Klaus Bachmann. Ein Herd der Feindschaft gegen Russland. Galizien als Krisenherd in den Beziehungen der Donaumonarchie mit Russland (1907-1914). Vienna: Verlag fÖ¼r Geschichte und Politik, 2001. 292 pp. EUR 39.80 (paper), ISBN 978-3-7028-0374-2.
Reviewed by Hugo Lane (Polytechnic University, New York)
Published on HABSBURG (January, 2002)
Tensions in Galicia: An Under-Appreciated Factor in the Outbreak of WWI
Tensions in Galicia: An Under-Appreciated Factor in the Outbreak of WWI
The role tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia over Galicia played in the outbreak of World War I has received scant attention in the massive literature on the war. While important scholars of the origins of World War I like Fritz Fischer and Z. A. B. Zeman have noted that Galicia and the Ukrainian question were factors, few historians have given those tensions anything like equal billing with the wrangle over influence in the Balkans as a cause of World War I. An exception is Armin Mitter, a scholar from the German Democratic Republic, who published an article in 1984 with the seemingly idiosyncratic thesis that Galicia was in fact the key issue leading to World War I. Mitter's access to sources was limited and his argument has been largely ignored, but it intrigued Klaus Bachmann sufficiently that he wrote a dissertation assessing Mitter's thesis, which has now appeared as a book.
The project Bachmann undertook is a difficult one. Not only is Mitter's thesis far removed from the mainstream, but the situation in Galicia prior to World War I rivals the complexity of the Balkans. Poles and Ruthenians/Ukrainians straddled the Austrian-Russian border, with far more Poles and Ruthenian/Ukrainians living under Russian than under Austrian rule. The Poles and Ruthenians living in Galicia, however, had the advantage of a politically more open society, such that both Polish and Ruthenian nationalists regarded the crownland as a Piedmont, i.e. a base from which the establishment of Polish or Ukainian states might be built. That tendency further strained relations between Poles and Ukrainians in Galicia, which were already not very friendly due to the Polish elite's dominance of Galician political life to the disadvantage of the largely peasant Ruthenian population in Eastern Galicia.
The divisions within the two national communities further complicated matters. The most committed Polish nationalists in Galicia at the beginning of the twentieth century were exiles from Russian controlled Poland. By contrast, most native Galician Poles, particularly among the elite, had more or less made their peace with life under Austrian rule, and consequently Poles in Galicia were by no means united politically.
The chief dispute among the Ruthenian population was over their relationship to other East Slavs, particularly the Russians and Ukrainians. By 1900 the politically strongest group gave primacy to their links with the Ukrainians over the border in the Russian Empire, but most definitely did not identify themselves with Russians. A second group, often called Russophiles, consisted primarily of those who believed that while Ruthenians were a separate people, they, along with Belorussians and Ukrainians or Little Russians, had a special relationship with Great Russian culture. A smaller group, however, actually identified themselves as Russians and actively denied the existence of a Ukrainian people, or even a distinct Ruthenian identity.
In as much as Bachmann addresses all of these points affecting relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the years before World War I, his book is an achievement. Aware that knowledge of these complexities cannot be assumed among scholars of World War I, Bachmann begins his study with an overview of Galician history from Austria's annexation of the region to the turn of the century. This is followed by a review of the literature enumerating the issues that have been of foremost concern to scholars in respect to the crucial period between 1900 and 1914, and then three substantive chapters dealing with Polish irredentist organizations active in Galicia, Polish-Ukrainian relations in the province, and the activities of the Galician Russophiles and their contacts with Russian agents, respectively. The conclusion knits together these sometimes disparate, sometimes closely interconnected developments and assesses their significance.
The most striking feature of all these chapters is the extent of Bachmann's archival research. In the course of more than a decade, he did significant research in three archives in Poland (the State Archives in Cracow and Przemysl and the Main Historical Archive in Warsaw) as well as at the Jagiellonian University Library and the Ossolineum in Wroclaw, the General Administrative Archive in Vienna, the Political Archive of the Foreign Office in Bonn, and both the Central Historical Archive and the Library of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Lviv. It is, therefore, no surprise that he provides detailed accounts of a wide range of issues, whether they played a central part in Austrian and Russian diplomacy, like secret Austrian military support of Polish paramilitary organizations and Russian support of Russophile activities, or were specifically Galician matters like the 1908 assassination of the Galician Viceroy and the prolonged efforts at electoral reform at the provincial level. That said, Bachmann's research has yielded little information that challenges conventional historiography on Polish nationalist activity in Galicia or Polish-Ukrainian relations, or Russian efforts to influence the political situation in the province.
