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17: Revolutionary Movements until 1848

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The independence wars of the Balkan nations started in Serbia where the fierce struggle against Ottoman rule was going on throughout almost the whole Napoleonic period and where the situation was so critical at the time of the Congress of Vienna that a Serb delegation appeared there asking for help but without receiving any attention.

    It was only natural that the Serbs were the first to rise. Those of them who were living in the mountains of Montenegro had, as a matter of fact, never been completely conquered, and their independence under the prince-bishops of the Petrovich-Njegoch family, residing at Cetinje, was formally recognized by Turkey in 1799. This was of course an encouragement to Serbia proper, which after the liberation of Hungary found herself at the extreme northern border of the Ottoman Empire and had her main center at Belgrade, the strategically important city which the Turks had twice temporarily lost to the Habsburgs in the eighteenth century. At the end of that century Belgrade became an important center of Serb nationalism under a strong cultural influence coming from southern Hungary where the Orthodox Serb minority had its metropolitan at Karlowitz and where the first prominent Serb writer, Dositej Obradovich, educated in Austria, Germany, and England, started his activity.

    It is highly significant that Obradovich was later made minister of education in the free Serb government created by the revolutionary leader, George Petrovich, who became known under the name of Kara (Black) George and founded the Karageorgevich dynasty. Kara George took advantage of the resistance which in the frontier regions of the declining Ottoman Empire had been provoked, first, by the abuses of the Turkish janissaries, but which also soon turned against the sultan himself. The organized revolt began in 1804 in the region between the Morava and Drina rivers and seemed to have serious chances of success when another Russo-Turkish war broke out two years later. The courageous struggle of the warlike Serb peasants proved indeed a useful diversion for the Russian forces which advanced, however, through the Danubian principalities into Bulgaria, never made contact with the Serbs, and practically abandoned them to their fate when the Peace of Bucharest was concluded in 1812. Kara George himself had to take refuge in Hungary.

    In spite of a violent Turkish repression which followed, and because of the lack of any outside assistance, the fight for freedom was resumed in the very year of the Congress of Vienna under a new national leader, Milosh Obrenovich. That former collaborator of Kara George now became his competitor in the liberation movement, and his descendants, the Obrenovich, were to be for almost one hundred years the rivals of the Karageorgevich, not without harmful consequences for the common cause. Milosh fully realized that under the given circumstances the ultimate goal of full independence could not be reached at once, and supplementing his inadequate military forces by a skillful diplomacy, he tried to gain gradual concessions from Turkey. A first step in the direction of at least local autonomy was made in 1817 when Obrenovich received from the sultan the title Prince of Serbia, but of a Serbia limited to the district of Belgrade and therefore much smaller than the ethnic territory of the Serb people. To enlarge that nucleus of a restored Serb state and also to increase the very limited power granted to its ruler was to be the program of Serbia’s policy for the next century.

    Unfortunately, in the same year of 1817 Milosh’s complicity in the assassination of his rival, Kara George, wrongly accused of having abandoned the national cause, made final the break between the two families at a time when unity was so badly needed. Nevertheless, full advantage was taken of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828—1829, although the main military action again took place in the eastern Balkans, far away from Serbia. This time the peace treaty included a promise of autonomy for Serbia, and the next year (1830) Milosh was recognized by the sultan as hereditary ruler, with a slight enlargement of Serbia’s territory, from which the Turkish troops were almost completely withdrawn. This success was followed in 1831 by the establishment of a Serb metropolitan at Belgrade, an important implementation of political autonomy by ecclesiastical autonomy and part of the prince’s serious efforts to promote the cultural development of the restored country. With regard to the Serbs who remained under Habsburg rule in Hungary, the situation was now reversed. Those of Serbia proper, no longer under Turkish oppression, now had, in spite of the sultan’s rather theoretical suzerainty, more freedom and opportunity for national development than their kin on the other side of the Danube. At the same time Serbia was freed from Greek control in the ecclesiastical field, a control which during the whole period of Ottoman domination all Christian populations of the empire had to suffer in addition to political oppression by the Turks.

    For that very reason the problem of Greek nationalism is somewhat different from the story of the other Christian peoples of the Balkan Peninsula. On the one hand, no other nation had an older and prouder tradition than the Greeks, and in general, during all the centuries of Turkish rule, their position was more favorable than that of Serbs or Bulgars. But on the other hand, a clear distinction must be made between two Greek traditions. In Constantinople the Greek Empire was indeed replaced by the Ottoman, but the patriarchate continued to play an extremely important role, sometimes humiliated and used as a political tool by the Sultans but always recognized as spiritual leader of all the Orthodox without distinction of nationality. In that connection, as well as in trade relations, the Greek language was always widely used in the whole empire, in whose diplomatic service many Greeks achieved distinction. There also survived, however, the purely Hellenic tradition which already toward the end of the Byzantine Empire had assumed a clearly national character and now when the Ottoman Empire was in turn declining developed along with the other modern national movements. Inspired by the monuments of ancient Greece, that new-Hellenic movement had no imperial ambitions, but, similar to the others, wanted to liberate the national territory, practically identified with old Hellas, from the degrading Turkish yoke and create an independent state there.

    In view of its specific character as a revival of ancient Greece, that movement had a strong appeal in Western Europe, were it only among enthusiastic romanticists like Lord Byron, who was to give his life for the Greek cause. But also from a political point of view there was a special interest in the aspirations of the Greeks, a Mediterranean nation whose territory, including the islands of the Aegean Sea, had great strategic significance for all other Mediterranean powers and particularly for Great Britain. The Greeks, much better known to the Western world than the other peoples of the Balkans, had for all these reasons a much better chance to find outside support for both their cultural and their political program, represented by the Philohellenic Society (Philiké Hetairea), which was definitely established in the very year of the Congress of Vienna with branches outside the Ottoman Empire. For the same reasons, however, the Greek patriarchate in Constantinople was less enthusiastic toward a revolutionary movement influenced by French ideas, which seemed a threat to the position of the Orthodox church in the whole empire and would reduce the Greek problem to one of the national issues amidst the empire’s disintegration.

