«The book offers an opportunity to look at the genesis of national identity as it was constructed in a specific stateless and multicultural context through cultural transfer and the impact of the contemporary media. It explores Polish reactions to the Italian Risorgimento which at the time represented the quintessential struggle for national freedom and offered hope for other oppressed nationalities. The Polish intellectuals were inflamed by the Italian movement, mostly as supporters, but also as its fierce opponents. They took on the Risorgimentos political and civilizational dilemmas, adjusting them to suit their own agendas. By vividly discussing Italys political prospects they were filling in the half-empty vessel of Polish national identity. As the result of this dialogue, they placed Poland firmly within Western civilization, determined which factors legitimized their nation and defined its religious outlook. The book allows us to discern the external foundations of such empowering national images as the revolutionary Pole and the Pole Catholic.» Marta Petrusewicz, City University of New York, Università della Calabria.
Lidia Jurek (2012)
Polish Risorgimento. Visions of the Modern Polish Nation and their Italian Foundations
Lidia Jurek's Polish Risorgimento, based on her thesis submitted to the EUI in 2010, is an ambitious, provocative and convincing new interpretation of the impact of the Italian national movement upon 19th century Polish elites. Drawing on the methodologies of transfer studies, J. ably demonstrates the importance of the Risorgimento in shaping Polish national discourse, opening up several new avenues for research in the field. The book makes numerous arguments, most importantly that the Italian national movement was interpreted and utilized in differing ways by various actors in the Polish debate, and that Polish perceptions underwent a major transformation as the political situation on the Italian peninsula developed. J. makes the claim that the ways in which the Risorgimento was perceived were vital in shaping the Polish elites' visions of their own nation.
In focusing on the broad array of Polish reactions, including negative ones, J. provides a much needed new impetus to the historiography of Italian-Polish relations, which has had a tendency to focus largely on positive aspects and the supposed fraternity of the two national struggles. She provides a welcome remedy to what she identifies as the 'selective nature and methodological imprecision' (p. 28) of research in this area through her investigation of the variety of Polish interpretations of the Risorgimento and the competing conceptions of Poland that were constructed around this foundation.
J.'s underlying argument is that the Risorgimento divided the Polish elite in its response, and as such she constructs her book around three major interpretations. Her first case study focuses on the democratic 'reformers', who were perhaps closest to the initial ideals of the Italian national movement and who saw in it a partner in a popular movement towards a new Europe of independent nations. She then goes on to explore the 'restorationist' liberal grouping centred around the Hôtel Lambert, for whom the legitimacy of the Polish nation correlated with Italian rights, and who sought to utilize the Risorgimento in strategic terms in order to establish the paramountcy of the principle of nationality. Finally, J. then moves on to investigate the largely negative perceptions held by the more conservative Polish elites for whom, she argues, the secular and anti-papal character of the Italian movement served to underline the Catholicity of the Poles. Across all three case studies she clearly demonstrates that the Risorgimento became one of the focal points for a transnational discussion and that the Polish elites sought to capitalize on this, making it a model from which both Polish supporters and opponents could borrow in order to reinforce their own particular national programmes.
The danger inherent in J.'s decision to focus on these three groupings is that it carries with it the risk of both oversimplifying the differences between these groups and downplaying the variety of responses within them, reducing each grouping to one particular response. This is a trap that she largely avoids, thanks to her nuanced argumentation, but she is not always entirely successful in this respect. The very fact that she chooses to focus on these three distinct groups implies that there were already pre-existing differences in their outlooks that served to shape the ways in which the Risorgimento was interpreted. This leads to the one major criticism of this work: Although it may be excusable, or even to an extent unavoidable given her research focus, J. does occasionally demonstrate a tendency to overstate the direct causal impact of the Risorgimento on Polish developments.
This can perhaps best be seen in relation to her third case study, that of the conservative and ultramontane groupings in Poland. Here, J. makes the bold statement that it was to a large extent the Polish response to the Risorgimento, and in particular to the divisions caused by the Roman Question concerning the role of the papacy in an independent Italy, that led to the development of the notion of the centrality of the Catholic Church in Polish national conceptions and to the growth of the concept of 'Pole-Catholic'.
