Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Political and National Survival in the Late Russian Empire: The Case of the Korwin-Milewski Brothers

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Political and National Survival in the Late Russian Empire: The Case of the Korwin-Milewski Brothers

Article excerpt

The half century following the failed 1863 "January Insurrection" was a dark one for the Polish nation. The failure of the uprising marked also the end of an era. The Romantic ideals and revolutionary dreams that had inspired the insurgents of 1830 and 1863 seemed overdrawn and unreal in light of the harsh post-1863 repressions.(1) The vital question facing Polish society (that is, the middle and upper classes--the peasantry will not appear here) was how to preserve Polish traditions and culture without a Polish state. The failure in 1863 had tarnished the romantic revolutionary ideal of active striving for the resurrection of Poland. For the post-1863 generation, a more cautious, moderate, and less nationalist alternative appeared a more appropriate stance.(2) This general tendency away from militant nationalism took on many forms of which ugoda or "reconciliation" and "organic work" or "Warsaw positivism" are only the best known.(3) This article will concern itself with two men associated with the right-wing of ugoda (they were not, however, members of any given political party) whose conservative and estate-based political philosophy criticized nationalism and, while defending the political, cultural, and economic rights of Polish culture (and its bearers) in the Western provinces of the Russian Empire, refused to call themselves Poles, preferring the designation Lithuanians. Their national and social self-definition, so foreign to our present understanding, reflects a period when estate categories could still predominate over ethno-cultural designations. While this conception ultimately failed, to ignore it would mean impoverishing--and misunderstanding--political and national landscape of turn of the century Europe and, most specifically, of the late Russian Empire.

In 1909 the Warsaw press was full of references to two hitherto little known wealthy Lithuanian landowners: Hipolit and Ignacy Korwin-Milewski. The younger brother, Hipolit, had been elected in 1906 to the State Council from Vil'na/Wilno province. In 1909, after Stolypin's successful effort to limit Polish representation in that body, Korwin-Milewski resigned, thus making him a hero among the Poles of the Russian Empire. The Warsaw weekly, Tygodnik Illustrowany, called him "an individualist and a great Polish gentleman [pan]" and the more sober Prawda concluded that Hipolit Korwin-Milewski alone among the Polish members of the State Council had drawn the correct conclusion from Stolypin's anti-Polish policies and had taken the logical step of resignation.(4) That autumn Hipolit was re-elected to the State Council despite his specific refusal to follow the "line" set down by the National Democrat-dominated Polish Kolo (political club in the Russian parliament, the Duma).(5)

The younger brother's succes d'estime was followed in the next years by Ignacy's succes de scandale. Angling for his brother's position in the State Council, Ignacy published several books and pamphlets setting out his idea, to quote the title of one of these works, of "What the Lithuanian Nobility Should Aspire to." Ignacy Korwin-Milewski militated against Polish nationalists, against political links between "Lithuanian" noble landowners (of Polish culture, it must be understood) and Poles of the "Kingdom of Poland," and for a program of ultra-loyalty to the Romanov dynasty. Only thus, Ignacy argued, could the Lithuanian nobility expect to retain its rightful cultural, political, and economic position in the Northwest provinces of the Russian Empire. One can well imagine the outrage such anti-patriotic utterances called forth among Polish society of this nationally-sensitive era.

The Korwin-Milewski brothers were not "typical" of their age. The turn of the century was a period of sharp nationalist sentiments, democratic slogans, and patriotism spilling over into chauvinism and anti-Semitism. The Korwin-Milewskis, on the contrary, were representatives of a previous age: socially and politically conservative, suspicious of democratic initiatives and nationalist slogans, "Europeans" more than "Poles" by education and social standing. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.