1.5 The Russianization of Poland
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the population received Napoleon and his armies with open arms in the hope that he would correct their wrongs. Unfortunately Poles and Lithuanians featured only as cannon fodder in the Emperor’s agenda, and he took no interest in their welfare. In 1815, after the disastrous retreat of the Grande Armée (1813-1814) from Moscow, the fate of the former Polish-Lithuanian Union was sealed. The Kingdom of Poland, with the Tsar as king, became a vassal state of Russia, while the Grand Duchy was absorbed by her. This forced Russianization, which was accompanied by oppression, confiscation and arbitrary violence, was to last until 1917. Various revolts (1812, 1830-1831 and 1863-1864) failed and were smothered in blood.1 The culture of the diaspora disappeared or went underground. A rare surviving world-class purveyor of culture was the poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), whose Polish epic Pan Tadeusz of 1834 sings the praises of the old freedom. He still remains a national hero for Poles, Lithuanians and even White Russians. However, the greatest hero of the diaspora was the Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), who gave voice to Poland’s suffering from Paris.2
After the failed revolt of 1863-1864, the opposition searched for ways to defy the Russians. Anarchists, socialists and communist, Jews, democrats and anti-democrats all fought for the ‘good cause’ in the late 19th century. All they had in common was their hatred of the tsarist regime and a strong yearning for national independence and freedom. Their craving for their own language, education, faith and national identity found fertile soil throughout the territory of Poland and the former Grand Duchy. Unfortunately all of these groups were severely divided within their own ranks, making it impossible to capture the situation before the First World War in a few sentences.3 The war rendered the situation even more chaotic. Once again the Grand Duchy formed a stage for fierce fighting, this time between Germans and Russians on the east front.