Recognizing that, Bachman's conclusion is judicious. He does not regard support for the Polish paramilitaries by Austria-Hungary's military as anything more than a by-product of increasing tensions with Russia. Similarly, he argues, that despite its increasing readiness to use pro-Ukrainian rhetoric, the Austrian leadership never treated the establishment of a Ukrainian state, even one that would be pro-Austrian, as a serious option. At the same time, he is highly skeptical of the idea that Russia regarded the creation of a Ukrainian University in Lemberg (Lviv), which was implicitly part of the 1914 compromise between Galician Polish and Ukrainian politicians, as a casus belli -- a claim that is the capstone to Mitter's thesis. The one sore spot among the Galician issues which Bachmann thinks deserves to be considered to be a true cause of World War I is Russia's support of Russophile activities, which had yielded some fruit in the form of conversions to Orthodoxy in several Galician communities. Yet, he believes that even this issue played only a minor role in Austria-Hungary's leaders decision to declare war on Serbia fully aware that this would likely provoke a Russian military response.
Coming after some two hundred pages detailing the extent that Austria-Hungary and Russia used Galicia as an arena for intervention in the other's affairs, Bachmann's unwillingness to support Mitter's thesis more strongly seems quixotic. Of course, not every thesis, intriguing as it may be, stands up to scrutiny, and when one does not it must be refuted. But his dismissal of Mitter's thesis does not speak well for his scholarly imagination. In particular, Bachmann's apparent assumption that the failure to find a document directly linking Galicia to Austria's decision to go to war in 1914 means that there was no real connection seems naive when circumstantial evidence to the contrary is so strong.
Had he been able to impeach that evidence this would not be so problematic, but all too often he does not even see the connections that suggest Austrian leaders were thinking a great deal about Galicia and Russia in July, 1914. Thus while he does an excellent job putting the assassination of the Galician Viceroy Count Andrzej Potocki in the broader context of Potocki's decision to go along with the Polish National Democrats' idea of supporting the Russophiles, he misses the real point of that alliance. In part, this policy was simply an attempt to avoid dealing honestly with the Ruthenians, but it also helped to intensify Polish-Ukrainian tensions in a way that highlighted the National Democrats emphasis on Polish, not Galician interests. Hence, despite their mixed electoral success between 1907 and 1914, the National Democrats succeeded strategically by increasing considerably the number of Galician Poles whose loyalty to Austria-Hungary ceased to be unconditional. Such a change may not have been a top concern for the Austrian administrative and military elite in Vienna when they went to war in 1914, but it did give them reason to see territorial gains as a way to demonstrate to National Democrats that their interests could coincide with those in Vienna.
Likewise, Bachmann's treatment of the Russophile movement does not provide a broad enough perspective. He assumes that the Russophile movement was stronger than it appeared, even though his own account of the 1908 provincial elections indicates how much the Russophiles of both Old Ruthenian and "Radical Russian" persuasions owed to support from the Polish National Council. Furthermore, when discussing the conversions to Orthodoxy of several Greek Catholic parishes, he takes the Austrian officials' anxious responses at face value, while discounting the Greek Catholic Metropolitan's refusal to recognize Orthodoxy in Galicia as based on the Metropolitan's own ambitions to expand his influence into Russia. The notion that Sheptyts`kyi rejected that proposal because he had a better sense of the religious climate among Ruthenians than the Austrian officials in Vienna does not seem to occur to Bachmann.
Missing these points, Bachmann does not make nearly as much of the role military concerns appear to have played in forcing the Polish and Ukrainian-oriented Ruthenians to resolve their two most pressing issues: electoral reform and the establishment of a Ruthenian university. Nor does he consider how the relaxation of the Polish-Ruthenian tensions in the wake of the 1914 compromise may have paved the way for a war with Russia: not, as he assumes, because of Russian objections, but because the compromise made the Austrian military leadership more confident that Russia would be unable to exploit the cleavages laid bare by Polish-Ruthenian tensions.
