The Commonwealth between Prussia and Russia in the Light of the Polish–Prussian Dispute about General Customs in 1765. Part I

The controversy relating to the general customs introduced in Poland by the Seym which performed the coronation of Stanisław Augustus in December 1764, de facto embroiled three states: the Commonwealth, Prussia and Russia. The clash was caused by Frederic II who perceived the financial reform as a reflection of the newly crowned king’s determination to modernise his state and who wished to thwart such strivings at all cost. The battle for the abolition of the customs was conducted both in Warsaw and St. Petersburg. A study of Russian and Prussian archival material enabled the author of the article to show that Nikita Panin, who controlled Russian foreign policy, was originally willing to support those changes introduced by Stanisław Augustus which were non–political and enabled the monarch to obtain at least part of the funds indispensable for governing the country. The unfavourable stand adopted by Catherine II, offended by the refusal to meet her demands concerning the dissenters, Panin’s temporarily wavering rank and, primarily, the constant pressure put by Frederic II, who insisted that no favourable change be introduced in Poland, proved decisive for the distinctly inimical Russian policy. The introduction by Frederic II of customs on all commodities shipped to Gdansk along the Vistula effectively foiled the reform. The growing conflict, inconvenient for Russia in view of the latter’s involvement in Sweden and an alliance with Prussia, convinced Catherine II to intervene: she urged Frederic II to suspend customs on the Vistula; the price paid by Stanisław Augustus was resignation from the customs reform. The course of the conflict demonstrated the effectiveness of Prussian–Russian auspices on maintaining the Commonwealth in a state of weakness and chaos.

Translated by Aleksandra Rodzińska–Chojnowska

The Epoch of Reaction and the “Pieriedishka”. The Wilno Governors General and Polish Landed Property in the Years 1864–1884

In the course of twenty years spanning from the fall of the January Uprising to the rule of General Eduard Todtleben (1884) the Russification of the Lithuanian gubernias underwent assorted stages and intensification. The current of growing repression and national restrictions, inaugurated in the mid–1860s by Mikhail Muraviov and Konstantin Kaufman, became considerably modified in the 1870s by Alexandr Potapov and Petr Al’bedinski. The reduced rate of the Russianisation process in the gubernias in question initiated an epoch of a pause (“pieriedishka”), which lasted to the early 1880s. The retirement of Al’bedinski denoted a return to reactionary policies.

The purpose of the political line devised in St. Petersburg and by the governor general of Wilno, as well as the conducted administrative, economic and systemic changes, was predominantly to undermine the historical continuum of Lithuania and its cultural and political ties with Poland. The Russian authorities maintained that such bonds adversely affected the total incorporation of the Lithuanian gubernias into the Empire. Russian ethnic nationalism roused among the authorities proposed that Lithuania should return to Russian roots. In two decades, growing Russification and de–Polonisation produced tangible effects. Polish landowners were decimated and economically weakened. The progress of Polish culture and schooling encountered grave legal obstacles. The Catholic Church, discriminated by the Russian authorities, lost its position as the mainstay of the Polish population and the rank it had enjoyed in the Kingdom of Poland.

Translated by Aleksandra Rodzińska–Chojnowska

General Bem in Vienna. Hero or Adventurer?

General Józef Bem, the Hungarian and Polish national hero, appeared on the European scene of the Spring of Nations as an active participant in the Viennese uprising of October 1848. This important episode in the general’s life has been little examined in his biographies. Heretofore studied sources relating to these events and written by eyewitnesses, primarily Austrian Germans, were extremely unfavourable. Despite the fact that Hungarian and Polish authors tried to clear Bem of the launched charges, they did not go beyond fundamental German–language source material which invariably described the great Pole as an “adventurer”, a “warmonger”, or a “condotierre”.

The documents which the author discovered in the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, the Kriegsarchiv and Haus–, Hof– und Staatsarchiv departments, made it possible to view the Vienna rising from a new vantage point. Not only was the Polish general officially invited to act as commander but he became the main organiser of the town’s defence against the reactionary armies, the infamous imperial “camarilla”. The official commander–in–chief of the national guard of Vienna and Lower Austria as well as the mobile guard was Wenzel Messenhauser, but for all practical purposes Bem was the author of each important decision and order. The immense impact exerted by the Polish general upon Messenhauser met with resistance among the national guard forces, extremely unwilling to fight against the imperial armies. Bem, who was ready to embark upon military cooperation with the Hungarian forces on the Leitha, became embroiled in intrigues. Consequently, his plans were foiled, and the raging controversies adversely affected the defence. Nonetheless, the war machine, which Bem and Messenhauser had set into motion, could not be halted and Vienna took up arms. After the several–days long defence of the town, in particular the Leopoldstad district, with the general demonstrating his exceptional military skills and courage, the Viennese suffered defeat. On 30 October the imperial army vanquished the Hungarians at Schwechat, and the fate of the uprising was sealed. Bem, in disguise, sought refuge in Hungary.

The presented article verifies Bem’s stand in the Viennese rising, thus confirming the findings made by Polish and Hungarian historiography claiming that his objective was the renascence of Poland for whose sake he engaged in a battle for “our and your liberty”. Bem fought for the sake of the Hungarians and their rights vis a vis the Austrian Germans, together with the democrats so that the “imperial word of honour” about earlier granted liberties would be kept, and, finally, alongside the Germans for the “glory of Vienna and the German motherland”.

Translated by Aleksandra Rodzińska–Chojnowska