Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic

By Peter D. Stachura | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

The re-establishment of Poland as a sovereign, independent state in 1918, in the form of the Second Republic, was made possible by a fortuitous convergence of external and internal factors. The collapse in 1917-18 of the three empires - the tsarist, Hohenzollern and Habsburg - which had partitioned Poland on three occasions in the eighteenth century, created a political vacuum that was filled, above all, by the commitment of the Western Allies to the Wilsonian principle of national self-determination as the basis for a postwar peace settlement in Europe and by an equally significant Polish contribution nurtured for 123 years, following the Third, and final, Partition. That contribution comprised entrenched cultural and religious values, resilience, physical and moral courage and, of course, a deep sense of patriotism, reinforced by military and diplomatic initiatives once war had broken out. But Poland quickly discovered that the regaining of independence was the comparatively easy part. An even greater challenge in the years ahead was to retain and consolidate that independence, for she was confronted by the most formidable and diverse array of problems imaginable. In every major sphere of national activity, Poland had to struggle against overwhelming odds. How effectively she coped has been analysed, particularly since 1945, by many historians, who have none the less reached an historiographical consensus that the Second Republic was largely a failure. 1

A note of caution is needed, however, because this verdict has often been shaped, or at least influenced to one degree or another, by political and ideological perspectives, most obviously during the Communist era in Poland, from 1945 until 1989. During that time, when an alien ideology and corresponding political system had been imposed on Poland at the end of the Second World War by the Soviet Union, with the connivance of the United States and Britain, many Polish historians - willingly or not - felt it expedient to follow the party line that the Second Republic had been a bourgeois, reactionary, even fascist state which had mercifully been

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