Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The idea of Independence in the Poznań Region

Janusz Karwat

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According to the political thought of conservatives rooted in Poznań, Russia remained the main opponent until the end of the partition era. Pro-independence concepts were accompanied by a striving to find an external ally in the fights that were to come. In the vision of a future Europe, Poland was seen as this ally’s sidekick. This feature was also evident in all of the emigration programmes developed by the Lambert Hotel faction, the democratic movement, the revolutionary left and the Polish National Committee in Paris. Starting from the 1930s, pro-independence thought in the Poznań region was associated with the Slavophilic idea. Free Slavdom was an essential element of the vision of a free Poland.

Pro-independence thought in the Poznań region was initially shaped by rich land-owners and the nobility. From the 1940s, however, the role of the intelligentsia, the lower clergy and the common people slowly started to grow. The idea of freedom was becoming real as Polish society evolved from Enlightenment and Romanticism (which was most influential) to Organicism. The foundation of independence-related concepts lay in the conviction that the pursuit of freedom had to be combined with the modernisation of Polish society in the Prussian Partition. From the beginning of the partition era, Polish community leaders from the Poznań region consciously agreed that they did not want to be the object of Prussian reign, but rather the subject of their own fates. They were active in numerous areas that referred to matters such as insurrection, politics, social affairs, the economy, culture and education.

Activists were often advocates of both, insurrectionist and organicist, movements. They considered them both as paths leading to independence. It should be noted that the Poznań region did not witness a positivist breakthrough like the one in Warsaw. The Revolutions of 1848 and the Kulturkampf era (1871-1878), after which active national awareness became a common trait of the inhabitants of Greater Poland, were important turning points. In the first half of the 19th century, Poznań-rooted advocates of irredentism believed that the territories of the Prussian Partition would regain freedom as a result of an armed uprising. An organised uprising that would rely on the nation’s own strength, not necessarily providing for favourable circumstances or help from outside. Prussia’s war against Russia was considered a favourable circumstance. From the 1880s, active liberals and democrats, later on members of the National League, national democrats and pioneers of the peasant movement even considered the possibility of Greater Poland citizens fighting the Germans upon the involvement of Germany in a war against Russia or any other superpower. Only due to Germany’s weakness did they start to consider the outbreak of an uprising in the territory of the Prussian Partition as well-founded.

At the end of the 19th century, a new generation of Poles who did not know the bitter taste of defeat was raised in the Poznań region. People brought up in this era of positivism looked for new perspectives for the nation. It favoured the formation of new movements, organisations and modern political parties. Some organisations functioned legally, adapting themselves to applicable law (e.g. the Polish Gymnastic Society “Sokół”, scouting in Greater Poland), others worked in conspiracy (Tomasz Zan Society, Association of the Polish Youth “Zet”, Eleusis, PDS, Polish League and National League).

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