Foreign Policy in Program Disputes of the Second Polish Republic Era (Outline of the Subject)
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Polityka zagraniczna – w debacie

[from:] Temat polemiki: Polska, Ośrodek Myśli Politycznej, Kraków 2012.



In a speech delivered in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Polish Sejm on January the 4th, 1927, August Zaleski, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1926—1932, took up an interesting attempt at defining – quite concisely – the foreign policy of the reborn Polish state. This policy, he said, ‘laid down by our geographical location and grounded in our great historical traditions, is the expression of the whole nation’s opinion.’[1] Yet to formulate the program of such policy would have been an unattainable ideal. The three main features of Polish foreign policy, as pointed out by Zaleski, were mere postulates rather than reality. They constituted a certain vision of that policy but were not, in fact, its binding principles. However, one is permitted to think that the whole political elite of the interwar Poland would have agreed with his statement, understood in its postulative sense.[2] Yet the three stipulations were then understood in very different ways. As the external realities were shifting throughout the two decades of peace (1918—1939) – and, obviously, the internal political circumstances and systems of government with them – so the interpretation of dilemmas of Poland’s international situation, constantly taken up anew, was changing, too.

The aim of the present study is not to come up with any innovative draft of the fundamental assumptions behind the Polish foreign policy of the period 1918-1939, as these issues have already been cleared up and are commonly known. In our discussion, we only wish to survey the debates regarding some grand questions of the foreign policy of the Polish state; questions selectively chosen, naturally, as a comprehensive study on that subject would require a separate book.

Slightly arbitrarily, to be sure - though not without some good reasons - five stages should be indicated in the debates concerning the shape of foreign policy of the reborn Polish state. To simplify matters a bit, the relevant discussions and controversies could roughly be divided into the following phases:

(1) Debates on the shape of the reborn Polish Republic’s eastern policy, i.e., first and foremost on its attitude towards Russia in 1919—1920. Their aftermath involved, in a sense, the subsequent controversies regarding the Treaty of Riga (signed on March 18th, 1921) that resurfaced time and again in the writings of publicists of the interwar period of Polish independence.

(2) Debates on fundamental principles and tasks of Polish foreign policy that took place mostly in 1920—1923/1924. Out of this exchange of opinions an outline of the main program ideas of Polish foreign policy emerged. One could even risk a statement that those ideas prevailed – with various modifications – until September 1939, in spite of the change of political system brought about by the May Coup of 1926.

(3) Debates revolving around the consequences of the Locarno Conference, held in October 1925, which brought about a serious deterioration of Poland’s situation as regarded her external security since it led to a loosening of the alliance with France (signed on February 19th, 1921) and gave Poland no opportunity to obtain new guarantees of safety.

(4) Debates on the actual substance and character of the ‘policy of balance’ (1934—1938), i.e., of maintaining the attitude of non-commitment and neutrality in relations with both the Third Reich and the Soviets for the sake of the idea of shaping a geopolitical ‘third force’, free from the domination of these two world-powers.

(5) Debates on the question regarding the chances of survival of the Polish state in the face of mortal threat to its very existence, occurring in 1939. With that issue was connected another great question – perhaps the most important of all, namely, is a rapprochement between Germany and Russia possible?

Undoubtedly, while speaking of the history of the interwar Poland, it should be stated that, in the opinion of her own elites, the whole nation constantly had the feeling that foreign policy dominated all the other spheres of life and experienced a real Primat der Außenpolitik, as the Germans would call it. This was emphatically expressed by Olgierd Górka, who wrote that ‘the superiority of the dictates of the external policy of State over all the issues of internal policy is the epitome of that suprema lex on which the salus Reipublicae depends.’[3] The fundamental determinants of the state’s fate were to ensue from its geopolitical location.[4] Doubtless it seemed so to the builders of the reborn Poland and architects of her foreign policy. The historian can only ascertain this fact as it is not his own view imposed ex post, but the actual reality.

For the historian, the ideal would surely be to reconstruct the mindset of those who shaped history or simply took part in it. Though it may seem unattainable, this ideal ought to be the guiding principle in all our examinations of the past; no less when, from our contemporary perspective, we try to analyse the utterances or views of members of the political elites of the Second Polish Republic regarding the tasks of Polish diplomacy, the actual and desirable alliances, the real or anticipated dangers and, in general, the international situation of the state and basic mechanisms of international politics.



Debates on Eastern Policy, 1919—1920


It would be an oversimplification to say that the issue of the reborn Poland’s western borders was not a subject for consideration and discussion among the country’s political elites. There was, however, no fundamental controversy on the territorial shape of the state in the west. Generally speaking, the guiding principle in the thinking about those issues was that we should recover from the Germans as much as possible of those territories that the Polish nation had lost in the past. Yet it was beyond any doubt that any territorial questions would be decided by the victorious allied powers at a Peace Conference; which, however, did not mean that the will of the Polish population of the claimed territories or the efforts of Polish diplomacy striving for the possibly most favourable verdict of such Conference were irrelevant. It should definitely be mentioned that even Józef Piłsudski himself clearly expressed the belief that Poland was dependent on the victorious powers as regarded her western borders, while in the case of the eastern boundaries the Chief of State sought the opportunity to act independently and pursue the strategy of fait accompli. ‘(…) at the present moment Poland has no fixed borders. How much we can do about it in the west, depends entirely on the Entente...,’ the Polish leader would say. His view of the situation in the east was totally different: he used the metaphor of the ‘door left ajar’ that could be opened as wide as was only possible. Thus in the contemporary Polish political literature one can find a wealth of writings dedicated to the issues of the ‘western territories,’ including, first of all, the questions of the access to the sea and incorporation of the Upper Silesia with its industrial resources and potential. One can search in vain, however, for great differences of opinion or major controversies regarding those problems.

Meanwhile, concerning the attitude towards the problem of Poland’s territorial shape in the east, two different standpoints emerged in Polish political thought. First, there was the notion of a bold policy turned towards the East and explicitly appealing to the idea of solidarity of nations once subjugated by the Russian Empire, for whom the reborn Poland ought to act as their protector and advocate. To put it succinctly, the Second Polish Republic was supposed to achieve two objectives through this policy, namely, strategically advantageous borders in the East and, first of all, a transformation of the Eastern Europe, understood as a great post-imperial space. Second, there appeared the idea of eastern policy advocated by Dmowski and the National Democrats which was, beyond all doubt, defensive in its nature. It only stipulated for the incorporation to the Polish state of certain strategically vital areas populated by Polish majority or significant minority and of the territories ‘culturally gravitating’ towards Poland. Thus the lands that once belonged to the pre-partition Poland (its territorial possessions of 1772) would have been divided between the reborn Poland and Russia, with no possibility of political emancipation for the other nations of the former Polish Commonwealth (the so-called ‘successor nations’). Dmowski and his adherents presumed that a non-communist Russia, in whose eventual emergence they still believed, sooner or later would be able to accept such a territorial settlement. In their opinion, any realization of the right to self-determination by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian nations would have posed a mortal threat to Poland. Meanwhile, by way of exception, they were ready to offer a cultural autonomy to the ‘ethnographic Lithuania,’ albeit within the Polish state.[5]

This fundamental difference of opinion formed the basis of the whole great dispute in Polish political thought which occurred in 1919—1920. The two conflicting standpoints were in fact never reconciled: even after the conclusion of the Treaty of Riga, bitter controversies concerning its significance and value were to persist. By way of example, it is worth while to cite some of the contemporary views in order to illustrate that clash of opinions.

Thus for Piłsudski, the stake in the great game of chance he started in the East was not so much the precise shape of Poland’s borders but, rather, a geopolitical transformation of Eastern Europe.[6] In his opinion, it was necessary to achieve this goal if the Polish state, reborn after the historical cataclysm of the First World War, were to be able to consolidate and preserve its independence. The Chief of State believed it was indispensable to tear various subjugated nations from Russia’s grasp - he meant, first of all, the Ukrainians, but also other Baltic or Caucasian nations – since this would weaken the imperial potential of Russia and reduce the constant threat. Therefore Poland, regardless of her own weakness, should muster all strength in order to take advantage of this genuine opportunity now offered her by the History. Thus the Poles should make an attempt at stopping the ‘wheel of history,’ as Czesław Miłosz was to put it later. ‘An ethnically Polish, twenty-million state wedged in between Germany and Russia, would have been doomed to defeat.’[7]

Yet Piłsudski never actually formulated a more detailed vision of such a federal state. He was not interested in legal or constitutional issues. The strategy pursued by the Chief of State was aimed, first and foremost, at creating an independent Ukraine allied with Poland. He was convinced that Russia would pose a constant threat to any newly emancipated ‘successor states’ of the former Polish Commonwealth, which would make them, in spite of all, turn to Poland for support.

