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

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Since 1866 we have experienced no further support from abroad for the Poles' ambitions toward us. Perhaps, this is because we have become stronger. Perhaps, it is because France, which had the main interest in the restoration of Poland – a Polish army would always be worth a French corps on the Vistula – France, I say, has other political ideas than the Polish question. The object of its ideas lies much closer. Now it is thinking more directly about Germany, not indirectly as formerly. Under the Emperor Napoleon, as under Louis Philippe (1830-1848), French efforts on behalf of Poland were rather harmless. There are no such efforts visible now. European policy is too preoccupied with the events of 1866 and 1870 to be concerned with Poland.

Nevertheless, the struggle for existence between the two nations, which are allotted the same hearth, goes on unabated, one could even say, continues with strengthened forces. The era of peace has not been an era of reconciliation and accommodation on the Polish side. Strange to say, it is not as many foreigners and our own optimists believe that the German population has been the victor in the struggle and that Germanism advances. Rather, the opposite is the case. The Polish population makes indubitable progress. And we ask ourselves how this can be so, given the allegedly great support which the German element has received from the government. Indeed, gentlemen, this perhaps instructs us that the support given the Poles by the opposition [German political forces] is stronger than that which the government can render according to the current constitution. But the fact is that the Poles can say of themselves: Vexilla regis prodeunt (the banners of the king go forward). This is beyond doubt.

When I think about the reasons for this, there comes to mind the Catholic department [of the Prussian government] which, until its abolition by my direct intervention as minister-president, possessed the character of a Polonizing organ inside the Prussian administration. (Unrest in the Center Party and among the Poles). Under the direction of Herr Kraetzig – I hope he lives still, it had become an institute of a few great Polish families, in whose service these officials pushed Polonization in all the contested German-Polish districts. That is why it became necessary for me to agree to the abolition of this department. And this is actually the reason I generally concurred in the Kulturkampf.* From my personal point of view, there would have been no Kulturkampf. (Vigorous contradictions from the Center Party.) Yes, gentlemen, say what you will. I leave you to your doubts. There will be a few who will believe me, but I am rather indifferent as to whether anyone believes me. Yet, for anyone who wants to be informed, it is necessary for me to give my personal opinion.

The person who drew me into the Kulturkampf was Herr Kraetzig, the chairman of the Catholic department, which was formed in the Prussian bureaucracy to protect the rights of the king and the church. However, it developed under the king's authority and seal an exclusive activity in the direction of protecting the rights of the Roman church as well as Polish machinations against the king. And for that reason it had to be dissolved. (“Aha!” from the Center Party and the Poles.)

* The Kulturkampf, a legislative campaign carried out largely in the Prussian parliament, went far beyond the issue of separation of church and state, which most Catholics endorsed. The government sought to wean the Catholic masses away from the hierarchy and the Catholic political party, the Zentrum. The state intervened directly into church affairs, arrested resisting clergymen, and left many parishes without priests. Bismarck's attempt to dismantle political Catholicism backfired and instead resulted in its strengthening. Until 1933, the Center, and later its Bavarian branch, sent approximately one hundred deputies to the Reichstag in every election. It was impossible for the government to govern for any length of time without coming to terms with the Zentrum.

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