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will receive an income suitable to its position. Your personal rights and property will be protected by the laws which will be made with your collaboration. The Polish language shall be used side by side with the German language in all public transactions and affairs, and every one of you shall be able to obtain official positions, honours, and dignities according to his ability.
In 1813, at the beginning of the War of Liberation against Napoleon, Frederick William the Third had solemnly promised a constitution to the Prussian people. At that moment he needed their help. That promise, which was received with the greatest enthusiasm, was renewed in the document given above and in many others, but it was not kept, although the King lived till 1840. He and his cessors treated the Poles with absolute faithlessness. Not a single one of the promises made to them in the Proclamation quoted was observed. During a century Prussia has disregarded her pledges of fair and equal treatment. Instead the Poles were persecuted and oppressed in Prussia, and their persecution in Austria, and especially in Russia, was largely, if not chiefly, due to Prussia's instigation.
Since the time of Frederick the Great, and in accordance with his advice given in the beginning of this chapter, Prussian statesmen, distrusting and fearing Russia, aimed at maintaining the most intimate relations with that country, for Russia's support was most valuable, while her hostility was dangerous. Fearing and distrusting Russia, they strove to keep that country weak. Animated by fear and distrust, they aimed at possessing themselves of a powerful weapon which could be used against the Northern Power in case of need.
These three purposes of Prussian statesmanship could best be served by inducing Russia to pursue in her Polish districts a policy which exasperated the Poles, which created disaffection on her most vulnerable frontier. Russia was an autocracy, and the Poles, remembering their ancient Republic, have always been democratically inclined. An autocrat is naturally afraid of revolution and conspiracy. Taking advantage of these feelings, Prussia succeeded during more than a century in influencing and guiding Russia's policy to her advantage. She unceasingly pointed out to the Czar that the three States which brought about the partition of Poland were equally interested in combating democracy and revolution. The Poles were depicted to the Russians as born revolutionaries and anarchists.
Russia had good reason to fear a Polish rising on her western, her most vulnerable, frontier, on which dwell nearly 12,000,000 Poles. The Poles are exceedingly warlike, and Russia has in the past found it extremely difficult to suppress their risings. Besides, an invader could always hope to raise the Poles against the Czar by promising them liberty, as was done by Napoleon the First in 1812. Prussian statesmen never tired of pointing out to the Czar that the danger of a Polish revolution could be overcome only by severe repressive measures taken jointly with Prussia. Thus Prussia and Russia were to remain partners, being jointly interested in the persecution of Poland. Poland's unhappiness was to be the cement of the two States. For the same reason for which Frederick the Great desired to preserve disorder in Poland, his successors desired to see chronic dissatisfaction prevail in Russia's Western Provinces.
Prussia contemplated with fear the possibility of Poland receiving her independence. It is clear that the re-creation of an independent Poland within the limits of 1772 would affect Russia only slightly, but would damage Prussia very severely. The Prussian Poles dwell in dense masses in Southern Silesia, one of the wealthiest coal and industrial centres of Germany, and in the provinces of Posen and Western Prussia. If the province of Posen should once more become Polish, the distance which separates Berlin from the eastern frontier of Germany would be reduced to about one half. The capital would be in danger. If the province of West Prussia, with the mouth of the Vistula and the port of Danzig, should once more become Polish, Prussia's position in the province of East Prussia would be jeopardised, for Polish territory would once more separate it from the rest of the Monarchy. Russia, on the other hand, with her boundless territories, could easily bear the loss of her Polish provinces, especially as her capitals lie far from the frontier. Prince Bülow stated, not without cause, in the Prussian Diet on January 19, 1903 : The Polish question is, as it has ever been, one of the most important, nay, the most important, question of Prussia's policy.'
In modern Russia there have always been absolutist and liberal-minded Czars and a reactionary and a progressive party. Those who depicted Russia as a land of pure and undiluted absolutism, and her Czars as a race of cruel and unenlightened despots, were not acquainted with Russian history. While the reactionary party in Russia favoured the policy of oppressing the nationalities, the liberal-minded were in favour of a wisely limited constitutionalism. They desired to give representative institutions to the people and some suitable form of self-government to the Poles.