Notions of a federation stood out markedly in the writings of members of the ‘Belvedere Camp’ (i.e., the adherents of Piłsudski) such as Witold Kamieniecki or Tytus Filipowicz. Also numerous Polish intellectuals – for instance, Oskar Halecki and Marceli Handelsman - professed federalism. Halecki even pictured a vision of a trialistic (tripartite) state comprising Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine.[8] It can be inferred, however, that Piłsudski treated such notions quite reservedly.

The writings of the advocates of Piłsudski’s eastern policy outlined a suggestive vision for a transformation of Eastern Europe in the spirit of strengthening the right of various nations to self-determination. The fact that Poland regained independence was supposed to initiate the process, as her return to the map was not an isolated event in the history of modern Europe. ‘Our liberation, and emancipation of subjugated peoples, is not just a local event [...], but a part of a global transformation which the whole world should be anxious to promote,’ Włodzimierz Wakar wrote.[9]

‘Resurrected Poland has to combat the natural recalcitrance of the systems of the former partitioning powers, and of the global political order which had been established without her participation. (...) Poland cannot just squeeze in, unnoticed, to the post-partition system without introducing any changes to it, since if she did, the surrounding partitioning powers would still have sought to partition her again. Therefore, in order to protect her existence, Poland has to establish a new system and maintain a great belt of liberated nations stretching from Finland to Georgia and, perhaps, take the lead among all those nations, as the buckle of this belt. If it is not so, and if our national interests reach only as far as our own borders then, I guess, we should do away with the whole redundant ballast of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs except for its Office of Ceremonies,’ one of the ministerial policy papers declared in June 1919.[10] The grand scheme for the ‘de-subjugation’ of the enslaved nations of Eastern Europe was based upon the argument that the expansion of the principle of self-determination of peoples was a historical inevitability.

From the year 1920, so critical in Polish history, one more event was engraved on the national memory. Though it was later thrown into the shade by the victory in the battle of Warsaw, it was highly controversial at the time. I mean the peace offering that the Soviets extended to the Polish government in January of that fateful year. It should be reminded that the government of Soviet Russia made an offer to the Polish cabinet in Warsaw for an immediate conclusion of peace on a principle of unconstrained negotiations and territorial settlement consisting in a mutual guarantee of the current possessions. As is well known, Poland was then in possession of certain territories lying to the east of its subsequent border as delimited at Riga. Naturally, Polish diplomacy did not accept this offer: Piłsudski demanded that the Soviets should stop the war against Petliura’s Ukraine and carry out a ‘disannexation,’ i.e., withdraw from the territories located west of the former Polish-Russian border of 1772, while Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs got involved into fruitless polemics with the Soviets. The National Democrats tended to see the rejection of the Soviet offer as a political mistake. Stanisław Grabski, their leading expert on international affairs, remained convinced for years that it was then possible to conclude ‘a peace no less advantageous for Poland than the one signed later in Riga and, in addition, much more durable.’[11] Of course, there are no premises for the historian to think that a peace negotiated early in 1920 would have been respected by the Soviets in the same way as was the Tartu Peace Treaty concluded on the 2nd of February of the same year.

The view that could not be expressed publicly in 1920 was that the Chief of State did not care so much about a peace with Russia at any price; instead, he wanted to achieve the strategic objective that he had laid out. It was only many years later - in 1937 – that General Tadeusz Kutrzeba admitted that Piłsudski’s Camp meant to impose a war on the Soviets – ‘to force Russia to wage a war in unfavourable conditions’ – while Western Europe, the ‘permanent protector of the Great Russia’s interests and affairs,’ was no longer able to support her.[12]

The preamble of the Treaty of Warsaw (the Petliura-Piłsudski Agreement of the 21st of April, 1920), declared that the two parties were ‘equally animated by the desire to establish common grounds for a peaceable and friendly coexistence for the good and development of both nations.’ The proposition expressed in this document, however, remained wishful thinking. Yet the champions of Piłsudski’s unrealized vision were to return time and again to the idea of a Polish-Ukrainian alliance, even after the scheme for the transformation of Eastern Europe had collapsed. Each time they would do it in the belief that Ukraine was doomed to look for support from Poland while, for Poland, Ukraine was an indispensable political partner, too. ‘There are, however, things more durable than politics,’ one of them wrote. ‘Surely the day will come again when Ukraine shall face her historical dilemma: to go with Poland, or with Russia; with the West, or with the East. I daresay that on the banks of the Dniester they will then become aware that they have pursued a short-sighted and narrow-minded policy of a parochial grange. For, in spite of all appearances, the future of Ukraine shall not be decided in Halych or Zhovkva, and not even in Lutsk. The heart of Ukraine has always been – and so shall remain – Kyiv.’[13] Advocates of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation would return to such a vision of agreement between the two nations, consistently perceiving it as a fundamental factor in the geopolitics of Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, the National Democrats did not believe in the possibility of transforming Eastern Europe through a dismemberment of European Russia, or in the viability of a Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian federation, or, generally speaking, in efficiency of multinational states. Instead, they perceived all those notions as sources of problems and seeds of future failure. They only demanded strategic borders in the East and postulated for disregarding the aspirations of the various nations of the ‘Intermarium’ region stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. One has to admit that, in some measure, their arguments were reasonably justified. The scheme for ‘breaking up the Russian empire’ was for them just a neo-Romantic illusion of Piłsudski and his followers.[14] They thought that a federal state, with its very complex internal structure, would indispensably be burdened with internal troubles and perhaps even utterly ‘uncontrollable.’ A federal state is a weak state, argued Joachim Bartoszewicz, a politician, senator, and publicist of the National Democracy, who also wrote that ‘for no reasons of any nature, neither historical nor utilitarian, external, and internal, is it in Poland’s best interest to establish a federal system on her present territory.’[15] Thus the very idea of a federal union with Ukraine was perceived as a portent of a looming danger by the National Democrats, who believed that such a union would have been ‘as weak as is only possible;’ so weak, in fact, that it ‘could be broken without introducing any significant changes in either of the two countries.’[16]

Quoting the principles of political realism, representatives of the ‘Dmowski’s school’ argued that the Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian nations were not animated by any desire to coexist with Poles within a federal system and instead perceived them as a threat to their own identity. They also endeavoured to prove that the assumptions and expectations of the ‘Piłsudski Camp’ were thoroughly unreal. Their principal argument was that in the East there were, in fact, no partners for Poland to enter into cooperation or federation.

The edge of the National Democrats’ polemics was turned precisely against the Piłsudski’s followers’ notion of supporting Ukrainian aspirations for self-determination. In their view, an independent Ukraine was, first of all, ‘an abortive German idea’ that only ‘antagonized Russia towards Poland’ and stirred up Ukrainian ambitions to attain their own great state, which would have to grow at Poland’s expense. Besides, its development would impede the incorporation of the territories of Volhynia and Podolia into Poland.[17] Meanwhile, the new Ukraine, as an ally of the Germans, would assist them in their struggle to, at least, reduce Poland to the role of a small and insignificant state.

The advocates of Dmowski’s thought pointed out that antagonizing Russia irreversibly made Poland’s situation calamitous since Germany had always been – and shall forever remain - her enemy. Instead, Poland must seek a reconciliation and settlement with Russia (obviously, with a non-Communist Russia) in order to improve her international political situation and brace herself to fight in defence of the Versailles Order, which Germany, sooner or later, would desire to overturn at any cost. Thus the National Democrats rejected the Chief of State’s eastern policy of 1919—1920 en bloc. They only hesitated to criticise him openly on account of just one decision: his refusal to support General Denikin and his Volunteer Army in their struggle against the Bolsheviks in the autumn of 1919.[18]

The exchange of arguments between representatives of the two opposing political camps led neither to a depolarization of their views nor to any form of compromise. Thus a fundamental quarrel originated, which has remained lively ever since.

         Polish victory in the Battle of Warsaw was crucial for protecting East-Central Europe from Russian rule. Its great significance was aptly expressed by Aleksander Lednicki, who wrote to the French Slavist Ernest Denis that ‘the battle at the Vistula was not only a struggle for Warsaw, but also for peace in the world and for the Treaty of Versailles [...]. If this treaty is not just a meaningless historical document now, and if no new world war is raging, it is only because the Bolshevik invasion was stopped on the banks of the Vistula.’[19] This, however, did not mean that the circumstances of the victory did not become a subject of controversy. One only needs to refer to the polemics in the name of the argument of the ‘Miracle at the Vistula,’ popularized by the National Democrats’ camp in order to detract from the Commander-in-Chief’s (i.e., Piłsudski’s) merits.

The Peace of Riga became a compromise agreement between Poland and the Soviet Russia, and not a settlement imposed on the losing side by the victors. But the Polish-Soviet treaty gave rise to many disputes. The fact that the Polish delegation recognized the legitimacy of the Soviet Ukraine symbolically confirmed that the Polish side renounced the alliance with Petliura’s state. It is, however, true that the Peace of Riga was also a compromise between the attitude of the society in Poland and the actual powers of Polish diplomacy regarding the shape of the Polish-Russian border.[20] Yet its substance was to become the matter of a new controversy, this time between the camp of Piłsudski’s followers and those political forces whose adherents, as the representatives of the Legislative Sejm, conducted negotiations crowned with the signing of the treaty in the Latvian capital on the 18th of March, 1921. The focus of the controversy was the question whether it was at all possible to secure larger territorial gains in the East.