    This peculiar situation, and also the connection between the Greek and the other national movements, may explain why the open fight for Greek freedom started in 1821 in distant Moldavia. There Prince Alexander Ypsilanti, a member of a noted Phanariote family which had temporarily occupied the throne of that country, raised a rebellion against Turkish suzerainty, as leader of the Greek Hetairea. In Moldavia the movement was rapidly crushed and merely resulted in the replacement of the Phanariote princes by native rulers in both Rumanian principalities. But almost simultaneously a genuine Greek insurrection started in the Morea, the very center of Greek nationalism, and soon spread over northern Greece and the islands. Alarmed by that outbreak, the sultan made the great mistake of having the Patriarch of Constantinople publicly hanged, although he was not at all responsible, and his ordeal shocked not only all Greeks and Orthodox but also general public opinion even in America.

    It was most important, however, that the Greek independence war, coming only six years after the Congress of Vienna, divided the leading powers of the European concert. They all had to realize that there was a region of Europe where the general peace, established in 1815, was extremely precarious. But though Metternich considered the Greek movement just one of the wanton rebellions against the European order which had to be crushed, like the abortive revolutions in Western countries, Alexander I at once seized the opportunity to interfere in favor of the Orthodox populations of Turkey, according to the right granted to Russia in her treaties with the Ottoman Empire. The sultan rejected the czar’s request that Turkish troops be withdrawn from the Danubian principalities and that an amnesty be granted to the Greeks, but the progress made by the latter, who convoked a national assembly at Epidaurus in 1822, definitely made their cause an international issue.

    At the same time, however, it became part of an intricate game of power politics, as the whole nationalities problem in the Balkans was to remain for the rest of the century. In the case of the Greeks, this interference of the great powers, not only of Russia but also of Britain and even of France, whose squadrons participated in the naval battle of Navarino where in 1827 the Turkish-Egyptian fleet was annihilated, greatly accelerated the achievement of the ultimate goal of the national movement—full independence. Instead of merely an autonomous status, recommended by the Western powers and rejected by Turkey in the earlier phase of the conflict, the independence of Greece had to be recognized by the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Adrianople, after its defeats in the Russo-Turkish war of 1828—1829. The next year, in 1830, an international protocol declared Greece an independent monarchy and there was again at least one completely free country in the intermediary zone between the empires of Central and Eastern Europe. From that moment the modern history of Greece, identified in the Middle Ages with that of one of the empires, with Byzantium, became an inseparable part of the history of the smaller nations of East Central Europe.

    The Treaty of Adrianople once more confirmed the autonomous position of the Danubian principalities, which remained for five years under Russian occupation, and for the first time internationally recognized the autonomy of Serbia, so patiently prepared by Milosh Obrenovich. That country had to wait for half a century before reaching full independence, and at this early stage the boundaries of neither Greece nor Serbia included the whole area inhabited by the Greek and Serb peoples. But in both national states serious efforts in the field of internal organization at once set in.

    In both cases these efforts had to meet with serious difficulties, particularly with regard to the constitutional problems, and this again  is typical of the history of all liberated Balkan nations. But these difficulties are fully understandable in view of the long interruption of any normal historical development in the Balkans, of similar constitutional crises in the Western countries, and of continuous interference by the great powers, rivaling for influence in the reorganized Balkan region.

    In Greece after three years of confusion before the final establishment of the monarchy, which was opposed by strong republican forces, the rule of her first king, Otto of Bavaria, was to last from 1832 until 1862 when he was forced to abdicate and a new dynasty, this time of Danish origin, took his place after another year of crisis. But already in 1843 a military revolt forced the king to dismiss his Bavarian advisers and to accept a constitution, with a responsible cabinet and a two-chamber parliament composed of a senate nominated by the king and a house of deputies elected by universal suffrage.

    In Serbia, in spite of Milosh’s autocratic tendencies, a parliament called Skupshtina was created and a first constitution drafted in 1835. Three years later a decree of the sultan instituted a council of state and a cabinet of ministers. After Milosh’s abdication in 1839, the death of his eldest son and the exile of the second in 1842, the Skupshtina elected the son of Kara George, Alexander, under whom, in spite of his rather poor qualifications, a great deal of progress was achieved in the fields of both culture and administration. Language and literature developed in the direction of unity with the Croats, but the center of the Yugoslav movement was in Montenegro where from 1830 to 1851 the throne was occupied by a distinguished leader of that movement, Petar Petrovich Njegosh, the last prince who was at the same time the Orthodox bishop.

    Thus nationalism was successfully growing in the Balkans, while the whole northern part of East Central Europe continued to be subject to the Austrian and Russian empires and to Prussia. And the situation in that whole region was particularly unfavorable to any national movement, since the strongest of them, the Polish, had suffered a crushing defeat at the very moment when Greece and Serbia were liberated in the Balkans and when the successful Belgian revolution forced the powers to revise the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in Western Europe.


The Polish insurrection which broke out in Warsaw on November 29, 1830, is sometimes called a Polish-Russian war. It was indeed a conflict between the kingdom of Poland, which was supposed to exist again after the Congress of Vienna, and the Russian Empire, to which that separated body politic was attached by a personal union only. But long before the Polish army rebelled against the czar’s brother, Grand Duke Constantine, who had been made its commander in chief, and before the Polish Diet on January 25, 1831, formally dethroned the Romanov dynasty, the whole conception of 1815 proved a fiction which could not possibly endure.

    During the fifteen years between the Congress and the Revolution, no little progress had been made in the kingdom, particularly in the cultural and economic fields. A Polish university was opened in Warsaw in 1817, and the most prominent member of the Polish government, Prince Xavier Lubecki, achieved a great deal as minister of finance. But already under Czar Alexander, solemnly crowned in Warsaw as king of Poland, even those Poles who had accepted the Vienna decisions as a basis for constructive activities were deeply disappointed. Alexander’s vague promises that the eastern provinces of the former commonwealth would be reunited with the kingdom proved impossible of fulfilment, even if they were sincere. Although under Russian rule Polish culture continued to flourish there, particularly in the former grand duchy of Lithuania where the University of Wilno was a more brilliant center of Polish learning and literature than ever before, the Russians considered those “West-Russian” lands an integral part of the empire which the czar had no right to alienate. Already in 1823 Prince Adam Czartoryski was removed from his position as “curator” of the University of Wilno, where severe repressions against the Polish youth organizations started at once. The Russian senator N. N. Novosiltsov, chiefly responsible for these measures, was at the same time interfering with the administration of the kingdom where instead of Czartoryski the insignificant General Zajaczek was appointed viceroy. Novosiltsov’s role was of course contrary to the apparently liberal constitution which Czartoryski had helped to draft. The leading patriots in the Diet tried in vain to defend Poland’s constitutional rights on legal grounds, while those who realized the futility of such loyal opposition engaged in conspiracies which even the most severe police control proved unable to check.

