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Bismarck’s Speech to the Prussian House of Deputies on the "Polish Question" (January 28, 1886)

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The belief that we could become accustomed to the Poles, and the desire to test the difficulties of the situation, gained credibility from the fact that in Silesia we lived with a million Polish-speaking subjects without any difficulty. [Also contributing to this belief was] the memory of the era before 1806 during which time the nationalistic passions were not so clearly in evidence. There was a socially bearable relationship between Germans and Poles, a complex social intercourse with Poles here in Berlin and in society.

This kind of naive trustfulness was suddenly disturbed by the Warsaw rising of 1830 and the emergence of a Polish question, in a European sense, in which other nations were involved and which has never since then wholly disappeared.

[ . . . ]

King Friedrich Wilhelm III was open to [von Flottwell's] ideas. The king and his finance minister budgeted rather small funds with which estates could be bought from Polish hands in order to increase the German population of the province. Even though these operations were not in every case carried out with skill or subsequently maintained with the original determination, they nonetheless created a sizable increase in the German population, as long as the system prevailed in the administration.

However, the system was abandoned in 1840 when the king, [Friedrich Wilhelm IV, 1840-58] of blessed memory, came to power. He was of the opinion that the well-meaning attitude which he had toward his Polish-speaking subjects, the confidence which he had in them, would be fully reciprocated by the other side. Shortly after his coronation, he was strengthened in this faith by the tour he undertook in the province accompanied by the leading noblemen of the Polish nation. He believed the old saying: Confidence breeds high-mindedness. We had insulted the Poles unjustly. They desired only to be the loyal subjects of their well-meaning king. If we met them with trust and when [they] compared the welfare measures of the Prussian government to the conditions that prevailed previously or – and I can say this without insulting our [Russian] neighbors – that are to be found among the Poles living on the other side of the border, then gradually their hearts would be won.

The king, of blessed memory, was disturbed in his trusting perceptions in certain unpleasant ways by the insurrections which took place in the most varied phases in the years 1846 to 1848. In 1848, he had to experience the alliance concluded between Prussian and foreign democrats and the Poles on the Berlin barricades. One of the immediate consequences of this was that thousands of Prussian subjects, German-speaking and Polish-speaking, were shot or wounded in battles with each other in the Grand Duchy of Posen. The outcome of those events was a legal condition. The Poles strove for the same legal and constitutional freedom of movement guaranteed to German subjects. The freedom of movement the Poles gained in the right of association, the press, and constitutional matters, however, in no way contributed to increasing good will toward Germany or cooperation with it. On the contrary, we see only a sharpening of national antagonisms, that is, a one-sided sharpening from the Polish side. The peculiarity of the German character contributed to this development in many ways. The Germans' good nature and admiration for all things foreign, a kind of envy with which our countrymen regard those who have lived abroad and who have adopted certain foreign allures, and then also the German tradition of battling their own government for which they were always certain to find willing allies among the Poles (“hear, hear” on the right). Finally, [there was] the peculiar capacity of Germans, not found among other nations, to not only get out of their own skin but to get into that of a foreigner (laughter) and completely to become, in a word, something like a Pole, Frenchman, or American. I remember from my childhood learning the most popular melodies in Berlin about the old Polish general:

Remember, my brave Lagienka; (laughter)
Ask no one of my destiny;
My Fatherland
. . .

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