In 1936, Jerzy Giedroyć, the editor of the neo-conservative magazine ‘Bunt Młodych,’ contributed to the resumption of this dispute by publishing interviews with the Polish negotiators from Riga - Aleksander Ładoś and Stanisław Grabski - in the columns of that paper. The words of the former politician especially left the impression that there had been some potentialities for incorporating Minsk and the greater part of Byelorussia into Poland but the Polish delegation themselves refused to exploit them.[21] Although this view in not generally shared by the historians, the controversy centred around that issue still returns, mostly in journalism.

To many Poles, the peace concluded in Riga was a new partition of the territories of former Polish Commonwealth. Large concentrations of their compatriots were left east of the border and were to face extermination in the late 1930’s. The Bishop of Pinsk, Zygmunt Łoziński, bluntly termed the Treaty of Riga a ‘crime.’ The document was described in a similar vein by Edward Woyniłłowicz, the moral authority of Polish gentry of the Eastern Borderlands, as well as by many representatives of that environment.[22] Those circles disregarded the fact, though, that Poland was unable to carry on the war against the Soviets in the spring of 1921, or that the incorporation of large territories in the East could have generated serious internal problems for the young Polish state. They were still thinking in terms of the borders of 1772, which they saw as an imponderablium – that is, in exactly the same way as the insurgents of 1830 and 1863 had done.

         Both the origins of the Polish-Soviet war and the circumstances of the victory at the Vistula - as well as the provisions of the Treaty of Riga – were not at all explicit for that generation of Poles who witnessed those events. There is no denying that all the disputes centred around those issues were of an internal, purely Polish nature and were connected with the ruthless struggle for power in the reborn state. All the more, one has to admit that each of those controversies went deep into the matter of foreign policy, or, to be more exact, of its agenda.



Debates on the Shape of Polish Foreign Policy


The period 1921—1924/1925 in the history of Polish foreign policy was marked by its formative nature. In the year 1921, new borders of the Second Polish Republic were finally shaped; thus that year became the point de départ for further reflection on the conditions and circumstances of the international presence of the reborn state. Meanwhile, the years 1924/1925 marked the final period in the drawing up of the basic program documents of the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.[23] It was then that the fundamental principles and assumptions were shaped regarding the attitude of the new Republic to the great questions and major developments of international politics. Efforts were made to define the most important and, possibly, the most abiding aims of the state’s foreign policy. There were attempts at expounding its unchanging principles and stating its shifting tasks. Politicians tried to explain to their own society the political priorities of their state on the international scene. Generally speaking, the system of parliamentary democracy, grounded in the Constitution of the 17th of March 1921, promoted liberty of discussion and unconstrained expression of thought. At the same time, one should keep in mind that the issues of foreign policy of state were the subject of sharp internal controversies, particularly in the period 1919—1926. Therefore, for the purposes of the present paper, it is now necessary to recall – as succinctly as possible – the whole of the contemporary discussion and the disputes which were then crystallizing, as well as the emerging consensus in defining certain primary assumptions.

The overarching thesis propagated by virtually all the currents in Polish political thought was the belief that the Polish state was indispensable for the political equilibrium in Europe and thus for the stability of the continent. Yet while Piłsudski’s followers conducted their discourse with the conviction that the main weight of Poland’s international significance lay mostly in the eastern part of Europe and that History had put her here to stand in the path of Russian - and now Soviet – expansionism, for the National Democrats Poland was to strengthen the political equilibrium of the continent through arranging effective defence of the Versailles Order and counteracting the German attempts to overthrow it; thus she was to be turned towards the West. Dmowski’s camp thought German reprisals inevitable; and the Polish state stood in their path as the main obstacle since it was the most important element of the new geopolitical order, established by the peace treaties - against the Germans’ will - in the aftermath of their unprecedented defeat.

Both the political options (i.e., Piłsudski’s followers and the National Democrats) unanimously believed that it was not possible for the Second Polish Republic to submit voluntarily to either Germany or Russia; that the Polish state was supposed to strive to exist independently as the ‘third force’ in the power structure of the post-war Europe; that its task was to rally the other smaller and weaker states of the region stretching between those two ‘broken’ world powers that sought revenge for their recent defeats and territorial losses.

The Polish foreign policy was supposed to consist, first and foremost, in upholding the treaties. This program principle was its keystone; one that was the most often expressed proposition of the Polish policymakers in the dawn of the Second Polish Republic. As such, it was conscientiously repeated by each successive minister for foreign affairs who got to manage that department before May 1926. The Polish political line was supposed to be the status quo policy. This was emphatically expressed by Minister Konstanty Skirmunt in his exposé for the Chamber of Deputies in May 1921. This view of that advocate of the Realpolitik and representative of Dmowski’s camp (though not a National Democrat himself) was also shared by Aleksander Lednicki, whose opinions were usually violently opposed by the National Democrats. Lednicki argued that Poland’s foreign policy had to consist in defending the status quo; it had to be a peace policy, since any new war would inevitably be of ‘revisionist nature.’ Therefore, being a ‘revolutionary creation,’ Poland ought to combat ‘revisionis tendencies’ in international politics.[24] His reasoning was an attempt at a more thorough justification of the status quo policy as the governing principle of Polish diplomacy. Since only two opinions have been mentioned, it should be added that they were expressed by all the camps of the Polish political scene before May 1926.

The idea of the ‘status quo’ foreign policy was connected with the vision of the Polish state as a ‘start-up company’ in international relations. Such a company - Stanisław Grabski argued – was ‘not allowed to do too much.’[25] Thus Poland’s foreign policy, in accordance with that remark, ought to be as cautious and conservative as was only possible. It was to consist mainly in accommodating to the conditions created by the primary agents of international politics and not in any open opposition to their actions. All this was to win Poland the necessary credit of trust from the international community. This notion, at least, undoubtedly inspired Polish foreign policy under Minister Konstanty Skirmunt, for there was no general agreement regarding the proposition that Poland, as the ‘upstart company,’ should gradually accustom the world to its existence through its cautious policy. The postulates of the circles rallied around the Chief of State went strongly against this notion. After the May Coup of 1926, Poland’s policy was to remain the policy of accommodation, but its governing principle was to be ‘Nothing about us without us’ (or, Nihil novi). In the 1930’s, Polish political line was to take shape of a determined opposition to any form of foreign dictate.

Polish foreign policy was supposed to spring up logically from the country’s geographical situation and interpret the message of the nation’s pre-partition and post-partition history. Thus the lessons of geography and history were to concur in order to shape a reasonable political imagination. The lesson of geography was that the whole of Poland’s foreign policy consisted in fashioning an existence between Germany and Russia; meanwhile, the lesson of history was that any rapprochement between those two powers was the worst case scenario.

         It was just then – in 1921-1923 - that the idea of ‘balance’ between Germany and Russia originated as a political scheme, though the very term ‘balance policy’ comes from a later period, since it actually appeared in 1934. Thus, when it was formulated and expressed by Polish policymakers and then implemented in 1934—1938, it was by no means a novel idea in Poland’s foreign policy. As is well known, already on the 19th of January, 1922, General Sikorski, acting as the Minister of Military Affairs, submitted for discussion at a meeting of the Council of Ministers an outline of a memorial prepared by the head of the Second Department of Polish General Staff II, Colonel Ignacy Matuszewski.[26] This document comprised a broad and convincing justification of the argument that Poland actually could not rely politically either on Russia or on Germany.

Thus the Second Polish Republic’s foreign policy was supposed to strive for a ‘forthright and material’ agreement with Germany and Russia following the principle of preserving the status quo; however, not with the aim of forming an alliance with either of the two powers, but in order to ‘remove the danger altogether in this way.’[27] Any league with the Soviet Russia against Germany was impossible both then and in the future. A reverse configuration was also out of the question. Thus the Polish diplomacy ought to keep on repeating that it pursued its own independent policy and Poland was not an instrument in the hands of any foreign power and was never going to renounce the principle of maintaining neutrality in her relations with Germany and Russia, which were based on the ‘system of non-aggression.’