    The tension rapidly increased when Alexander I died in 1825. After the abortive December revolution in St. Petersburg, whose leaders seemed to favor the Polish claims, he was succeeded by his brother Nicholas I. He too was crowned as king of Poland a few years later. But without even the appearance of liberalism which had been shown by Alexander, he considered the parliamentary regime of the kingdom as being completely incompatible with the autocratic form of government which he so fully developed in Russia. Hence the Polish radicals, under the leadership of young infantry cadets, rose in defense of their constitution. Public opinion was alarmed by the news that the Polish army would be used by the czar as a vanguard for crushing the revolutionary movements which in 1830 had broken out in France and Belgium and which received Polish sympathy.

    Even the moderate leaders who were surprised by the plot of the cadets and who considered the insurrection as having been insufficiently prepared, joined it in a spirit of national unity, though much time was lost through the hesitation of those who still hoped to appease the czar and to arrive at some compromise. Among these was General Chlopicki, who was entrusted with practically dictatorial powers. Even later, the changing leadership of the Polish army, which for nine months opposed the overwhelming Russian forces, proved rather undecided and inadequate so that even initial successes and bold strategic conceptions of the general staff were not sufficiently utilized. Therefore the struggle ended in a victory of the Russian Field Marshal Paskevich, a veteran of the war against Turkey, and on September 7, 1831, after a siege of three weeks, Warsaw was taken by storm.

    Two aspects of that greatest Polish insurrection of the nineteenth century are of general interest, one with regard to the problem of nationalities in East Central Europe, the other from the point of view of international relations in Europe as a whole. The uprising which had started in Warsaw as an action of the so-called “Congress Kingdom,” had immediate repercussions east of the Bug River, in the Lithuanian and Ruthenian provinces of the historic commonwealth. Particularly in the former grand duchy of Lithuania there was a strong participation in the revolutionary movement against Russian rule, not only among the Polonized nobility but also among the gentry and the peasants of purely Lithuanian stock. And though there were social controversies in connection with the promised abolition of serfdom, there was no Lithuanian separatism on ethnic grounds but a common desire to restore the traditional Polish-Lithuanian Union in full independence from Russia. Regular Polish forces came from the territory of the kingdom, and the movement spread as far as the Livonian border but was unable to liberate the main cities and broke down with the doom of the insurrection in Poland proper.

    The leaders of the revolution also hoped to obtain the support of the Ukrainian lands. Here, too, they appealed not only to the Polish and Polonized nobles and to the idea of Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian cooperation in some tripartite federation of the future, but also to the peasant masses which, however, remained distrustful and passive. The young Taras Shevchenko, who was soon to become the first great Ukrainian poet, had contacts with some of the Polish leaders. But he was not won over, and later he made the significant statement that “Poland fell and crushed us too.” For the czarist government, after the defeat of the Poles, started a ruthless Russification not only in the Congress kingdom but also in all Lithuanian and Ruthenian lands where not only the Poles and the supporters of the Polish cause, but all non-Russian elements, were also the victims—a situation which greatly contributed to the rise of Lithuanian and Ukrainian nationalism.

    While these indirect consequences of the November insurrection appeared only later, the diplomatic repercussions in general European politics were simultaneous. All Poles realized that their fight for freedom could have notable chances for success only if supported by other powers. Therefore, turning exclusively against Russia, which controlled by far the largest part of Poland s historic territory in one form or another, they hoped for the complacence of Austria and even for some sympathy among the liberals in Germany. Decisive, however, seemed the attitude of the Western powers, France and Britain. Well realized by Polish public opinion in general, the necessity to find outside assistance was the main concern of Prince Adam Czartoryski, Poland’s greatest statesman of the nineteenth century. After years of endeavor toward a reconciliation with Russia he now recognized the hopelessness of such a policy and for the remaining thirty years of his life was to be Russia s most persistent opponent.

    Although Czartoryski never was popular among the leftists led by the famous historian Joachim Lelewel, his authority was so great that he was placed at the head of the national government. As such he made every effort to make the revolution an international issue, and he sent diplomatic representatives abroad, particularly to Paris and London. After the dethronement of Nicholas I as king of Poland, even the election of another king was considered. In order to interest Vienna in the Polish cause, the candidature of an Austrian archduke or of the Duke of Reichstadt, Napoleon’s son who was kept at the Austrian court, was put forward, as well as that of the Prince of Orange or of a member of the British royal family. More realistic was the conviction that all signatories of the 1815 treaties ought to be interested in the violation of the promises then made to the Poles, and that they would therefore intercede in their behalf.

    But all the diplomatic skill of Czartoryski and his collaborators proved to be of no avail. Even statesmen who seemed favorable to the Poles, such as Talleyrand and Sebastiani in France or Palmerston in England, wanted them first to gain substantial victories through their own forces. Prospects of a joint French-British mediation, with the possible participation of Austria, vanished when the Belgian problem created a tension between the two western powers, while Austria showed some interest in Poland’s fate only at the last moment when the defeated Polish regiments had already crossed over into Galicia, only to be disarmed there like those who crossed the Prussian border.

    As a matter of fact the Polish insurrection had saved France and Belgium from Russian intervention, thus giving evidence that a really independent Poland would be a protection against czarist imperialism, as in the past. Therefore Czartoryski, who after participating as a volunteer in the last fights went into exile for the rest of his life, hoped that the complete conquest of Congress Poland by Russia would again raise those fears of Russian expansion which were so general in 1815 in Vienna. In Paris he tried to convince old Talleyrand that at least a restoration of the autonomous kingdom ought to be requested from the czar, but Sebastiani made the famous statement that “order reigned in Warsaw,” and in London, where the prince made many friends for Poland, he heard the objection that “unfortunately the Polish question was contrary to the interests of all other powers.

