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

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A second explanation for the progress of the Poles lies in the introduction of the national constitution and the laws regarding the press and the right of association which facilitated the agitation. The Polish gentlemen have not been shy about exploiting all the laws introduced in the German Empire and Prussia. On their side they do not recognize [these laws]. They recognize their membership in Prussia only conditionally, and to be sure [feel free to terminate membership] on twenty-four hour notice. Today, if they had the opportunity to proceed against us and were strong enough to do so, they would not even give us twenty-four hour notice but simply let loose, without any notice. (Great unrest among the Poles.) Yes, gentlemen, if any of you can give his word of honor that this is not true (great merriment), that all the gentlemen will stay at home if the opportunity presents itself to march out with your guerrilla bands, then I shall take back my assertion. But I demand your word of honor. (Hilarity.) And giving it to me would be an error, gentlemen. We are not really so stupid; at least I am not. (Hilarity.)

[ . . . ]

The national constitution gave strong incentive to the various parties which are always ready to combat the government under any circumstance. Among these negative types can be found a considerable number, in certain circumstances even a majority, in the Reichstag. This majority is quite incapable of constituting a positive government. Its leading principle in recent cases is to support bills put forward by the Polish and Social Democratic factions which are then supported by the rest which I can well call inimical and nihilist – and I am not employing an insulting designation here. I mean only those groups which under all circumstances not only combat the government but also negate the institutions of the Empire. [ . . . ] Those who do not want to cooperate in the defense of the state do not belong to the state. They have no rights in the state. They should withdraw from the state. We are no longer so barbaric as to drive them out, but this would be the right answer to give against all those who negate the state and its institutions. All the protection accorded them by the state which they negate should be withdrawn from them. In the old German Empire this was called “the ban.” It is a hard judgment for which we have become too soft today. But there are no grounds to give rights in the state to those who recognize no obligations to it. These leanings in the other parties are just as dangerous, relatively, as those I ascribe to the Polish opposition. If the two million Poles stood completely alone, I would not fear them; this applies also to the million Upper Silesians although their hostility against the Prussian state is not as well developed as the leaders of the agitation would wish. But in the leanings of other states and other parties which negate the state and also combat it, there is forming a considerable power, a majority. I can see little future salvation for the further development of the German Empire in this.

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Richard S. Levy from H-GERMAN G-Text Primary Source Archives at URL: [accessed March 14, 2006].

Source of original German text: Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des preußischen Abgeordnetenhauses [Stenographic Reports on the Proceedings of the Prussian House of Representatives], 14th legislative period 1885/88, 1st Session, vol. 1, 8th Meeting, Berlin, January 28, 1886, pp. 164ff; reprinted in Otto von Bismarck, Werke in Auswahl. Jahrhundertausgabe zum 23. September 1862 [Selected Works. Centennial Edition for September 23, 1862], ed. Gustav Adolf Rein et al., 8 vols, vol. 7, Reichsgestaltung und Europäische Friedenswahrung [Formation of the Reich and Keeping Peace in Europe], Part 3, 1883-1890, ed. Alfred Milatz. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001, pp. 352-78.

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