         This secret ministerial debate was, of course, unknown to the public in Poland, but the exchange of opinions regarding foreign policy issues prepared for the Council of Ministers by Matuszewski became the subject of a pointed controversy between the country’s political circles. Contemporary press still remains a reliable reflection of that controversy.[28] Henryk Tennenbaum, an economist and journalist then connected with the economic circles and environments closely related to General Sikorski, assumed that ‘Poland could rely neither on Germany nor Russia’ but should seek a political modus vivendi with those two powers; not at all costs, to be sure, but following the principle of maintaining her independence and territorial integrity. The country ought to ‘remain anti-German and anti-Russian in a defensive sense,’ he argued in a now forgotten book Polska w polityce światowej, published in 1923. ‘Any inclinations to either side can only be the matter of political tactics and current circumstances.’[29] Another equally important mission of the diplomacy of the reborn state was to consist in seeking rapprochement with antagonists of Germany and Russia. This, however, Tennenbaum perceived as a terribly difficult task since there was no perfectly harmonious understanding between a country threatened from two sides and a state having but one adversary. This was true in the case of Poland and France. Thus the experience of the unequal alliance with France lay heavy on Polish politics. The agreement concluded in Paris on the 19th of February 1921 was signed by the French as a defensive alliance against Germany, while Poland was looking for support, first of all, in case of being involved in a defensive war against her two great neighbours at the same time.

Poland’s contemporary situation was expounded in a similar vein by Professor Stanisław Kutrzeba, an intellectualist connected with the circles of the Church and Polish ‘political Catholicism.’ In his opinion, normalization of relations with Germany and Soviet Russia was to take place in the more distant future. In a book of 1923, entitled Nasza polityka zagraniczna, Kutrzeba upheld the notion of political balance and neutrality between Germany and Russia. He also urged the creation of a ‘neutral zone’ between those two powers that could only emerge thanks to an effective system of ‘Intermarium,’ that is, a bloc of newly created states of that region initiated by Warsaw and acting under the protectorate of Poland. Already at that time he perceived that the efficiency of the French foreign policy was doubtful. France was unable to arrange and realize her program for peace, Kutrzeba argued in the abovementioned book. He also pointed out that the League of Nations, despite the promises of its founders, had not become the powerful institution for the protection of peace.[30]

Poland’s part of a neutral ‘barrier’ between Germany and Russia would antagonise those two powers against her, while any attempt at being a bridge between them was tantamount to a threat of being turned into an instrument of their policies, was the judgment of Professor Jan Dąbrowski, the originator of another important statement concerning the situation of the reconstructed Polish state.[31] The possible convergent attack, ‘for which we have to be prepared, but have no reason to provoke,’ appeared to him an ominous perspective for the future. No state which has lost its former territorial gains is ever ready to accept it and is always going to seek revenge. ‘In short, in the near of more distant future we are in for an ordeal of war on the result of which shall depend not only the stability of our borders but also, perhaps, even our independent existence as such,’ Dąbrowski wrote in 1922.[32]

The unexpected news of the German-Soviet Treaty of Rapallo (signed on the 16th of April 1922), which, expresis verbis, was not directed against Poland, came as a shock to the Polish public, in spite of the reassuring comments by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its head Konstanty Skirmunt. The German-Soviet rapprochement seemed to prefigure a new partition, even though in the agreement concluded by the ministers Rathenau and Chicherin there were no stipulations that would suggest an alliance between the two powers.[33]

In Dąbrowski’s opinion, neither the role of a neutral barrier between Germany and the Soviet Russia nor that of a bridge between them fully suited Poland. By attempting to play the latter part, the Polish state exposed itself to the danger of entering the sphere of influence of one of her great neighbours. Nevertheless, Dąbrowski saw no other possible prospects that would be available for Polish diplomacy but to adopt the policy of avoiding any obligations towards one of Poland’s great neighbours that would be directed against the other. The contemporary Polish political thought was unable to go beyond that notion.

Piłsudski’s followers, meanwhile, were the ones to point out the abovementioned inequality of the alliance with France. Their argument that Poland must not be merely an instrument of French foreign policy was to be emphatically expressed only after the events of the Locarno Conference. Yet opinions that it was necessary for Poland to pursue an independent foreign policy had been uttered by the political camp of the former Chief of State long before the Locarno Treaties. Piłsudski and his followers actually meant taking up efforts aimed at a rapprochement with Great Britain and striving for some kind of détente in relations with Germany, as well as intensifying endeavours with the objective of strengthening Poland’s position in Central Europe.

The notion of a struggle for the strengthening of Poland’s position in relations with France originated immediately after the conclusion of the alliance with that great power. The postulate that efforts should be taken up in order for Poland to become a more equal partner in the alliance with France was repeated time and again. It was, however, not so easy to point out measures that would render possible such an upward bidding. An agreement with Germany could become one of them but such a possibility seemed out of the question, at least without any prior territorial concessions.

It was unanimously argued that although the Polish-French alliance had to be of a defensive nature, it ought to guarantee Poland’s safety also in case of a Soviet aggression. The utterances of exponents of Polish political thought from the early 1920’s were full of confidence in the military efficiency of the alliance in the case of a defensive war against Germany. The Poles, however, were becoming increasingly aware of the fact that the chances for receiving any real help in case of a struggle with Russia would be extremely problematic.

Already in 1921 Professor Władysław Leopold Jaworski, the former leader of the ‘activist camp’ during the Great War, noted that France was more and more clearly becoming doomed to look for some modus vivendi with Germany.[34] The French military outposts on the Rhine, established by the terms of the peace treaty, were the best guarantee of Poland’s safety. Their withdrawal after the Locarno Conference (1925) would inevitably mean a threat to Poland as France’s subordinated ally.

It seemed indubitable that Germany would try to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles and regain the territories lost in favour of Poland; such a proposition raised neither opposition nor discussion not only within Dmowski’s camp. By way of example, it is worth while to recall the opinion of Aleksander Skrzyński, who wrote point-blank in 1924: ‘The Germany of tomorrow, the Germany ultimately consolidated on the grounds of some ideology, would regain their political energy which, in accordance with natural law, would be looking to spend itself where, hypothetically, the weaker resistance is expected. And it seems beyond all doubt that the Germans, sooner or later, shall perceive that this direction lies in the East, and not in the West.’[35] If we envisioned a poll with a question about the perspectives of the Polish-German relations among the contemporary Poland’s political elite, probably the majority of answers would have sounded just like that.

From the early 1920’s the efforts of the representatives of Polish political thought were marked with an anxiety to outline the program of an efficient Central European policy. The alliance with Romania, signed on the 3rd of March 1921, demanded to be further extended with other regional agreements. This idea had occupied the thoughts of politicians in both Warsaw and Bucharest. Accession to the Little Entente (created in 1920-1921) could offer no tangible advantage to Poland; however, joining that alliance was considered by Polish foreign ministers Skirmunt and Seyda in the following version: ‘Poland plus the Little Entente,’ instead of simply joining it as the fourth component of that configuration of forces. Many a time an alliance with the Hungarians was also considered, to whom Poland was bound by the memory of the ‘good history’ of friendship between the two nations, confirmed with the Hungarian supplies of material during Poland’s war against the Soviets. Such an alliance, however, was thwarted by the insurmountable antagonism between Budapest and Bucharest. This was a problem that the contemporary Polish diplomacy was never able to solve before 1939.

Dmowski’s opus magnum, i.e., his 1925 book Polityka polska i odbudowanie państwa, ended with a significant statement that ‘a proper arrangement’ of the relations with Russia was the greatest task that the Polish nation had to face after the reconstruction of the independent state in 1918.[36] Though he did not clarify that in this declaration, the author obviously meant a ‘national’ Russia, and surely not the Soviet one. However, since - contrary to expectations and in spite of the passing time - Bolshevism did not fall, the whole of Dmowski’s conception hung in mid-air. But surely even had a Russia been reborn free of the Bolshevik tyranny it would have been extremely difficult to reach a Polish-Russian agreement based on a territorial status quo as it had been determined in Riga. Dmowski always thought that the borders settled in the Latvian capital could form a basis for a compromise with the Russian nation, but it is not easy to believe that this was a realistic assumption as it did not take into consideration the determined opposition to that territorial settlement of the various forces of the ‘White,’ and in general ‘non-Soviet’ Russia. Though he saw no chance for reconciliation with a Bolshevik empire, Dmowski had always cautioned against Poland’s involvement in the struggle against Bolshevism, accepting that the current form of government in Russia was the concern of Russians themselves. He summed up the first decade of Polish independence with a general statement that ‘it fell to [the Polish state] to play the part of the bulwark of the Western Europe against Russian Bolshevism.’

The survey of opinions and sentiments of the contemporary Polish political thought regarding the foreign policy would not be complete without an emphatic statement that the fundamental declaration of a desire to maintain the status quo was always combined with an unequivocal attitude towards the issue of respecting the peace treaties. On the one hand, the argument was expressed that all of those treaties – irrespective of their fairness – form an integral whole (iunctim). On the other hand, the thought of a certain hierarchy among them would crop up, with the Treaty of Trianon (signed on the 4th of June, 1920) being perceived as the most unjust among them - injurious to Hungary and destabilizing the Danube region of Europe. As Marian Zdziechowski would repeat after Franciszek Smolka of 1861, ‘Your cause is our cause; and our cause is yours.’[37] Zdziechowski’s suggestive opinion expressed in his Tragedia Węgier could by no means be considered an isolated utterance; rather, it was the expression of the attitude of a significant part of the public opinion in Poland. Such pronouncements, however, provoked a response of the National camp, whose representatives argued that the reconstruction of Hungary could only be effected by means of a disintegration of Czechoslovakia. If that state, in turn, left the political scene, it would inevitably be subjugated by Germany. Thus the price for the Polish-Hungarian alliance would have been much too high. This condition was constantly lost on Piłsudski’s followers.