    To convince the world that this was not so was Czartoryski’s main objective after his final establishment at the Hotel Lambert in Paris from 1833 on. He tried to accomplish his ends by connecting the Polish cause with that of all oppressed nations. Therefore that “uncrowned king of Poland,” with his diplomatic agents in almost all European capitals, was working for the liberation of the whole of East Central Europe. In the belief that the fate of Poland was part of a much larger problem, the whole Polish emigration, concentrated in France and inspired by great poets including Adam Mickiewicz, was united in spite of differences of method between the right and the left. The latter, eager to join revolutionary movements anywhere, was also eager to organize new conspiracies in the oppressed country at once, with another insurrection as ultimate goal, without sufficiently realizing that there was not the slightest chance of success under the regime established by the victorious czar in all his Polish possessions.

    In addition to the ruthless persecution of everything that was Polish or connected with Poland in the eastern provinces where the University of Wilno and the Uniate church were the main victims, a period of reaction also started in the so-called kingdom under Paskevich as general governor. Considering that the Poles through their rebellion had forfeited all rights granted them at the Congress of Vienna, in 1832 Nicholas I replaced the constitution of the kingdom by an “Organic Statute” which liquidated its autonomy and made it practically a Russian province, subject to systematic Russification particularly in the educational field. The fiction of a restoration of Poland in union with Russia was now abandoned and the czarist empire advanced to the very boundaries of Prussian and Austrian Poland.

    Under these circumstances the other two partitioning powers became convinced that close cooperation with Russia was indispensable. A secret agreement was therefore concluded in 1833 by the three monarchs, who guaranteed one another their Polish possessions and promised mutual assistance in case of a new revolution. Jointly, they also militarily occupied (without however annexing it) the Free City of Cracow where the November insurrection had found numerous partisans. The settlement made at the Congress of Vienna was thus revised in East Central Europe in favor of the imperialistic powers, and it became even more intolerable for the submerged nationalities. For the reaction directed against the Poles, whom Metternich considered the typical revolutionaries, was accompanied, both in the Habsburg Empire which he fully controlled and in the Russia of his ally Nicholas I, by oppressive measures against all other peoples who were dissatisfied with their fate.


In both the Russian Empire of Nicholas I and the Austrian Empire of the Metternich era, the government policy with regard to the non-Russian and non-German nationalities was only part of a program of administration based upon absolutism and centralism. But a clear distinction must be made between conditions in Russia and in Austria.

    Under Nicholas I it was officially proclaimed that czarist Russia had three traditional pillars, and one of them, in addition to autocracy and Orthodox religion, was Russian nationalism. The process of Russification which had already set in under the predecessors of Nicholas I, but which in his reign was developed systematically, was therefore not only a tool of czarist imperialism which facilitated the unification of the whole realm but also an attempt toward making the empire, one and indivisible, the national state of the Great Russian people. In the Habsburg Empire, on the contrary, there was no Austrian nationalism, and the nationalists among the German-speaking subjects of the emperor were interested in their unity with all other Germans outside Austria rather than in the impossible task of Germanizing the non-German majority in the whole Danubian monarchy. The growing nationalism of these non-German peoples was in conflict with the German Austrians only in those provinces which had a mixed population. But everywhere that nationalism was in conflict with, and repressed by, the imperialism of a central administration which could be but German in language and culture.

    In Russia the biggest nationality problem, and as a matter of fact the only one which was openly recognized as such, was indeed the Polish question. And among the Poles alone there was a nationalism which had complete political liberation in a restored national state as its immediate objective. Hence the persecutions which followed the November Insurrection and continued throughout the following twenty-five years of the reign of Nicholas I. The most numerous among the non-Russian nationalities of the empire, however, were the Ukrainians, officially called Little Russians and considered part of one Russian nation, just as were the Great Russians, while their language was supposed to be merely a dialect of Russian.

    For that very reason it was important that at the very same time when Russian literature was so brilliantly developing, Ukrainian literature, following Kotlyarewsky’s earlier initiative, also continued to make slow but significant progress in the first half of the nineteenth century. While Russia’s first great poet, Alexander Pushkin, declared that all the Slavic rivers had to flow into the Russian sea, the somewhat younger Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevehenko, glorified the Ukraine as a separate country which was faithful to the Cozack tradition. The Ukrainian movement, too, was influenced by the rising ideology of Pan-Slavism, but this was interpreted in the spirit of romantic idealism, with equal chances of free development for all Slavic nations and without any identification with some kind of imperial Pan-Russianism. But what the Ukrainian leaders, still few in number, claimed in these early days was not yet full independence but cultural freedom and autonomy in a Slavic federation in which Russia might even play a leading role.

    Such ideas, supported by scholarly and literary activities, found a natural center in the University of Kiev where the former Polish University of Wilno was transferred in 1832, of course as a Russian institution but with some distinguished professors of Ukrainian origin or interested in the Ukrainian tradition which was studied there by a special archaeological commission. In addition to Shevchenko, who on his return from St. Petersburg was attached to that commission, the historians N. Kostomarov and P. Kulish were particularly prominent. They belonged to the group that founded the “Brotherhood” or Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius, probably in 1846. The name of that association indicates its ideas of Slavic solidarity on religious grounds and its mainly cultural character. But it was of course also dedicated to the idea of national freedom for the Ukrainians, inseparable from social and constitutional liberties which men like Shevchenko, originally a serf himself, along with the liberal elements among the Russians, claimed for all peoples of the empire.

    It was, however, precisely that connection between nationalism and liberalism which alarmed the Russian authorities. When denounced to the czar, the society was closed at his order in 1847 and its leaders were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment or exile. Shevchenko was treated with special severity, being condemned to serve as a private in a disciplinary battalion in Central Asia, “with a prohibition of writing and painting,” as Nicholas I added with his own hand. For Shevchenko’s poetic evocation of the Ukraine’s past seemed so dangerous that it was decided to suppress Ukrainian nationalism completely.

