Imperial Legacies in the Present

The excellent blog Strange Maps has just offered up a very interesting example of the last legacies of the recent past — meaning the past hundred years or so. This map, which superimposes the borders of Imperial Germany and Russia on a map of electoral data from the 2007 parliamentary elections in Poland.

Even a casual analysis of this image indicates the degree to which there seems to be some sort of echo of the imperial past in the electoral present in Poland. What this map doesn’t show us, of course, is whether this congruence of data and boundaries is a one time anomoly or a pattern that has emerged since the collapse of the Communist regime in Poland in 1989. Nevertheless, does raise all sorts of questions in my mind.

For my first book I spent a lot of time analyzing electoral returns in the Czech regions of the old Habsburg state and so I have lots of this sort of data stored on my computer. The Czech electoral commission has produced a number of excellent data sets on voting in the Czech Republic since 1993 and so, if I have the time over the holiday break, I may just try a comparison of voting then (i.e., 1907 and 1911) and now.

Running a comparison like that is fraught with problems — electoral districts are different, parties are different, the historical context is different. If we attempt to say something conclusive about the comparison, then we’re risking committing ecological fallacies that more than likely will skew the results of any analysis. But it is quite possible to use such surface comparisons to start asking the kinds of questions historians are actually quite good at asking about these data.

Prior to the digital age it would be possible to make two maps of electoral results and lay one on top of the other to see what comparisons might appear. Digital technology doesn’t offer new insights unavailable to us before, but it certainly does make it much easier to get to the point where insights can begin to bubble up.

One thought on “Imperial Legacies in the Present

  1. John Egan

    I only recently saw the map on the Polish election Wikipedia.
    I was IMMEDIATELY hit by the comparison with the pre-1914 border.
    On closer inspection there are additional elements to be gleaned.

    First, the urban areas of Warsaw and Krakow are dark orange.
    Lodz is also orange – thus urban areas in the east buck the PIS trend.

    Second, although the eastern areas comprise Grand Ducky Poland under the Russian Empire, those blue areas also include Galicia which was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In fact, some of the bluest areas are in the former Galicia.

    Third, areas that were ethnically Polish in West Prussia and Posen/Poznan are as orange or more orange than areas that were formerly ethnic German before German populations were expelled.

    The combination of these three factors points to a significant cultural factor that existed before 1914 and that was somehow reinforced after 1945. What could that factor be? I suggest that it is the relative position of the Catholic Church.

    In Russian Poland and Austrian Galicia, the Catholic Church was the dominant religious institution – somewhat favored by the state in its conservative social role, but always holding the risk of nationalism. In the Kingdom of Prussia within the German Empire, Protestantism held sway. In fact, Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf” was aimed against the Catholic Church and banned religious teaching in public schools and Jesuit education. Thus, by 1914, areas west of the German/Russian imperial boundary had very little Catholic influence, while those to the east in both Russian and Austrian territory had strong Catholic influence.

    Since interwar Poland only lasted twenty years and was riven by internal divisions, the Catholic influence on territories incorporated from imperial Germany into newly independent Poland may have been minimal. However, following World War II, all of the territory east of the Oder-Neisse line were incorporated into Poland and most of the German population expelled. The communist government of Poland was not as actively antireligious as the government of the Soviet Union, but it certainly did not favor the cultural role of the Catholic Church. Thus, the Catholic Church’s presence in those formerly German territories remained circumscribed – even though the population was no longer German. In fact, many Poles from eastern areas of Poland incorporated into Belorusia and Ukraine migrated to western Poland.

    The political influence of PIS is not limited only to anti-German rhetoric. It also includes vehement opposition to abortion rights and gay rights – both of which reflect Catholic positions. When one looks at the urban enclaves in the eastern part of Poland that voted PO, it seems clear that the visible 1914 border demarcates the relative cultural influence of the Catholic Church.

Comments are closed.