In 1859 Bismarck became the Prussian Ambassador in Petrograd. At that time Russia was recovering from the effects of the Crimean War, and many of the most enlightened Russians had become convinced that her defeat was largely due to her backwardness, that her backwardness was caused by her unprogressive institutions, that a more liberal policy in the widest sense of the word was needed. The Czar himself and his principal adviser, Prince Gortchakoff, were in favour of Liberalism and of Constitutionalism. Both desired to give greater freedom to the Poles. However, Bismarck, following the policy of Frederick the Great, resolutely opposed their policy in Prussia's interest. Owing to his persuasiveness and personal magnetism, that great statesman obtained the ascendant over the Czar and induced him to pursue a reactionary policy towards the Poles. Lord Cowley, the British Ambassador in Paris; reported to Earl Russell on March 26, 1863 :
I have had a curious conversation with the Prussian Ambassador, and not altogether without importance, as showing that the Prussian Government has, if possible, greater repugnance to the restoration of Polish independence than the Cabinet of St. Petersburg itself. Adverting to the well-known desire of the Emperor to accomplish this event, Count Goltz said that it was a question of life and death to Prussia. ... In the course of this conversation Count Goltz said that M. de Bismarck, while Prussian Minister at St. Petersburg, had strenuously and successfully opposed the few concessions made to Poland by the present Emperor.
In his . Memoirs’ Prince Bismarck candidly described his anti-Polish policy in Russia as follows:
In the higher circles of Russian society the influences which made for Poland were connected with the now outspoken demand for a constitution. It was felt as a degradation that a cultivated people like the Russians should be denied institutions which existed in all European nations, and should have no voice in the management of their own affairs. The division of opinion on the Polish question penetrated the highest military circles. Those Russians who demanded a constitution for themselves pleaded at times in excuse for the Poles that they were not governable by Russians, and that as they grew more civilised they became entitled to a share in the administration of their country. This view was also represented by Prince Gortchakoff.
The conflict of opinion was very lively in St. Petersburg when I left that capital in April, 1862, and it so continued throughout my first year of office. I took charge of the Foreign Office under the impression that the insurrection which had broken out on January 1st, 1863, brought up the question not only of the interests of our Eastern provinces, but also that wider one, whether the Russian Cabinet were dominated by Polish or anti-Polish proclivities, by an effort after Russo-Polish fraternisation in the anti-German Panslavist interest or by one for mutual reliance between Russia and Prussia.
For the German future of Prussia the attitude of Russia was a question of great importance. A philo-Polish Russian policy was calculated to vivify that Russo-French sympathy against which Prussia's effort had been directed since the peace of Paris, and indeed on occasion earlier, and an alliance (friendly to Poland) between Russia and France, such as was in the air before the Revolution of July, would have placed the Prussia of that day in a difficult position. It was our interest to oppose the party in the Russian Cabinet which had Polish proclivities, even when they were the proclivities of Alexander II.
That Russia herself afforded no security against fraternisation with Poland I was able to gather from confidential intercourse with Gortchakoff and the Czar himself. Czar Alexander was at that time not indisposed to withdraw from part of Poland, the left bank of the Vistula at any rate so he told me in so many words—while he made unemphatic exception of Warsaw, which would always be desirable as a garrison town, and belonged strategically to the Vistula fortress triangle. Poland, he said, was for Russia a source of unrest and dangerous European complications ; its Russification was forbidden by the difference of religion and the insufficient capacity for administration among Russian officials.
Our geographical position and the intermixture of both nationalities in the Eastern provinces, including Silesia, compel us to retard, as far as possible, the opening of the Polish question, and even in 1863 made it appear advisable to do our best not to facilitate, but to obviate, the opening of this question by Russia. It was assumed that liberal concessions, if granted to the Poles, could not be withheld from the Russians; Russian constitutionalists were therefore philo-Polish.
Russia's history has often been most unfavourably affected, and the clearly expressed will of the Czar himself been totally deflected, by the incompetence of a single powerful individual. The Czar Alexander was a kindly,