    No similar action was needed in the other non-Russian parts of the empire, but the situation in the Baltic region, that small but important section of East Central Europe now annexed by Russia, deserves special attention. Both in the so-called Baltic provinces, corresponding to present-day Latvia and Estonia, and in the grand duchy of Finland, the coexistence of different national groups, opposed to one another, greatly reduced the challenge to Russian imperialism and nationalism.

    In the Baltic provinces, which without enjoying the full autonomy of Finland continued to have some local self-government, these privileges were exclusively in favor of a small but rich and highly cultivated German upper class, whether landowners the Baltic “barons” or intellectuals and merchants in the old and prosperous cities. Their German nationalism was purely cultural and combined with complete political loyalty toward the Russian Czardom, which many representatives of the German-Baltic aristocracy continued to serve in diplomacy and the army. Socially and linguistically there was a clear-cut separation between these German Balts and the Latvian and Estonian peasant population, but among both non-German ethnic groups a cultural revival set in during the first half of the nineteenth century. This was facilitated by the abolition of serfdom which was here accomplished much earlier (1816—1819) than in the other parts of the empire.

    In both cases the movement, still entirely non-political, started with the study of folklore, the collecting of folk songs, and the appearance of the first newspapers in the native tongues. The University of Dorpat (Tartu in Estonian), reorganized in 1802 with German as the language of instruction, soon became a center of local studies with the participation of many students of Latvian and Estonian origin. The foundation of the Estonian Learned Society in 1838 proved an important landmark. But it was not before the second half of the century that progress in that direction was accelerated and that a real Latvian and Estonian nationalism can be discovered.

    Much earlier were the origins of Finnish nationalism which can be traced back to the time of Swedish domination, and which also in the earlier period of Russian rule, when the autonomy of the grand duchy was respected by the czars, was rather directed against the cultural supremacy of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. But even then prominent Finnish leaders, such as the poet and journalist A. I. Arwidson, were aware of the danger of ultimate Russification. This was inherent in the union with the colossal empire and for that very reason they wanted to eliminate the internal cleavage between the Swedish and the Finnish group. And thanks to another poet, Elias Lönnrot, Finnish nationalism received its decisive inspiration when at the middle of the reign of Nicholas I (1835—1849) he published the famous national epic Kalevala, compiled out of old folk poetry.

    The same scale, from purely cultural to distinctly political nationalism, can be found among the nationalities of the Austrian Empire. Metternich, more than the emperors themselves, Francis I and after his death in 1835, Ferdinand I, who were rather weak and insignificant rulers, represented the idea of absolute government. He was hardly afraid of the cultural revival of the Czechs in spite of its steady progress. The foundation of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom in 1818 was indeed rather an expression of interest in regional studies. But when in 1830 the Matice ceska (literally “Czech mother”) was attached to it, that society also started encouraging the use of the Czech language. And it was obvious that the publication of Frantisek Palacky’s History of Bohemia (though first in German), covering the period of independence before Habsburg rule, would revive a national tradition in complete opposition to all that Metternich was standing for.

    Some of the most prominent Czech writers, like the poet Jan Kollár and the historian P. J. Safarik, were of Slovak origin and interested in the past and the culture of all Slavic peoples. They contributed on the one hand to a feeling of Slavic solidarity in the Habsburg Empire, long before that movement was exploited by Russian imperialism, and on the other hand to a national revival even of those Slavs who never had created independent states, like the Slovenes and the Slovaks themselves. Though very close to the Czechs, the Slovaks under the leadership of Ludovit Stur decided to use their own language in literature, thus reacting against the backward conditions in which they were left under Hungarian rule.

    Trying to play off the various nationalities against one another, the Metternich regime, for instance, would use officials of Czech origin as tools of Germanization in Polish Galicia, and would welcome the growing antagonism between the Magyars and the other groups in Hungary. In that kingdom, whose state rights even Metternich could not completely disregard, Hungarian nationalism was making rapid progress, particularly in the cultural and economic field, thanks chiefly to Count Széchenyi, called “the greatest Hungarian,” who in 1825 founded the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The Diet, which continued to function though with greatly reduced power, was slow to carry out the democratic reforms advocated by Széchenyi, but in its session of 1843—1844 it at last decided to replace Latin by Magyar as the official language.

    At the same time the Hungarian Diet also decided to prescribe instruction in the Magyar language in the schools of Croatia where, therefore, Croat nationalism was more alarmed by the inconsiderate pressure coming from Budapest than by the centralization of the whole empire being promoted in Vienna. Furthermore, under these conditions, the idea of Yugoslav unity, in spite of the old antagonism between Serbs and Croats, was also becoming popular among the latter where the gifted writer and politician Ljudevit Gaj (1809—1872) propagated the “Illyrian” movement and also influenced the Slovenes in a similar sense.

    Even in its rather modest beginnings, that movement was dangerous for the unity of the monarchy because it could not find full satisfaction within its existing boundaries. And such was also the case of Polish and Italian nationalism, as well as of the Ruthenian and Rumanian aspirations. The former clashed in eastern Galicia with Polish supremacy, and the latter in Transylvania with Magyar supremacy, while cultural ties were at least established with the Ruthenians or Ukrainians of the Russian Empire, and with the Rumanians in the Danubian principalities. But even more than these international implications, the two big national problems which affected the Austrian Empire alone, the Czech and the Magyar, were a growing source of tension because in these cases modern nationalism found strong support in the historic tradition of two medieval kingdoms. The Pan-Slavic trend among the Czechs was ready to use the Habsburg monarchy as a basis of action, and the Hungarian program did not exclude a dynastic union with Austria. But even so they were directed against the very foundations of Metternich’s system and could not be represented by the chancellor’s police measures.


The revolutionary crisis of the middle of the nineteenth century which shattered most of the European countries in protest against the political system established by the Congress of Vienna is usually associated with the memorable year of 1848, with the so-called “spring of the peoples.” It was indeed in the spring of that year that the movement started in Western Europe and in the western, German part of Central Europe. In East Central Europe, however, where the tension was deepest and the claims for national freedom even stronger than those for constitutional reforms, the crisis started exactly two years earlier, in the spring of 1846.

