Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The idea of Independence in the Poznań Region

Janusz Karwat

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THE IDEA OF INDEPENDENCE IN THE POZNAŃ REGION had been evident since the fall of the Republic of Poland. The term “independenta”, which meant striving for sovereignty, was used. It should be emphasised that 19th-century representatives of the patriotic elite equated the term “national being” with complete independence. They claimed that the fight to retain 'national being' also covered the fight for independence. It was observed back in 1841 by the Upper President of the Duchy of Poznań Adolf von Arnim-Boitzenburg, who concluded in his programme memorandum that Poles considered their nationality as “a connection between all the remnants of the former Polish state which would make it possible to break away from Prussia and unite those remnants into a Polish State on the first favourable occasion.” The idea of independence, understood as the concept of regaining freedom, operated in the Poznań region in two different periods.

In the first period, which lasted until the mid-19th century, concepts of independence were developed in the spirit of Enlightenment, and then from the 1930s, in the spirit of Romanticism. At that time, three concepts of pro-independence thought were present in Greater Poland: one calling for an insurrection, one referring to limited sovereignty and one favouring revolution. The insurrectionist concept, initiated by the Bar Confederates, thrived during the Kościuszko Uprising in 1794 and the Prussian Partition period until 1806. In the period of the Duchy of Warsaw, insurrectionist slogans were replaced by a doctrine of limited sovereignty as part of a larger political structure going beyond the state. This model, treated by the Poznań elite as a transitional one, became fundamental in the Grand Duchy of Poznań after the Vienna Congress. When the November Uprising broke out, insurrectionist thought returned and prevailed in the 1930s and 1940s, in close connection with the Great Emigration. In the 1940s, it was the Poznań region that became the main centre of the three-partition uprising. After the failure of the Revolutions of 1848 and of the Poznań Uprising in 1848, the leaders of the Polish national movement returned to the concept of limited freedom as part of the Prussian state. Advocates of the concept, both ultramontanists and liberals, tried to implement it legally in German representative bodies, relying on the terms adopted in Vienna.

In the second period, which lasted until the end of the Great War, the idea of independence moved into the background, representing merely a strategic objective. In terms of national action actually undertaken, pro-independence thought was barely visible. An analysis of various assumptions of pro-independence thought in the Poznań region during the Prussian Partition era allows for the distinguishing of several common features. Individual concepts were developed with the entire Polish nation, in all three partitions, in mind. In practice, the 1940s were the only time when the fight against the three occupiers was assumed, and Poznań was supposed to be the centre of actions. The maximum objective was to achieve sovereignty as in the pre-partition period, whereas the minimum objective was the independence of the Poznań region as part of the Prussian state. There were two opponents provided for in the plans: Prussia and Russia. The enemy, however was not the German or the Russian nation, but rather the legal and administrative structures of these powerful states.

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