The Polish–Czech conflict undoubtedly interfered with the integration of Central Europe. A large part of Polish public entertained highly unfavourable views of the Czechs and Czechoslovakia. By way of example, it is enough to mention the publications by authors such as the leading writer of the Right-wing liberal orientation Jerzy Kurnatowski.[38] Those unflattering opinions were the aftermath of the recent events such as the Czech annexation of the Zaolzie region and the lack of consent for the transit through Czechoslovakia of military supplies for Poland in the summer of 1920. Antagonists of the state of Masaryk and Beneš argued that it was precisely this geopolitical force that interfered with the Polish plans for the integration of Central Europe. They also pointed out that the Czech state was never going to become a Polish ally since it pursued a careful policy of avoiding any commitment against Germany and, in particular, against Russia. They emphasized the complex internal structure of Czechoslovakia, perceiving it as an artificial creation. This view was even shared by Piłsudski himself, who told that confidentially to the deputy Wacław Grzybowski in 1927.

In 1921-1924, various schemes for the intensification of Polish policy in the Baltic region attracted considerable attention. Their guiding principle was the need to strengthen the independence – first of all, independence from Moscow - of the states bordering upon Russia that were once parts of the Russian Empire. However, the plans for forming a Baltic Union, originated at the Warsaw Conference of March 1922, met with various obstacles, the Polish-Lithuanian antagonism being the most serious among them. Another impediment was, unfortunately, the persistent illusion of neutralism so popular among the Baltic nations. Last but not least, the German and Soviet diplomacies actively and efficiently opposed any plans for extending Polish influence in the eastern part of the Baltic region.

Multilateralism brought new hope to Poland. The development of a powerful new international organization – the League of Nations – could bring about the much-desired internalization of the issues connected with Poland’s safety. The League was established by the Treaty of Versailles and commenced its operations in January 1920. The most fervent advocate of multilateralism was Aleksander Skrzyński, a politician and intellectualist of liberal orientation, said to be closely connected with the conservative circles of Cracow. He was the minister for foreign affairs for the first half of the year 1923, and then again in 1924—1926, as well as the head of the Grand Coalition cabinet of 1925-1926; the only government of this kind in the history of Second Polish Republic.[39] Distinct traces of that political idea can also be found in the writings of Stanisław Bukowiecki, the later ideologist of Piłsudski’s followers’ Union for the Reform of the Republic (ZNR), or of the socialist Stanisław Posner. How much, then, could Poland expect of, and actually obtain from, the League of Nations? This was surely the most important question. That ‘universal union of peoples’ was ‘merely a provisional palliative,’ for the real objective was to educate man for peace, Professor Napoleon Cybulski wrote.[40] This ‘education for peace’ raised certain hopes in the 1920’s, but its results were highly questionable, which was perceived in all its obviousness at the time of the critical Great Depression (1930—1933).

         The political thought of Skrzyński was founded upon two propositions: (1) of a great revolution in morals in Europe and in the world in general that was supposed to have been brought about by the Great War; and (2) that the reborn Poland became one of its first and most significant beneficiaries, since she owed her independence to that revolution. In other words, Poles did not just win their independence, sword in hand, but they simply took advantage of the conditions in the international scene which had been produced by historical events.

Skrzyński’s expose before the Polish Sejm of the 6th of February 1923 concluded with a general call for optimism in international relations: ‘States and nations are driven to perform great tasks by optimism which gives birth to an ideal; or, on the contrary, they are bent down by pessimism creeping out of material concerns. Then let the whole world know that we profess that optimism, which is fully aware of that great treasure in its possession, of that invigorating strength that carries it on; of that talisman that, in the hour of trial, ensures unity against all odds, and which is embraced in just one word, enchanted, sacred and great; once painful but now full of hope; and this word is Poland.’[41] This optimism was surely shared by neither the circles of the National Democracy nor by environments connected with Piłsudski’s camp.

In his political speeches, Skrzyński would speak a lot of the historic triumph of law over force, brought about by the Great War which caused a virtual ‘geopolitical revolution’ in Europe. That revolution, in turn, rendered possible the realization of the principle of self-determination in the case of many nations that had been subjugated till then. In a longish pronouncement in Geneva dedicated to the significance of the Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes of the 2nd of October, 1924, the Polish foreign minister said: ‘People tend to imagine that a triumph of law over force is a victory of something weak over something powerful, and they simper. But why suppose that it is the law that should forever remain helpless and weak; why should it not become so powerful and efficient as to overcome brute force that draws principles of conduct only from itself? The tormented, war-weary, and overburdened humanity craves for peace. All those who work with their hands and labour with their minds, all the labourers of the world desire peace that shall be the blessing of their travail. Thus the international policy and diplomacy has to realize their aspirations, protecting the interests of its nations and states. That is why foreign policy is one of the most vital functions of a state. The diplomacy of to-day is the struggle for peace.’[42]

In the same speech Skrzyński came up with a peculiar credo, professing his faith in international peace and in the possibility of maintaining it. ‘[…] I strongly believe in the future of peace which is regulated by justice. If, however, the humanity creates a tribunal for itself, then this tribunal shall become a temple of peace under just one condition: that it shall be founded upon the same corner-stone which you have lain here, sirs, in the context of the League of Nations, since the League is going to preserve within its walls the international law of Europe, i.e., the sacred and inviolable charter written with the blood of soldiers and martyrs. To recapitulate: we believe that disarmament shall be a blessing for humanity and we desire peace, and the condition of both peace and disarmament is the same condition whose fulfilment will allow us to resolve the production crisis resulting from the lack of sales markets; and this condition is stability and safety. Our most fervent wish is that this complex problem should be solved unanimously by all nations; yet this can hardly be achieved without an international solidarity. The existence of such solidarity, so necessary for the Conference on Disarmament, is only possible in the context of the League of Nations.’[43]

Skrzyński was convinced that ‘the League of Nations is the focal point of foreign policy,’ as he put it in a speech delivered after leaving his position of Polish foreign minister.[44] Although Stanisław Bukowiecki - who was guided by similar convictions in his attitude to the problems of foreign policy – did not use such a suggestive language, he described the League of Nations as an institution implementing ‘the idea of an international political organization that is not an expression of any formal aspirations to dominate and control the world - after the fashion of the universalistic creations of past centuries - but, rather, the expression of anxiety to establish a regulated international coexistence of equal and free nations who, nonetheless, submit to the rules and commands of a supreme authority armed with certain executive powers.’[45] Bukowiecki also argued that the trust in the state’s self-sufficiency in the field of economy (autarky) and safety was a delusion.[46] Poland particularly needed an institution such as the League of Nations, since her borders were going to be contested constantly due to her extremely difficult and unchangeable geopolitical location.[47] Thus ‘any sudden convulsion, conflict, or open war’ made Poland confront the ‘problem of its independent existence.’ The singularity of Poland’s geopolitical locations lay precisely in this, Bukowiecki wrote.[48] Adherents of multilateralism fervently believed in Europe as Poland’s chance for future. One of them - Stanisław Posner – concluded that ‘Poland can recover not in any opposition to Europe but in cooperation with a cultivated and civilized Europe.’[49] Thus Poland’s national interests were to be interpreted in the light of the common good. National exclusivism, Machtpolitik, and the doctrine of the ‘reasons of State’ were to be renounced.

The heyday of Polish multilateralism came during the negotiations on the already-mentioned Geneva Protocol, signed on the 2nd of October 1924 but never ratified and forsaken by the international community. Because of the failure of that grand scheme, multilateralism passed over as a short-lived phase in the evolution of interwar international relations, never taking root in Polish political consciousness as a separate orientation. It is quite safe to conclude that the confidence in a higher efficiency of bilateral agreements – and, first and foremost, of the alliance with France – was never shaken. Generally speaking, the League of Nations was still perceived as a useful instrument of international safety, though it was deemed an instrument of secondary importance, next to such bilateral agreements. This view still prevailed after 1925, when the Geneva Protocol was replaced by the Rhineland Pact, and a regional system of safety – limited to the Western Europe - was established instead of a universal one.

         Several conclusions can be drawn from the intense disputes on the shape of Polish foreign policy that took place in 1921—1924, namely:

First, two currents can surely be defined in the reflection on international issues: the ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ one. The former tended to emphasize the necessity of Poland’s active presence in Eastern Europe while the latter pointed out that the Polish state could only survive as an element of the Versailles Order and a peculiar barrier protecting Europe against a German domination. One could even say – referring to Marian Massonius’ famous phrase of 1901 - that in this way a specific ‘split of Polish political thought’ came out.