    It started with the utopian project of a Polish insurrection which would be directed against all three partitioning powers at the same time. From the outset it proved impossible to include any direct action against Russia, which dominated by far the largest part of Polish lands and where the oppression was most violent. For Nicholas I who in the thirties had already crushed all conspiratorial activities of the Poles, now succeeded, and even in the decisive year of 1848, in stopping all revolutionary movements at the border of his empire. It was therefore Prussian Poland which was selected as a basis for the new struggle for freedom. Here the prospective leader, Ludwik Mieroslawski, had already appeared in 1845. The reasons for such a decision must be explained against the background of the general situation in Prussia.

    As far as her policy toward the Polish population was concerned, earlier attempts at reconciliation, in agreement with the promises of 1815, had been followed by the systematic repressions of Edward Flottwell who in 1830 replaced the Polish prince, Anton Radziwill, as governor of the grand duchy of Poznan. On the other hand, not only in that purely Polish province but also in West Prussia and Silesia all government efforts toward Germanization met with strong resistance. This was not at all limited to the Catholic clergy and to the nobility, who were considered the main representatives of Polish nationalism, but it was also organized by a Polish middle class which had been formed in these western lands earlier than in any other part of Poland. It was there that the most advanced cultural, social, and economic progress had been made by the Polish people, while such progress was entirely impossible under the regimes of Metternich and Nicholas I. Even under Frederick William IV, new king of Prussia since 1840, who recalled Flottwell, only the methods of anti-Polish policy were changed. But the apparently anti-Russian attitude of the government, and some sympathy displayed by Prussian liberals, created the illusion that eventually the planned Polish action would find Prussian support.

    What really happened was, on the contrary, the arrest of Mieroslawski and his collaborators in February, 1846, when their conspiracy was discovered and all attempts to liberate Prussian Poland failed completely. At the same time, however, a real tragedy took place in Austrian Galicia. Alarmed by preparations for a Polish insurrection which had also started there, the Austrian administration incited the peasants to rise against the noble landowners in some districts of western Galicia, promising rewards for the killing or capturing of any of them. The peasants were told by the Austrian bureaucracy that the nobles wanted to restore old Poland only to enslave them, while the emperor was ready to abolish serfdom completely. As a matter of fact it was precisely the leaders of the insurrection who, though of noble origin, like the eminently prominent Edward Dembowski, had the most advanced ideas of social reform. Their radicalism was best evidenced when at the end of February they seized power in the free city of Cracow, where Jan Tyssowski, later an exile in the United States, was proclaimed dictator. But his inadequate forces were defeated by the Austrians, Dembowski was killed, and after a brief Russian occupation the republic of Cracow was annexed by the Austrian Empire.

    Even that obvious violation of the treaties of 1815 was accepted by the Western powers which in spite of the aroused public opinion in France and England limited themselves to weak diplomatic protests. And a new wave of violent repressions set in, both in Galicia where the new governor, Count Stadion, tried to play off the Ruthenians against the Poles, and in Prussia, where in December, 1847, Mieroslawski and seven of his associates, after a long imprisonment, were sentenced to death. But before they could be executed, the outbreak of the 1848 revolution opened entirely new prospects not only for the Poles but for all the submerged nationalities of East Central Europe.

    As a matter of fact there were several revolutions in 1848, not only in different countries but with different objectives. In the French February Revolution, the issues were exclusively constitutional and social, but just as in the case of the great Revolution of 1789, the general ideas of liberty which were spreading from Paris all over Europe had a special appeal for those peoples who were deprived not only of constitutional freedom—and this in a degree much greater than under Louis Philippe’s French monarchy—but also of their national rights. Hence the growing excitement in various foreign-dominated parts of Italy and particularly in the non-German parts of Prussia and Austria. Not later than in March there appeared in both monarchies a rather confusing combination of nationalist movements and general revolts against autocratic regimes.

    In Prussia, in spite of the disappointments of 1846, the situation of that year seemed to repeat itself so far as the Polish question was concerned. The liberation of Mieroslawski and his friends by German crowds in Berlin was very significant in that respect. Returning to Poznan, the Polish leader also returned to the plan of a war against czarist Russia with the support of a liberalized Prussia, whose new minister of foreign affairs, Baron H. von Arnim, was in favor of such a conception. The latter was also supported by Prince Adam Czartoryski who came from Paris to Berlin. But all these plans were doomed to failure for two different reasons.

    First of all, a war against Russia was seriously considered in Prussia only so long as there was fear of Russian armed intervention in the German revolution and a prospect of the active cooperation of other powers. But Nicholas I, well advised by his ambassador in Berlin, remained passive, while the ambassadors of Britain and even of revolutionary France made it quite clear that the Western powers did not desire a conflict with the czar any more than Austria, who was involved in her own troubles. On the other hand, the impossibility of Polish-Prussian cooperation became obvious as soon as the “national reorganization” of at least the province of Poznan was considered. Contrary to the initial promises of the government, any administrative reform in favor of the Poles who hoped for complete separation from Prussia was opposed by the German minority. A compromise negotiated by General Willisen, as royal commissioner, was rejected by both sides, and after a decree which announced the division of the grand duchy into a Polish and a German part, open fighting started with the result that on May 9, 1848, the insurrectionary Polish forces had to capitulate.

    There followed a violent anti-Polish reaction under the new commissioner, General Pfuel, who was even ready to cede to Russia a part of the Poznan province. Finally such drastic changes were abandoned, but even the Frankfurt Parliament, where a few liberals had spoken in favor of the Poles and the reconstruction of their country, fully approved Prussia’s policy in the name of a “healthy national egoism.” Such an attitude was in agreement with the general program of German nationalism which in 1848 claimed the unification of all German states in one empire, whether under Prussian or Austrian leadership, but which also wanted to include many non-German populations that were under the control of both these powers.

