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Nationbuilding and the Politics of Nationalism: Essays on Austrian Galicia (Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute Monograph) (Paperback)

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Because there is much information in this anthology, I focus on a few themes:



Ezra Mendelsohn and, to a lesser extent, Leila P. Everett, discuss the AGUDAS AKHIM (The Covenant of Brothers; PRZYMIERZE BRACI), a short-lived late 19th-century organization of Galician Jews devoted to assimilation of Jews to Polish-ness. Mendelsohn repeats the usual argument that this organization failed because the Poles were unwilling to support it, and because of the persistence of anti-Semitism. However, he does not go into details as to why Poles did not warm up to it.

Despite this, some clues emerge as to the causes for Polish non-enthusiasm. These clues relate to the limited scale of Jewish assimilation, and to what extent Jews assimilated to Polish-ness did so out of love for the Polish cause, and to what extent they did it as a reaction to prevailing circumstances, or out of perceived need for self-advancement.

Clearly, circumstances played a role. By about 1867, the Polish awakening had increasingly caused the replacement of German by Polish in educated and government circles in Lwow. For this reason alone, some assimilated Jews actively or passively dropped their Germanophilia in favor of Polish-ness. (pp. 98-99).

The Talmudism-rabbinism of the ghetto was part of the past. (p. 102). Wilhelm Feldman, one of the leaders of AGUDAS AKHIM, concluded that Jewish assimilation is an inevitable outcome of modernization. (p. 106). He also considered the newfangled modes of Jewish separatism, Yiddishism (Bundism) and Zionism, as merely updated versions of the enclave mentality of the inevitably-disappearing ghetto. (p. 100). Thus, Jewish assimilation was less a flight TO Polishness as a flight AWAY from what were considered outdated or dysfunctional forms of Judaism.

Let us keep the scale of Jewish assimilation in perspective. AGUDAS AKHIM, even in its heyday, had been a marginal movement. As late as 1900, the vast majority of those in Lwow who had declared German as their native language, had been Jews. (p. 94). An additional share of Jews still spoke Yiddish. No wonder that, for this reason alone, many Poles did not appreciate the potential relevance of Jews assimilating into Polish-ness.

Finally, what exactly were assimilated Polish Jews? Were they effectively Poles who happened to be Jewish, or Jews who happened to be Polish? The latter is obvious. Feldman, for instance, followed an essentially Judeocentric orientation. For instance, he retained the Enlightenment tradition of Jewish assimilation, and spoke positively of the pro-German Rabbi Kohn. (p. 102). Even some liberal Polish leaders complained that Jewish assimilation was not generally transforming such Jews into supporters of the Polish cause. (p. 107).

Much of the information about AGUDAS AKHIM comes from the assimilationist newspaper IZRAELITA. It was hardly a paragon for Jewish-Polish rapprochement. The authors do not mention that IZRAELITA was full of anti-Polish statements, including some by Wilhelm Feldman himself. For details, see the first Comment under this review.

What about anti-Semitism? Even here, the situation was not all black and white. For instance, as late as at least 1905, leading assimilated Jewish members of Lwow could still advocate cooperation with the National Democrats (Endeks). (pp. 162-163).


Piotr S. Wandycz has a detailed chapter on this subject. He presents evidence for the view that the Austrian authorities had largely been behind this bloody event. (pp. 75-on).

There is more. Consider the abolition of serfdom by the Austrian authorities. It turned out that Poles were already taking steps to emancipate the peasants, but Governor Franz Stadion upstaged them. In fact, he proclaimed the emancipation of the peasants of Galicia several months before the Imperial decree that would abolish serfdom throughout the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. (pp. 78-79).


Ivan L. Rudnytsky has an interesting chapter on the dynamics of nationality in 19th-century eastern Galicia. In 1857, the earliest year for reliable data, only 21.5% of the population identified as Roman Catholic. (p. 38). The Polish share of the population increased for a number of reasons. Poles moved in from western Galicia. The mortality rate of Ruthenians (Ukrainians) was higher than that of Poles. In addition, local Germans, Armenians, and some Jews Polonized. So did many of those Ukrainians who urbanized, or advanced in terms of social status. (p. 38). [No wonder that many Poles came to suppose that Ukrainian was merely a peasant dialect, that Ukrainians could systematically be Polonized, or even that Ukrainians would Polonize spontaneously as a consequence of socioeconomic progress.]

However, the process also worked in reverse. Rudnytsky adds that, “The Polish nobility was largely of Rus’ ancestry. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Polish peasant settlers had imperceptibly blended with the surrounding Ukrainians.” (p. 39). [No wonder that Poles later argued that the increased Polish share of eastern Galicia, reflected in post-1918 censuses, owed not to Polish falsification of statistics, but to Ukrainized Polish peasants steadily regaining their Polish identity and thus declaring themselves Poles. This, by itself, insured a steadily-increasing percentage of self-identified Poles in eastern Galicia.]

A number of authors feature the relatively recent origin of Ukrainians thinking of themselves a nationality, and nation. (e. g, p. 111, 221). For a time, some Ukrainians had opted for a Polish-style Latin alphabet instead of the eventually-accepted Cyrillic alphabet. (p. 229).

The emergence of Ukrainian national consciousness, among Ukrainians, was not necessarily synonymous with anti-Polish thinking. Thus, among such Ukrainians, there was a small Polonophile group amongst the larger Russophile and Ukrainophile groups. In the second half of the 19th century, there still existed some GENTE RUTHENI, NATIONE POLONI--educated Greek Catholics who considered themselves culturally and politically as Poles. (p. 39).
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