absence of archival sources. As is known, the Warsaw Archive was ablaze at the end of World War II, and todays researchers have few primary sources related to the imperial regime in the Russian-ruled Polish lands.

(3) Andreas Kappeler, "Bemerkungen zur Nationsbildung der Russen," in Die Russen: Ihr Nationalbewufcein in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. Kappeler (Cologne: Taschenbuch, 1990), 19-35; A. I. Miller, "Ukrainskii vopros" v politike vlastei i russkom obshchestvennom mnenii (vtoraiapolovina XIX veka) (St. Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2000), 11; Theodore R. Weeks, "Official and Popular Nationalisms: Imperial Russia, 1863-1914," in Nationalismen in Europa: Westund Osteuropa im Vergleich, ed. Ulrike von Hirschhausen and Jorn Leonard (Gottingen: Wallstein, 2001), 411-32; Andreas Renner, "Defining a Russian Nation: Mikhail Katkov and the 'Invention of National Politics," Slavonic and East European Review 81, 4 (2003): 659-82, esp. 663.

(4) Rudolf Jaworski, Christian Liibke, and Michael G. Muller, Eine kleine Geschichte Polens (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000), 270-71.

(5) Theodore R. Weeks, "Managing Empire: Tsarist Nationalities Policy," in The Cambridge History of Russia, 2: Imperial Russia, 1689-1917 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 27-44, esp. 27.

(6) The most recent publication on Al 'bedinskii is Stanislaw Wiech, "Dyktatura serca" na zachodnich rubiezach Cesarstwa Rosyjskiego: Dzieje kariery wojskowo-urzfdniczej PiotraAlbiedynskiego (1826-1883) (Kielce: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu humanistyczno-przyrodniczego Jana Kochanowskiego, 2000).

(7) For use of the terms integration, assimilation, acculturation, and segregation in similar contexts, see Benjamin Nathans, Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 11; Aleksei Miller, Imperiia Romanovykh i natsionalizm: Essepo metodologii istoricheskogo issledovaniia (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2006); and Darius Staliunas, Making Russians: Meaning and Practice of Russijication in Lithuania and Belarus after 1863 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007).

(8) Henryk Glebocki, "Aleksandr Gil'ferding i slavianofil'skie proekty izmeneniia natsional'nokul'turnoi identichnosti nazapadnykh okrainakh Rossiiskoi imperii? Ab Imperio, no. 2 (2005): 147-48; Maria Strycharska-Brzezina, Polskojezyczne podreczniki dla klasy i szkoly elementarnej w Krolewstwie Polskim drukowane grazdankq (Cracow: Polska akademia umiejetnosci, 2006).

(9) On 160 we read, "after the wave of pogroms in 1881 officials believed that the assimilation of Jewish subjects was no longer possible and increasingly undesirable." I would agree that 1881 marked an important turning point in policy on the "Jewish question," so the thesis that emerges from this sentence regarding what officials thought about assimilation of the Jews prior to 1881 probably does not comply with the prevailing attitude in contemporary historiography. Jewish assimilation could refer only to attempts made to convert Jews to Orthodoxy, and the empires ruling elite could hardly have had such intentions (except, perhaps, in reference to Jewish boys who were cantonists in the tsar's army).

(10) Theodore R. Weeks, "Pasakojimas apie tris miestus: Poziuris j 1881 m. pogromus Kijeve, Varsuvoje bei Vilniuje" (A Tale of Three Cities: The Pogroms of 1881 as Viewed from Kiev, Warsaw, and Vilnius), in Kai ksenofobija virstaprievarta: Lietuviu ir zydu santykiu dinamika XIX a.--XX a. pirmoje puseje (When Xenophobia Turns to Violence: The Dynamics of Lithuanian-Jewish Relations in the Nineteenth and the First Half of the Twentieth Centuries), ed. Vladas Sirutavicius and Darius Staliunas (Vilnius, LII leidykla, 2005), 25-50; Staliunas, Enemies for a Day: Antisemitism and Anti-Jewish Violence in Lithuanian under the Tsars (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2015).

(11) On this point, see Darius Staliunas, "Territorialising Ethnicity in the Russian Empire? The Case of the Augustav/Suvalki Gubernia," Ab Imperio, no. 3 (2011): 162.

(12) The western borderlands of the empire (known as The Baltic Provinces) have long been seen as a kind of proving ground, so in this sense Rolf's conclusions are in line with a prevailing argument in the literature. See Karsten Briiggemann, "Noveishaia istoriografiia istorii Pribaltiiskikh gubernii v sostave Rossiiskoi imperii (XVIII-nachalo XIX w.): Ot starykh stereotipov k novomu osmysleniiu," in Rossiia i Baltiia, 3: Ostzeiskie gubernii i Severo-zapadnyi krai v politike reform Rossiiskoi imperii. 2-ia polovina XVIII v.-XX v. (Moscow: Institut vseobshchei istorii Rossiiskoi akademii nauk, 2006), 227.

(13) Andreas Kappeler, Russland ais Vielvolkerreich: Entstehung, Geschichte, Zerfall (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1992), 203, 227Geoffrey Hosking, "Empire and Nation-Building in Late Imperial Russia," Russian Nationalism: Past and Present, ed. Hosking and Robert Service (New York: St. Martin's, 1998), 28-29; Frank Golczewski and Gertrud Pickhan, Russischer Nationalisms: Die russische Idee im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Darstellung und Texte (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998), 50.

(14) Mikhail Dolbilov draws attention to this aspect in his Russkii krai, chuzhaia vera: Etnokonfessional 'naia politika imperii v Litve i Belorussii pri Aleksandre II (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2010), 690.

(15) Note that ethnic Lithuanian lands are not usually treated as Russian national territory.

(16) Staliunas, Making Russians, 198.

(17) On 294 it appears that, due to an oversight, the western provinces were identified as "inhabited by Poles and Jews," although most of the population in this region were Eastern Slavs and Lithuanians.
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Title Annotation:Imperiale Herrschaft im Weichselland: Das Konigreich Polen im Russischen Imperium (1864-1915)
Author:Staliunas, Darius
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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