    In the case of the Habsburg monarchy, such an approach had implications of a much larger scope, affecting at least all those possessions of the dynasty which in the past had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and which since 1815 had been included in the German Confederation. For that very reason the Bohemian lands were invited to send representatives to the Frankfurt Parliament, a claim which was rejected in the name of the Czechs by the historian Palacky, who now became the political leader of the nation. Nevertheless, when in March, 1848, almost simultaneously with the revolution in Berlin, a similar movement broke out in Vienna, here too at the beginning there seemed to be a possibility of cooperation among all those who, irrespective of nationality, had suffered under the Metternich regime. This cooperation was to include Austrian Germans, who were chiefly interested in constitutional reforms and other peoples who hoped that under a liberal constitution their national rights would also receive consideration.

    In Austria, too, the Polish question, which had received such a harsh blow two years before, was immediately reopened, and in Galicia, as in Prussian Poland, concessions were made at the beginning of the revolution. These included the creation of national committees in Cracow and Lwow, and the raising of hopes for a reconstruction of Poland in connection with the Habsburg monarchy. But there was even less chance of cooperation against the Russian Czardom—the main obstacle to such a reconstruction—than in Prussia. On the contrary, on April 26 Cracow had already been bombarded by the Austrian commander, and when Polish activity was transferred to the eastern part of Galicia, the Austrian government favored the claim of the Ruthenians. This was to cut off that part of Galicia as a separate province with a Ruthenian majority. In November drastic anti-Polish measures also set in there. Lwow, too, was bombarded. The first Pole, Waclaw Zaleski, who had been made governor of Galicia, was recalled, and although the partition of Galicia did not materialize, the whole province was again subject to efforts of Germanization and to strict control by the central authorities.

    Here, however, the analogy with the fate of Prussian Poland ends. In the multinational Austrian Empire the Poles did not limit themselves to another abortive uprising in their section of the monarchy, but took an active and sometimes a leading part in all other revolutionary movements, including even that of the Viennese population. A first important step was the Polish participation in the Slavic congress which was opened in Prague on June 2. Like the whole earlier purely cultural phase of Pan-Slavism, that congress, naturally under Czech leadership, had nothing in common with the later development of that trend which was sponsored by Russia. Except for the isolated extremist Bakunin, who hoped in vain to use Bohemia as a basis for a communist revolution, the Russians were conspicuously absent from the congress. There was indeed in Prague a difference between conservative partly aristocratic leaders who were defending traditional regionalism, and a liberal, even radical, majority. There were also individual delegates from outside the Habsburg monarchy. But all of them represented those Slavic peoples who, crushed between German and Russian imperialism, hoped that a reorganization of that monarchy on democratic principles would give them a chance for free development.

    In spite of such a positive attitude toward Austria, whose existence even Palacky considered indispensable in that phase of his activity, the imperial authorities were suspicious. In Prague, as in the two Polish cities, the end was a bombardment, the congress being dispersed. In addition to that hostility of the military and bureaucratic elements in the central government, however, there was another difficulty which made the Slavic congress and its whole program end in failure. It had already appeared during the deliberations that the Slavs, though a majority in the Habsburg monarchy, were not the only non-German group which had to be taken into consideration in any reform project.  Besides the Italian and Rumanian question of a rather special character, there was the big issue of Hungary with her Magyar leaders and her own nationalities problems.


In spite of the failure of the various revolutionary movements in Austria in the spring of 1848, the Metternich regime could not be maintained. A constituent assembly or preliminary parliament had to be convoked by Emperor Ferdinand I even before he abdicated, on December 2, in favor of his nephew, Francis Joseph I. That assembly, meeting first in Vienna and later in Kromeriz (Kremsier) in Moravia, had to prepare a constitution for the Habsburg monarchy which would not only establish a parliamentary government and introduce social reforms but also give satisfaction to the claims of the various nationalities. Under a Polish speaker, Francis Smolka, both German and Slav deputies made a serious effort to solve these two problems. The latter, particularly the Czechs, wanted a real federalization of the empire which Pa1acky, in his plan of January 13, 1849, proposed to divide into eight entirely new provinces corresponding to the main ethnic groups. In order to avoid too drastic changes of the existing boundaries and the breaking up of the various historic units, the final draft of the new constitution, of March 1, attempted a compromise. Self-government was provided for each of the historic lands of the monarchy, but those which had a mixed population were to be subdivided into autonomous districts (Kreise) for each nationality. This constructive idea was never to materialize, however, and the whole “Kremsier Constitution” was abandoned when the new prime minister, Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, dissolved the assembly and returned to an absolute and centralistic form of government under German leadership.

    One of the reasons for that final defeat of the Austrian revolution, even in its moderate expression, was indeed the military strength of the imperial regime. The Austrian army under Field Marshal Radetzky twice defeated the only foreign power which interfered with the internal troubles of the monarchy. This was the kingdom of Sardinia which, aiming at the unification of Italy, tried in vain to liberate the Italian populations still under Habsburg rule. But for the history of East Central Europe the second reason for the temporary victory of imperialism and absolutism is even more significant. It was not only difficult in general to reconcile the frequently conflicting claims of the various nationalities for instance, the claims of Italians and “Illyrians” (Slovenes and Croats in the maritime provinces or the claims of Poles and Ruthenians in Galicia) but any federal transformation of the empire, following ethnic lines, found an almost insurmountable obstacle in the basic opposition between the historic conception of the kingdom of Hungary and the aspirations of the non-Magyar nationalities of that kingdom which Vienna was able to play off against Budapest.

    In that respect failure to arrive at an agreement was the more regrettable because the Magyars represented by far the strongest force of opposition against the central regime. Realizing this, Ferdinand I, the fourth as king of Hungary, accepted the demands of the bloodless revolution which also broke out in Hungary’s capital in the middle of March, 1848. Count Louis Batthyány became the first Hungarian prime minister and the liberal bills voted by the Hungarian Diet were approved. But the delicate issue of the relations between the new democratic kingdom and Austria, which was left in suspense, alarmed both the reactionaries in Vienna and the non-Magyar peoples of Hungary. The latter were afraid of the nationalism of the most influential Magyar leader, Louis Kossuth, a man who was favorable to social reforms but who was unprepared to recognize the equal rights of all nationalities.