Second, a general agenda of Poland’s foreign policy was outlined that could be summarized in the threefold injunction: to stick to bilateralism and consolidate the alliance with France; to maintain and preserve Poland’s neutrality between Germany and Soviet Russia; and to ‘consolidate peace in the whole area between the Adriatic and the Baltic,’ which could only be achieved by an effective bloc of national states from that region of Europe.

Third, multilateralism combined with the belief in the success of the League of Nations temporarily seemed to produce considerable hopes. The offer of that Geneva-based institution, promising new guarantees of peace to the world’s nations, must have been very attractive particularly to states located in the peripheries, whose borders were contested and whose safety was endangered. The vision of universal safety, however, remained just a hopeful scheme.

A postulate of fundamental importance, recurring in the pronouncements of the participants of the debate on Poland’s foreign policy, was the notion of infusing that policy with more steadiness which it so desperately lacked before May 1926. This requirement was most often mentioned by representatives of the environments of Piłsudski’s camp, which was than taking shape and rallied people with critical views regarding the contemporary political system in Poland based on the supremacy of the Parliament and suffering from an overall weakness of the executive branch. Stanisław Bukowiecki explicitly wrote about the irresolution of Polish foreign policy and the practice of acting ‘as the occasion arose,’ which was burdensome and weakened the state.[50] This lack of a persistent political line was raised as an even greater weakness then the lack of a concept of operations. Poland was being devoured by a relentless in-fighting of political groups, but there was ‘hardly any struggle of ideas or beliefs.’[51] Stanisław Kutrzeba wrote that a genuine foreign policy, worthy of that name, must have its ‘steady course.’[52]

Even Piłsudski himself would point out the weakness of Poland’s foreign policy. His declaration for the ‘Głos Poranny’ magazine of February 1926 was an emphatic call for changing that state of affairs. The Marshal pronounced that Poland’s independent existence was not consolidated and her ongoing presence on the world’s map could not be taken for granted since her neighbours had not resigned themselves to her reconstruction and rights.[53]

One of the most strongly emphasized notions of Polish political thought was the desire to turn into the leading task of Polish foreign policy the effort aimed at preventing Poland from being reduced to a small state - inert, objectified, and insignificant – that would merely be a counter in the bargains struck by the mighty. The two great antagonists – Piłsudski i Dmowski – fully agreed on this fundamental matter, although their views concerning various Polish issues could not have been more different.

A strong comment against the attempts at reducing Poland to the role of a small, second-rate state, was uttered by Dmowski in his famous pronouncement Polska jako wielkie państwo, delivered in Poznań on the tenth anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, on the 28th of June 1929. That speech was one of his most important policy statements since his return to Poland in the spring of 1920, after the Paris Peace Conference.[54] It could be argued that in that declaration he proposed his vision of ‘philosophy of international politics,’ together with some recommendations for the diplomacy of the reborn Polish state.

Thus on the international scene there was a constant struggle ‘against the idea of Poland as a great state,’ said the leader of the National Democracy. Any attempts at degrading her must be opposed at all costs, for ‘Poles are no small tribe,’ and they are eager to prove that they form a community with the memory of a great state, which had been widely respected in Europe, and are anxious for the reconstructed state to carry on the grand historical missions.[55] In Dmowski’s opinion, in the international relations Poland was supposed to play the part of ‘a great state, politically and economically independent from her neighbours.’[56] He admitted, however, that the ‘present generation […] are acquiring a great state but have no mental disposition of a Great State’s heirs. Psychology of slaves still lingers on.’[57] Dmowski also called for policy worthy of such a great state. ‘To confine our nation within the limits of a small state would hardly be a lesser injustice than the Partitions themselves.’[58]

It is just hard not to notice that the awareness of the limited role that the reborn Poland played in shaping international relations lay heavy on Polish political elite’s mind. It is worth mentioning, perhaps, that the lawyer Jakub Warszawski noted that throughout the first half of the 1920’s Poland’s influence on international politics remained weaker even than that of Czechoslovakia or Belgium.[59] The knowledge that many decisions affecting Poland were taken without her participation only increased the anxiety for ‘the Mussolini’s tough Roman non possumus to become the guideline also for the people managing our foreign policy,’ declared the political commentator of the conservative ‘Dzień Polski’ magazine.[60] Yet something more could be added here: namely, that Polish foreign policy makers were overwhelmed by the awareness that the new Polish Republic had been reborn as a state which was not a great power but, at the same time, was not ready to accept the status of a ‘small state;’ or, that due to her limited potential and external threats, she was somehow doomed to fluctuate between those two forms of international standing. And yet only a Poland playing a significant part in international politics could be necessary for an effective balance of power in Europe. Bukowiecki was fully aware of that when he argued that ‘Poland, though she is not counted among the great powers, suffers directly from the discrimination of smaller states, mainly because, being the biggest, and surely the strongest, among them, she is destined to be their leader and champion of their joint interests. Such a role also ensues on her geographical location [...].’ In his conclusion, Bukowiecki admitted: ‘Our country lies right between great potentates and smaller states and, though weaker than the former, it is still stronger than the latter.’[61]

The debate on the foundations of Polish foreign policy in the period 1921—1924/25 yielded virtually all the major arguments concerning that subject that were not to lose any significance after the May Coup of 1926 or throughout the 1930’s, but remained valid till 1939. That is precisely the main reason why it deserved a brief recapitulation in the present paper.



Locarno – Bilateralism and Multilateralism


         As is commonly known, the Locarno Conference created a system of international safety for Western Europe, leaving Poland in the zone devoid of any such guarantees, since the promises of an ‘Eastern Locarno’ proved to be entirely empty. As a result of the subsequent French concessions to Germany, granted in the name of reconciliation in 1926—1932, a revision of the Versailles Order ensued. The government in Paris agreed to those concessions, in return for British guarantees in case of a new defensive war, which, it was deemed, France would be unable to wage on her own. The French cabinet faced a dilemma: how to maintain their eastern alliances with Poland and Czechoslovakia if it was known that if France got involved in a war against Germany on account of those alliances, Great Britain would not come to her aid. As an expert on diplomatic history, Georges-Henri Soutou, would put it later, in such circumstances originated the concept of how to call off the obligations undertaken in 1921.[62]

         The Polish foreign minister, Skrzyński, persistently reassured the Sejm and public opinion, claiming that his country’s interests were not compromised at Locarno. He kept on repeating that to the very end. He even undertook to defend the achievements of Locarno Conference as late as 1930 in his polemic article Blaski i cienie zwycięstwa Jerzego Clemenceau.[63] First, Skrzyński had always argued that Locarno was only a prelude to the establishment of a universal system of international safety. Second, an alternative for Locarno remained a close German-Soviet rapprochement, which was a much more dangerous prospect for Poland. If the Germans were not connected to the West, they would choose the path of collaboration with Moscow; thus the two opponents of the Versailles Order would be bound by an alliance.

The Polish-French alliance was not actually renounced in the aftermath of Locarno. It was, however, modified in the form of a new treaty of guarantee signed on the 16th of October, 1926, which subjected the execution of obligations to the workings of the mechanisms of the League of Nations. Without the knowledge of their own public opinion, the French diplomacy would constantly make attempts at renegotiating those agreements and, in particular, at amending the military convention. Marshal Piłsudski, however, would not let them start any definite talks on that matter. Thus an extremely unfavourable phase would open in the relations between Warsaw and Paris.

Public declarations by the distinguished Polish military men left no doubt that Poland’s international safety had been seriously compromised. Such a view was most clearly expressed by General Tadeusz Kutrzeba, then the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, who wrote in the columns of ‘Przegląd Współczesny’ that ‘the Locarno treaties do not give us any guarantee that peace can actually be preserved; however, it can be presumed that they will promote an armistice whose duration will only depend on Germany.’[64] In Kutrzeba’s opinion, the most important result of Locarno was that ‘we [the Poles] have not become just a passive object, dependent on our great neighbour [but] it is in our hands to postpone the outbreak of a war for as long as possible.’[65]

Stanisław Stroński, a conservative journalist and publicist who shared the geopolitical notions of the National Democracy camp, expressed himself in a similar vein. He recognized that the Locarno treaties had opened many opportunities for the Germans through ‘differentiating between the inviolability of their Eastern and Western borders,’ and perceived the German-Soviet Treaty of Berlin (signed on the 24th of April, 1926) as the ‘portent of war-clouds over Poland.’[66] In his opinion, the Locarno Conference resolutions amounted to nothing less than the ‘shaking of the foundations of the Treaty of Versailles.’[67]

The subjection of execution of the Polish-French alliance to the workings of the doubtful mechanism of international sanctions envisaged by the Covenant of the League of Nations was rated as a particularly disadvantageous change in Poland, since it was commonly known that in a critical moment the League Council might take no resolution at all; the more so, that Germany had been invited to join it as a permanent member in the spring of 1926.

