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Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom by Brian Porter-Sz̋cs

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1

POLES WITHOUT POLAND, 1795–1918

There was no Poland on the map between 1795 and 1918. That sentence might seem like a simple historical fact, but it actually raises a whole series of problems that make it really hard to tell the story of 19th century northeastern Europe.

The first date – 1795 – was when Russia, Prussia, and Austria signed a treaty that destroyed the Polish–Lithuanian Republic.1 That was the culmination of a long process of decline, but it was nonetheless a shocking event at the time. In the 18th century it was routine for the elites of one country to meddle in the internal affairs of another. For example, in 1740–48 the European powers fought a major war over the succession to the throne in the Austrian Empire, and it seemed self-evident to most diplomats at the time that the warring parties had been justified in getting involved. The Polish–Lithuanian Republic had been the object of that sort of interference for a long time. In 1733–38 the so-called War of Polish Succession pit France and Spain against Russia, Austria, Saxony, and Prussia, with each coalition fighting to place a different candidate on the Polish throne. So the principle of non-interference was non-existent. Nonetheless, that sort of intrusion was taken to a whole new level in 1772, when Poland’s three neighbors simply annexed wide swaths of the country in what came to be known as the First Partition (Figure 1.1a, Figure 1.1.b). The background to that startling act of plunder need not detain ...

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