Nation without a state: imagining Poland in the nineteenth century

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Nance, Agnieszka B.

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This dissertation tests Benedict Anderson’s thesis about the coherence of imagined communities by tracing how Galicia, as the heart of a Polish culture in the nineteenth century that would never be an independent nation state, emerged as an historical, cultural touchstone with present day significance for the people of Europe. After the three Partitions and Poland’s complete disappearance from political maps of Europe, substitute images of Poland were sought that could replace its lost kingdom with alternate forms of national identity grounded in culture and tradition rather than in politics. Not the hereditary dynasty, not Prussia or Russia, but Galicia emerged as the imagined and representative center of a Polish culture without a state. This dissertation juxtaposes political realities with canonical literary texts that provide images of a cultural community among ethnic Germans and Poles sharing the border of Europe. The Realpolitik of the situation was dictated by the same powers whose interests had divided and then erased the country. A Polish-Prussian alliance was argued for by Prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1775-1833), until Bismarck made Prussia into the core of the German Empire; a Polish-Russian axis was the focus for Aleksander Wielopolski (1803-77) who argued for Polish culture as Slavic; and a Habsburg-oriented solution, represented by Count Agenor Gołuchowski (1812-1875), defined Galicia as an autonomous cultural region within the political framework of a multiethnic state. These political debates, not surprisingly, are echoed in literary works of the time: Theodor Fontane shares his Prussia with one kind of Polish culture in competition with Galicia; Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach and Jan Lam share a common view of Galicia which is Habsburg, multiethnic, and Polish. Taken together, these images reflect a dialogue about Polish identity, and in consequence about a new European identity, in the context of Austro-Hungarian and German Empires. That is, the debates point to a cultural identity in Europe that does not correspond to ethnic nation-states but rather to a shared culture, history and community experience that Galicia came to represent up until World War I, when Galicai was divided between Poland and the Ukraine.