L’esprit de Locarno was a smart French slogan that received international circulation after the Conference; it was, however, detrimental to Polish interests. It was supposed to express the spirit of collaboration and solidarity of the four great powers participating in the Conference and the universal pacifist attitude. It also had its ‘meaning of a symbol of European solidarity, of enormous moral significance.’[68] Its advocates promoted the idea that every issue that was a threat to peace could be solved on the grounds of the ‘Locarno principles.’ All this just had to cause considerable anxiety in Poland, whose borders were being disputed, while the number of various soundings, attempts at exerting pressure, and reports increased – especially in 1928-1930 - that said it would be necessary for Poland to grant certain territorial concessions.

Two radically different responses to Locarno were formulated by the circles of Polish political thought. The first one was expressed by adherents of bilateralism in international relations, who noticed the weakening of the Polish-French alliance and pointed out that it was necessary to prevent any international bargains at the expense of Poland and her territorial possessions. The second response was the standpoint of multilateralists, who believed that Locarno was just the first step on a long path towards a pan-European system of international safety, within which Poland would be a beneficiary rather than a victim.

         As one of the advocates of multilateralism, Aleksander Skrzyński would underestimate the threats to Poland that emerged after Locarno. Having quitted his post of the minister for foreign affairs, he maintained that ‘a creative foreign policy must take on the necessity of considering and solving problems on this universal plane. In this day and age, clouded, as it is, with concerns for future, the precondition for efficiency and stability of foreign policy of any country – and of Polish foreign policy in particular – is the ability to reconcile its reasons of State with the collective European “reasons of state;” what is more – to reconcile the national interests with the interests of humanity.’[69] A significant novelty was the notion of a ‘collective European raison d’état;’ a term introduced to the language of Polish politics by Skrzyński.

Another admirer of bilateralism, the already quoted Stanisław Posner, pointed out that the Locarno Treaties were usually criticized in Poland by the same people who had opposed the Geneva Protocol, although it was virtually impossible to interpret the latter document to Poland’s disadvantage. ‘The Locarno Treaties […],’ he said, ‘are what they are; they are what they actually could be, given the present temporal and spatial conditions.’[70] Posner also entered into polemics with opponents of the Locarno system, accusing them of faulty reasoning (or, in his opinion, ‘deep misunderstanding’), and of ‘bringing out, against those documents, guns both big and small,’ that ‘shoot at them as if they were sport rifles.’[71]

Skrzyński’s opponents, in their turn, reproached him for seeing Locarno ‘through the eyes of Western politicians,’ as Stroński, a National Right deputy put it, coming out in behalf of the Christian National Party.[72] Controversies concerning the significance of Locarno resolutions were prolonged and bitter. The only indisputable fact was that Polish Sejm and government had to accept them as fait accompli; and they were ratified by a large all-party majority.

After the May Coup of 1926, at Piłsudski’s request, the ministry of foreign affairs was taken over by a professional diplomat August Zaleski. Thus the period of his cautious diplomacy opened which lasted for more than six years and, in a large measure, was a continuation of the ‘line of Skrzyński.’ Foreign policy now became a special realm of Marshal Piłsudski, who would define its general priorities and tasks which were then, however, carried out with Zaleski’s ingenious contributions. This new definition of Polish raison d’état was expressed in Piłsudski’s famous ‘canons,’ i.e., two missions he believed to be of equal importance: normalization of relations with Poland’s great neighbours by means of bilateral agreements and maintaining the alliances with France and Romania. His minister for foreign affairs considered it appropriate to add a third ‘canon’ that postulated for a collaboration with the League of Nations in the service of the idea of universal safety. Zaleski would even give precedence to this last task; in spite of Piłsudski’s scepticism, it was realized in earnest by the Polish diplomacy. The government of the Second Polish Republic submitted various proposals aimed at consolidating the international safety. The most important among them were the idea of forming an antiwar pact (1927) and the notion of ‘moral disarmament’ that would precondition the ‘physical disarmament’ (1931).

As is commonly known, in August 1928 a general treaty renouncing the war of aggression was finally signed, which, after its authors, was named the Kellogg-Briand Pact. This agreement, however, did not stipulate for any international sanctions in case of its infringement. Piłsudski, therefore, set little store by it. It was certainly significant that Kazimierz Czapiński, a Polish Socialist Party deputy, speaking at a secret session of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Polish Sejm in February 1929, called that treaty a ‘mawkish platitude.’ However, at a plenary session of the House he described it as a ‘significant step’ on the path to ‘universal peace.’[73] This only proves that observers of world politics had no doubt about the real significance of international treaties which, however, ought to be affirmed before the general public.

Undoubtedly, the international program offered by the Geneva system of multilateralism yielded very few tangible results for Poland. It would be, however, a great oversimplification to overlook that those Polish politicians of the 1920’s who were adherents of the multilateral orientation failed to notice the weakness of the League of Nations, or of its procedures and mechanisms. For all that, they still believed that it was an institution with a bright future. Their confidence was definitely shaken only after the events of the years 1931—1933. It is therefore not always proper to pass easy ex post judgements on their standpoints and attitudes, since such evaluations often consist in extrapolation of our knowledge of subsequent events into the past.

The League of Nations was usually perceived in Poland from a pragmatic perspective: the question was, What that institution was actually able to offer Poland in terms of her safety on the international scene? Piłsudski and his adherents saw it merely as a useful platform for discussion established as a result of the British-French settlement, and nothing more. Being an advocate of the cabinet politics, the Marshal, on principle, did not believe in the efficiency of a foreign policy whose shape was influenced by public opinion. The League’s proceedings, then, had to be reckoned with for as long as that institution was endowed with international recognition and significance.

Opinions similar to the one by Skrzyński, quoted above, which were based on the notion of the ‘collective European raison d’état,’ formed an isolated minority. To be sure, in the 1920’s voices were also heard that expressed total disapproval of the Geneva-based institution. They were most often uttered by representatives of Nationalist environments. One of the publicists of the ‘Myśl Narodowa’ magazine wrote in 1927 that the very idea of the League of Nations comprised ‘ethically vile, destructive elements, which anarchize the world through the loosening of natural moral ties, binding individual societies.’[74] However, such extreme views were also a marginal minority in the spectrum of Polish journalism dedicated to the problems of international politics.

Being aware that Aristide Briand’s Locarno policy was disadvantageous to Poland but, at the same time, unable to counteract it effectively, Zaleski endeavoured not to oppose the French proposition that the French-German rapprochement was ‘compatible with Polish interests,’ as Jules Laroche, the French ambassador to Warsaw, put it in one of his reports.[75] In the face of the developing French-German rapprochement, the Polish diplomacy was helpless anyway. The Poles could only reiterate that close relations between the two powers were indispensable for the general safety in Europe, but it was commonly known that Poland’s interests were, at best, pushed to the background. In 1928 the Polish government brought on the idea of a so-called ‘Vistula Pact’ that would bind Germany, France, and Poland. ‘[…] such a pact, limiting Poland’s freedom of movement in relation to Germany and vice versa, would restore the balance of rights and obligations between France and Poland, unsettled by the Rhineland Pact. Poland would then be under an obligation, and would have the right, to provide military assistance for France only in those hypothetical situations in which France is currently bound to perform her duties as Poland’s ally. Such a limitation of Poland’s obligations towards France would be welcome, since it would restore the equality in their mutual relations,’ read the memorandum of the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs that comprised the outline of the whole idea.[76] Unfortunately, that suggestion of Polish diplomacy sank. Germany could not tolerate any fresh confirmation of the territorial status quo. The promises of a Locarno for Eastern Europe remained unfulfilled until Minister Barthou came out with his initiative regarding an Eastern Pact in 1934, only to invite the Soviet state as the main partner of the prospective agreement.

In 1929 Aristide Briand, the foreign minister of the French Republic, formulated a proposal regarding a European Union, suggesting to start with an establishment of a customs union of European countries and creation of a European Council as the political structure. This prompted the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to call attention to Polish traditions of pacific thought in the light of which the notions such as the condemnation of the war of aggression and ‘moral disarmament’ appeared not as ‘plants grafted from the West, but ones that grow out of the ideas which had been developing in Poland for several centuries,’ as Minister Zaleski put it in his famous introduction to King Stanisław I Leszczyński’s Memorial de l’Affermissement de la Paix Generale, which was published in the ‘Sprawy Obce’ magazine, edited by the diplomat Michał Sokolnicki.[77] The ‘Świat’ independent weekly, in its turn, launched an interesting inquiry regarding the proposal for a European Union, with the participation of, among others, Jan Dąbski, Zdzisław Lubomirski, Stanisław Thugutt, Wacław Makowski, Aleksander Lednicki, Stanisław Kozicki, Stanisław Stroński, Bolesław Koskowski, Kazimierz Ehrenberg, Wacław Łypacewicz, and Zygmunt Cybichowski.[78] Professor Władysław Leopold Jaworski’s opinion was made conspicuous, who argued that the unification of the continent had its impassable limits. As a side-note to Briand’s initiative, he repeated Raymond Poincaré’s remark that ‘because it is impossible to turn all Europeans into one European nation, it is equally impossible to transform the whole Europe into one state or superstate.’[79] Jaworski also wrote: ‘The old world is drawing to an end. A new one is dawning which must displace the old. Now the question that worries us the most is: Will this new world rise from the ruins of the old, or will it take shape through an evolution?’[80]

Adherents of bilateralism usually looked very critically at the notion of uniting Europe into a political federation. It was an idea championed mostly by followers of multilateralism and of the League of Nations system. Bilateralism was commonly combined with an affirmation of the national state, exclusively protecting its own sovereignty. An advocate of such an attitude, Walery Sławek, in a private letter, refused to support the Federation of the League of Nations Societies headed by Aleksander Lednicki.