    Most of these were Slavs, including the Slovaks of northern Hungary—close kin of the Czechs in the Austrian part of the empire—and the Serb minority in southern Hungary looking toward the autonomous principality of Serbia on the other side of the border. But more than any other Slavs and more than the Rumanians of Transylvania, who at once protested against the incorporation of that province with Hungary and who were influenced by the rising Rumanian nationalism in the Danubian principalities, the Croats were to prove the most dangerous opponents of the Hungarian revolution. Fearing for the traditional autonomy of their kingdom if the ties with a free Hungary were to be made closer, they hoped to best serve their own national interests by siding with the imperial government in Vienna. It was therefore the Croat army, under Baron Joseph Jellachich, appointed ban of Croatia by the emperor and also ready to cooperate with the Orthodox Serbs, which was used by Austria to crush the Magyars.

    Jellachich’s army was defeated when it entered Hungary in September, 1848. Even the occupation of Pest, early in 1849, by the same Prince Windisch-Graetz who had stopped the Slavic movement in Prague, and in October, 1848, another uprising in Vienna which was favorable to the Hungarians, did not put an end to the fierce resistance of the Magyars. On the contrary, equally opposed to the projects of the Kromeriz Assembly and to the centralized empire which was supposed to replace them, the Magyars, fearing that their kingdom would be made a mere province of Austria, with Transylvania and even the Serb territory (Voivodina) being separated, decided to dethrone the Habsburg dynasty, and on April 14,1849, at Debrecen, they approved a declaration of independence which was partly drafted on the American model. At the same time the parliament named Kossuth “Governing President.”

    He also had to conduct the war in defense of the new republic whose establishment seemed to be a turning point in the history of East Central Europe, a first step in the direction of the complete liberation of all nations placed under foreign rule. As such it was particularly welcomed by the Poles whose friendship with the Hungarians was traditional. But in spite of that friendship the Polish leaders were fully aware of the fateful mistake which the defenders of Hungarian nationalism were making by disregarding the nationalism of the non-Magyar peoples. A reconciliation between Magyars on the one hand and Slavs and Rumanians on the other, was strongly encouraged both by Prince Czartoryski, who continued to conduct Polish diplomacy from Paris and who established relations even with Sardinia and Serbia, and by the Polish generals who participated in the Hungarian independence war.

    One of them, Henryk Dembinski, was for a certain time even commander in chief of the Hungarian forces. Another, Josef Bem, a better strategist and more popular in Hungary, particularly distinguished himself in the defense of Transylvania where he tried in vain to better the relations between Magyars and Rumanians. He had to fight not only against the Austrians but also against the Russians, because after the defeat of Windisch-Graetz the emperor had asked for aid from Czar Nicholas I who had been able to prevent any revolutionary outbreak in his own realm and had stopped a liberal revolt in Rumania. The czar now was ready to offer his assistance in crushing the last and most alarming insurrection in East Central Europe.

    The Polish participation in that revolution was for him a special reason for interfering since he was afraid that a Hungarian victory would also encourage the Poles to resume their struggle for independence, possibly under the same generals, and with the revolutionary movement eventually spreading from Austrian to Russian Poland. On his way to Hungary the Russian field marshal Paskevich, the same who had crushed the Polish insurrection in 1831 and now governed the former “kingdom,” took his auxiliary army through Galicia which was still restless after the troubles of 1848. The first Hungarian territory which he entered was the Ruthenian region south of the Carpathians, where among close kin of the czar’s “Little Russians” or Ukrainians—another national minority rather neglected by the Magyars—a feeling of solidarity with Russia was created on that occasion.

    Attacked from two sides by superior forces, the exhausted Hungarian army, in spite of the courageous efforts of its last commander, General Arthur Görgey, had to capitulate. This took place at Világos near Arad on August 13, 1849, and all fighting ended in October when General George Klapka had to surrender the fortress of Komárom. This was at the same time the end of the whole revolutionary movement in the Habsburg Empire, and although even the Russians suggested an amnesty, the long resistance of the Hungarians was now ruthlessly punished. The victorious Austrian commander, General Julius Haynau, instituted a regime of terror which culminated in the execution of the former prime minister, Batthyány, and thirteen high officers. Kossuth had to go into exile and it was in America that he was received with special enthusiasm in 1851. But in general the Hungarian emigration was no more successful than the Polish in getting Western support for the oppressed peoples of East Central Europe.

    Moreover, it was not only the Magyars who had to suffer from the new era of reaction. This was similar to the Metternich regime in its twofold trend of centralization and Germanization, which after the end of the military operations lasted for about ten years in the whole Habsburg monarchy under prime minister Alexander von Bach. After fighting on the Austrian side, even Croatia lost her former autonomy and separate diet, and the non-Magyar nationalities of Hungary proper, including the Saxons of Transylvania, were equally disappointed, the new Serb voivodina being placed under military administration.

    In the Austrian part of the monarchy, all administrative and judicial reforms which had to be undertaken under pressure of the barely suppressed revolution were also aimed at a complete unification of the empire through a German bureaucracy. Contrary to the promises which had been made in March, 1849, the Bach administration, instead of a parliament, merely created a “council of state” which was composed of officials and which proved hostile to any kind of provincial self-government and particularly to the claims of all non-German nationalities. Only in Galicia was some progress made by the Poles, when after General Hammerstein’s military regime, one of them, Count Agenor Goluchowski, was made governor or viceroy of the undivided province. But even that prominent statesman was to find greater possibilities of action only in the reform period ten years later.

    Immediately after the revolutionary crisis of 1848, which in East Central Europe began two years earlier and lasted one year longer than in the West, that whole region returned to a condition similar to that which prevailed after the Congress of Vienna. In the case of the Poles, that situation was even worse as far as Russian Poland and Cracow were concerned, and all stateless nationalities resented their oppression much more than ever before because of the continuous progress of their national consciousness and the high hopes which the various revolutions had raised. These revolutions having failed, it seemed that only a European war could improve their lot, especially if Western Europe would show a real interest in the freedom of all nations in opposition to the autocratic empires in the eastern part of the Continent. Nobody expressed that idea better than the Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz, who, turning from literature to political action, had tried in 1848 to create a Polish legion in Italy, as in the days of Bonaparte. He was now ready to welcome another Napoleon as a liberator and the Crimean War as an occasion for reorganizing Europe on a basis of national rights.

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