Polish debates over the Roman Question were certainly very heated, and J. clearly demonstrates how the anti-papal nature of Italian unification led many conservative and clerically-minded Poles to view the Risorgimento as a kind of counterpoint to the model of independent nationhood they were seeking to achieve for Poland, with the insurrectionary Italian revolutionary contrasted with the patriotic and conscientious Catholic Pole. Furthermore, J. also convincingly shows that the success of the Risorgimento coincided with the decline of the Romantic revolutionary ideal in Polish nationalism and the onset of a more organic, positivist approach to nation-building, centred around the idea of 'work at the roots' and the desire to construct a broader sense of Polishness, based on Catholic values. However, she does occasionally run the risk of overstating the causal relationship between Polish interpretations of the Risorgimento and the particular programmes that the Polish elite were to follow. While she is certainly correct to claim that the Italian aspect has too often been overlooked, she does arguably assign to it too great an importance in the development of the 'Pole-Catholic'.
To be fair, J.'s primary intention is to focus on the symbolic significance of the Polish Risorgimento discourse as an arena for the discussion of Polish national visions, rather than to trace the transfer of concrete ideas and strategies, and she does speak in terms of investigating the impact of a 'Risorgimento ambience' (p. 32) upon the Polish discourse, but this sometimes has a tendency to become lost. In claiming that the Risorgimento 'reinforced or brought about' (p. 376) various national visions of Poland, she somewhat downplays the distinction between these two forms of impact. This occasional over-boldness, however, does not diminish from the real value of her book, which lies precisely in its opening up of such new avenues and questions for further investigation.
Ultimately, perhaps the major achievement of J.'s book is its outlining not only of the variety of Polish responses to the Risorgimento but also their changing nature. Across all three case studies she clearly demonstrates a growing Polish disillusionment with the movement as it approached and achieved its objectives of a unified, independent Italy. This disenchantment had different sources: 'reformers' were dismayed by the monarchical and state-led nature of unification, which seemed to betray the ideals of a fraternal popular revolutionary movement, both political and social in outlook; 'restorationist' liberals were dispirited by–and perhaps jealous of–the relatively seamless integration of the newly independent Italian state into the existing framework of 19th-century European diplomacy (not least in its alliance with Prussia and Russia), which abandoned Poland to a solitary and peripheral position; and conservative Polish elites found the anti-papal nature of Italian unification increasingly distasteful and disquieting. J. clearly succeeds in demonstrating that there was, across the board, a change in Polish perspectives, 'from an initial general enthusiasm towards an increasingly critical attitude' (p. 376).
This discussion of the Risorgimento as a 'fallen idol' is just one further respect in which J. offers a challenging new interpretation, capable of taking the research in this area in a promising new direction. Overall, this is a tremendously ambitious book which, through its carefully constructed and novel argumentation, succeeds in bringing new life to a fascinating field. It will prove to be of great interest not only to students of Polish-Italian relations but to all those with a broader interest in the Polish national movement in general.
This review was first published in Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 64 (2015) H. 3.
"Polish Risorgimento" by Lidia Jurek explores contacts and problems relating to Polish-Italian relations in the years 1848-1871. The book, based on the author's PhD thesis, is the first instalment of the "Eastern European Culture, Politics and Societies" series and it concentrates on three main problems: the presence of Italian models in the Polish search for reconstructing the Polish nation, the impact of successful Italian unification on Polish elites and their national identity-making and, finally, the relationship between nationalism and religion. These issues are discussed in three parts, each one dealing with "different national strategies which were drawn from the Italian example" (p. 45). Although Jurek's work is not the first dealing with this subject, it presents the most complex picture of these contacts.
The first part of the book looks at relations between Polish and Italian democrats from the fall of the Polish November Uprising (1831) until the final act of the Risorgimento in 1870 (the capture of Rome). Jurek analyses similarities between Polish and Italian causes from the point of view of several of the most important representatives of contemporary democratic thought, including Giuseppe Mazzini and Adam Mickiewicz (who dominate the pre-1850 narrative). Among many interesting points raised by the author are those that deal with the gradual change of the Polish-Italian relations: from beliefs in a "fraternity of nations", when Poland and Italy were considered as "sisters in suffering", through the slow disappointment with the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848-9, to the final decision that national chauvinism was the only realistic approach to the problem of independence. Jurek's analysis shows how the Polish Democratic Society, particularly in the 1850s, failed to adjust to the changing trends. It resulted in the "naïve decade, during which the Poles tried to ignore the direction in which national ideologies developed" (p. 100). What followed was the period when Polish democrats, though still interested in the example of Italy, became forced to abandon the idea of a mutual link between both nations. Polish solidarity with Italy "was waning every time the Italian government attempted to woo the oppressors of Polish lands, Prussia and Russia" (p. 119). It is particularly interesting to see how the dynamics of Polish-Italian democratic friendship started to change in the 1860s (particularly after the January Uprising) and how Poles began to realise that the Italian conditions were completely different from those in Poland and that, consequently, "the Risorgimento was not the model for the Polish national movement" (p. 123).