How long Polish-Ruthenian tensions would remain in remission was not clear. Thus, one might reasonably go so far as to suggest that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand came at a fortuitous time. Moreover, had Austria-Hungary been successful in the short war that all sides initially anticipated in August 1914, the territorial gains at the expense of Russia could have been made large enough to give both Polish and Ukrainian politicians reason to be grateful, but without necessarily involving the issue of full independence for either nationality. Instead, Bachmann postulates in his conclusion that there was no need to regard the loss of Eastern Galicia as a serious threat to Austria-Hungary's survival, and hence it could not have been worth going to war over. Such speculation, however, completely ignores the anxiety Austria-Hungary's leaders had that any territorial loss would trigger a chain reaction that would reduce Habsburg's realm to nothing.
Were these analytical failings not enough, the book is also marred by a number of errors. Most disconcerting are the appearance of clearly inappropriate dates, which confuse the chronology. Thus, on page 125, one reads, "Vom 12. 12. 1913 bis 13. 08. 1914 beriet in London die Botschafterkonferenz der direkt und indirekt am Balkan engagierten Maechte," suggesting that negotiations were still taking place after World War I had already begun. Similarly, on page 239, where Bachmann states that on 21 June 1914, the Russian Embassy asked if the prominent supporter of Orthodoxy in Austria-Hungary Count Bobrinsky could come to Hungary as a witness, when according to a footnote several pages later Bobrinsky actually appeared on the stand February 6, 1914.
Other mistakes are more than failures of consistency and proofreading. For all the reading he has done, it is disconcerting to see Bachmann confuse the Ruthenian Populists with the Ruthenian Radical party throughout the book -- he refers to them both as the Radical Party. Also, after surveying Oleksander Barvins`kyi's long career as a supporter of Ukrainian cultural development in Galicia, he strangely characterizes his Christian Social Party as the last representatives of the old Ruthenians. While it is true that like the Old Ruthenians, Barvins`kyi and the Christian Social Party distrusted the Ukrainian National Democratic Party's politics of confrontation, they should not be conflated. Barvins`kyi and his party continued to push for Ukrainian cultural development, something the Old Ruthenians have always bitterly opposed.
In addition, strong as the primary sources bibliography is, the list of secondary sources misses a number of key books relevant to this study. Z. A. B. Zeman's work, which posited the importance of Galicia in Austria-Hungary's strategic thinking long before Mitter, is not listed. Similarly, despite including a chapter on a Russophile trial relating to Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, Paul Magocsi's The Shaping of a Nationality is not mentioned. Bachmann also seems quite unaware of other scholars working on related topics while he was doing his work. Although much of this work has yet to be published, some, most notably Anna Veronika Wendland's dissertation on the Russophiles in Galicia completed in manuscript form in 1998, are potentially so relevant that Bachmann's failure to track them down is striking.
This could have been a path-breaking work. As the first book devoted solely to the notion that the situation in Galicia may have had a bearing on Austria-Hungary's decision to go to war, it is still important. Its interpretive weakness and mistakes, however, have reduced its value considerably. Specialists will still find it useful because of its comprehensive treatment of events in Galicia leading up to World War I, but it cannot be recommended to those not already well versed in Galician topics.
. Bachmann is not the only person to have begun researching this problem. HABSBURGer Olga Andriewsky (Trent University, Canada) is completing a manuscript considering this same subject entitled The Politics of National Identity: The Ukrainian Question in Russia, 1900-1914.
. Wendland's book has just been published: Die Russophilen in Galizien. Ukrainische Konservative zwischen Oesterreich und Russland, 1848-1915 (Studien zur Geschichte der oesterreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie 27, Vienna: Verlag der Oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2001). At least one other German historian, Kai Struve, is working on a relevant topic, and several North American scholars have as well.
Hugo Lane. Review of Bachmann, Klaus, Ein Herd der Feindschaft gegen Russland. Galizien als Krisenherd in den Beziehungen der Donaumonarchie mit Russland (1907-1914).
HABSBURG, H-Net Reviews.
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