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

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2

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE AT THE START OF THE 20TH CENTURY

The tinderbox described in the last chapter did indeed explode, first in 1905 and then again in 1918. When it was all over, the map of Europe had been redrawn and there was once again an independent Poland. In hindsight this almost seems a foregone conclusion. Historians have tended to emphasize the national movement when telling the history of the 19th century, so the achievement of independence appears as the culmination of decades of uprisings and political agitation. That’s not altogether inappropriate. The Polish political and cultural elites were undeniably preoccupied with the existence or non-existence of an independent Polish state. Polish literature, art, music, philosophy, politics, and economics were all inflected by the “national question,” and activists ensured that this issue would remain on the agenda of European and American diplomats. Since World War I ended with the defeat and collapse of all three partitioning powers, it is easy to assume that the emergence of an independent Poland from the ruins was virtually inevitable. Maybe it was, but this approach obscures the uncertainty and confusion that characterized those chaotic months after the end of the war. In fact people were not at all sure what was going to happen, because a wide variety of political forces were trying to define the future in starkly different ways. In addition to the nationalists there were many advocates of social revolution, and ...

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