While Polish democrats looked to Italy in search for inspiration, help and a model for insurrection in Poland, the monarchist faction of the Great Emigration gathered around Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski perceived the Risorgimento in a slightly different way. Hôtel Lambert concentrated more on political opportunities offered by the Italian Question, seeking ways to use it in order to promote the problem of Polish independence in Europe. Monarchists presented different approaches towards Italy, starting from the military involvement in the 1848 upheavals (when Hôtel Lambert's Polish legion competed with the Mickiewicz legion) and evolving towards a more ideological search for similarities between Italian and Polish causes. As Czartoryski argued a number of times "Poland could lay its hopes for independence on the conscientious principles of decency, morality and religion" (p. 211), a clear reference to Italian struggle and its strong position in Europe. Interestingly, in the 1860s the developments taking place on the peninsula, particularly the growing conflict between the Italian state and Rome, divided Polish monarchists. The international position of Hôtel Lambert was very precarious: "on the one hand, sympathizing with the papal issue was viewed positively in France, on the other, had a negative impact on Hotel Lambert's position in Great Britain" (p. 257). Consequently, even if Polish monarchists remained much more organised and united than democrats, they were unable to avoid serious ideological divisions in the 1860s.. It resulted in loosing position in Italy and particularly in Rome, where a group of Polish ultramontanes strengthened their influence over the Holy See.
The third part of the book concentrates on Polish Cracow conservatives (known for their anti-revolutionary approach to Polish independence) and Polish ultramontanes. Unlike the previous chapters, this part pays more attention to the developments taking place at home (particularly in the Prussian and Austrian partitions) rather than in exile. Jurek introduces the position of Cracow conservatives through a rather descriptive analysis of their main journals, "Czas" and "Przegląd Polski", offering an insight into their attitudes towards Italy and the Roman Question. While the Risorgimento played an important role in the politics of the Great Emigration, its position and importance in the political climate of partitioned Poland was much smaller. The attention of Cracow conservative journals given to the Roman question was, as a result, "disproportional to its practical significance for Poland at that time" (p. 275). The second group, Polish ultramontanes, involved writers engaged in their work both at home (particularly in the Prussian partition) and in exile (in the case of Hieronim Kasjewicz). Although potentially very interesting, the whole third part of the book suffers from a weaker structure: on several occasions the main argument and analysis is presented before discussing the historical background of the particular issue (as in Chapter 7).
"Polish Risorgimento" is an interesting and important work that contributes to the subject of nineteenth century Polish-Italian relations. Jurek presents a very good theoretical knowledge of the nineteenth century national and religious problems and shows very interesting and detailed analyses (particularly in Part I and II of the book). At the same time, however, the book suffers from a whole range of problems. Some of them are only minor issues (numerous typos, missing footnotes, misspellings, lack of index) showing the poor editing of the volume. Others are more significant. Though Jurek successfully navigates through Polish nineteenth century politics both at home and in exile, the failure to make a clear distinction between them is rather confusing: two parts of the book deal mostly with the Great Emigration, while the last one, for no obvious reason, concentrates partially on the story of the Cracow ultramontanes.
It remains also unclear which focal point the author has chosen, as the book requires the reader to have vast knowledge of the history of the Risorgimento, the Great Emigration and partitioned Poland. On very few occasions Jurek ventures to introduce the important historical figures, while the historical background (for example of the Great Emigration or Cracow conservatives) is described only after analytical chapters. It leads to a very curious situation when the whole Part I of the book, discussing politics of Polish democrats operating within the context of the Great Emigration, lacks any introduction to the subject of Polish exile.
Numerous generalisations and oversimplifications (present in the book from the very first page of the introduction, when Jurek claims that from the final partition of Poland in the late 18th century "Poles had feverishly searched for viable models of national struggle", p. 14) and evident factual errors (such as the claim that Prince Czartoryski "accepted leadership of the November Uprising directly after its outbreak", p. 172) diminish the reading of this interesting study. Furthermore, it would have been desirable to look beyond the period of study (1848-1871) and to mention and comment on wider trends and tendencies in Polish nineteenth century politics, both at home and in exile.