Only one thing seemed indisputable, namely, that any possibility of territorial concessions on the part of Poland was absolutely out of the question and her borders could never become a subject of political bargaining. Above all, this referred to the territorial access to the sea. Here, the most telling declaration was surely August Zaleski’s public remark that had Poland accepted such a concession, ‘the nation of thirty million, without access to the sea,’ would simply be ‘strangled;’ therefore every Pole ‘would not hesitate to make the ultimate sacrifice’ if the Polish territorial possessions on the Baltic Sea had to be defended by force of arms.[81]

After the May Coup of 1926, Piłsudski’s opponents’ fears were rekindled that the Marshal’s ambitions comprised a return to an aggressive eastern policy which would eventually entangle Poland into an armed conflict with the Soviet Union. Such charges and rumours were skilfully fuelled by Soviet propaganda. Finally, even such a sagacious statesman as Dmowski believed the hearsay to be true and came up with a series of articles warning against seeking confrontation with the Soviet Russia, which were published in the columns of ‘Gazeta Warszawska’ in 1930.

As it was already mentioned, prospects of some Polish-German modus vivendi seemed slender until Piłsudski entered into a dialogue with Hitler in the spring of 1933. The period 1929—1930, marking the last phase of the post-Locarno détente in Europe, was characterized by some cautious gestures. Though no conception of a political settlement with Germany was outlined, two important agreements were in fact concluded, namely, the liquidation agreement of the 31st of October, 1929, and the commercial agreement of the 17th of March, 1930.[82] The Polish government, in full awareness, resolved to conclude these agreements, which involved certain concessions, too. This decision immediately provoked sharp criticism by the opposition; above all, by the representatives of the National Party, who - through the judgements of their deputies and experts on international politics Bohdan Winiarski and Stanisław Kozicki – acknowledged both the settlements to be instances of political bargaining with Polish national interests.[83]

Generally speaking, the whole post-Locarno dispute on Poland’s interests in the international scene was dominated by fears of her isolation in the face of the crisis of the Polish-French alliance. Those fears were further reinforced by the awareness of the insurmountable difficulties lying on the path to a modus vivendi with Germany. The protracted negotiations for a Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact did not betoken an overcoming of the mutual distrust between the two states, who constituted virtually separate worlds to one another. In Europe, two currents of international politics worked against Poland’s interests, namely, the ‘Rapallo system’ connecting Berlin and Moscow, and the Rhineland Pact which established a regional system of safety for Western Europe, leaving out the eastern part of the continent. No Polish political line could effectively have counteracted all these circumstances and conditions, regardless of who actually wielded power in the country.



Policy of Balance and Possible Alternatives


It should be reminded here that Józef Piłsudski, who brought about the conclusion of two bilateral non-aggression pacts with Poland’s great neighbours (with the USSR in 1932, and with the German Reich in 1934), in fact achieved not only an improvement of Poland’s international position but also her real advancement in the hierarchy of European states. Both the non-aggression pacts gave a sense of the efficiency of Polish diplomacy, irrespective of the fact that it was beyond doubt to every informed observer of international politics that the two agreements were actually concluded thanks to a peculiar and favourable coincidence which was brought about, first of all, by the breakdown of the ‘Rapallo policy’ in the German-Soviet relations, the Soviets’ awareness of the Japanese threat, and Hitler’s rise to power in Berlin.

The political camp wielding power in Poland strongly emphasized the necessity of concluding bilateral agreements with the great neighbours, pointing out that such settlements must not limit Poland’s independence; they ought not to violate the principles of the policy of balance and must not involve any territorial changes since such issues were absolutely non-negotiable. The critical opinion on the League of Nations and lack of confidence in the prospects of the system of ‘collective safety’ led to the conclusion that it was necessary to act independently in order to achieve an improvement of Poland’s international position. Thus both of her alliances – with France and Romania – were to be maintained. Though the political circles of the government camp ascertained a consolidation of the state’s international situation, they also, increasingly emphatically, raised the need for a more independent policy whose line would be less accomodante than it had been in 1926—1932. Such a formulation of the basic assumptions certainly corresponded with the private views and beliefs of Józef Beck, Minister Zaleski’s successor as the head of Polish diplomacy.

The reception of the non-aggression pact with the USSR of the 25th of July 1932 by Polish public opinion and political circles was at best half-hearted, although the belief prevailed that it was a most needful document. The common appreciation for that settlement found expression in the comments from not only the government circles but also from the political opposition. The evaluations of the significance of the Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact most often emphasized that it was good for the stabilization of the overall international situation in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the argument was raised that this agreement, which established the principle of non-violence in mutual relations, was a diplomatic act sufficient for the good neighbourly coexistence of the two states; in other words, it was implied that any more binding commitments in Polish-Soviet relations were not possible and they would not have served Poland’s interests anyway. Thus there were no controversies regarding the need of the settlement with the Soviet state as such; the issue under debate was, instead, how long it would last. The question was raised, naturally, if – considering the ideological motivation behind the Soviet policy and geopolitical contrasts – any real and long-term stabilization of the neighbourly relations with the USSR was actually possible.

There were, however, some isolated individual views such as the one of Professor Marian Zdziechowski, who declared in 1934: ‘It is therefore to be hoped that we shall have our own home-bred Lenins and Stalins. Before that happens, they tell us we should rejoice at the fact that the pact concluded with the Soviets is turning into an everlasting covenant, as even the most serious and respectable newspapers keep arguing.’[84] This ironic utterance by the Vilnius professor, famous for his anti-Communist beliefs, was meant as a polemics with all those declarations by representatives of Polish public opinion which appeared in 1933 and postulated further efforts aimed at Polish-Soviet rapprochement. Indeed, the threat of a possible ‘Directorate’ of great powers, looming in the form of the Four-Power Pact of 1933, created a favourable atmosphere for the deepening of such ties. A certain ‘cultural rapprochement’ also showed up in the Polish-Soviet relations.[85] Even some former representatives of the anti-Soviet or anti-Communist political orientation viewed the prospects of Polish-Soviet collaboration – mostly in the sphere of economy, but also in politics - with an unjustified optimism. One of them was Włodzimierz Wakar, the editor of the ‘Przegląd Wschodni’ magazine.[86] In its columns, a closest possible Polish-Soviet rapprochement was postulated grounded in the notion of collective international safety; however, definitely not at the cost of being in any way subordinated to the great neighbour, or of granting any territorial concessions to the Soviets.

The extremely important German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of the 26th of January, 1934, determined the general direction of Polish foreign policy, becoming the foundation of the strategy of ‘sitting out’ the appeasement policy pursued by the Western powers. Its significance is commonly known today; however, a bitter dispute on the ‘Berlin Declaration’ began as soon as it was signed.

The government camp was unanimously of the opinion that the pact was a justified and necessary manoeuvre, regardless of the overall assessment of the nature of Hitler’s regime. The ruling circles pointed out, first and foremost, the beneficial influence of that Polish-German agreement on both Poland’s safety and the stabilization of the balance of power in Central Europe. As is commonly known to historians today, Marshal Piłsudski prophetically foresaw that the Polish-German détente could last for no more than four to five years and made such a remark in a close circle of his collaborators on the 7th of March, 1934; one year before his death. However, if we consider Józef Beck’s contemporary enunciations – made both in public and in private – the impression arises that his views on that issue were much more optimistic.[87] The foreign minister’s optimism seemed to spread to the ruling circles and opinion-forming spheres connected with the authoritarian regime which had developed in Poland following the May Coup of 1926.

Not all of the Polish political elite understood Piłsudski’s argument that without a normalization of relations with the German Reich Poland could not be an independent partner in her contacts with France. However, no representative of the opposition questioned the necessity of reaching an agreement with Germany, as long as such a settlement was not obtained at the price of subordination to Germany or – still worse – of any territorial concessions.

It is indubitably true that Poland’s political leadership considered Soviet Russia more dangerous that the German Reich, and they did so for a fundamental reason. The Polish-Soviet relations in 1934-1939 resembled a state of a peculiar ‘cold war,’ while the contacts with Germany were considerably improved in 1934; and Minister Beck even hoped for a further stabilization of the neighbourly relations with the Germans. After 1934, the prevailing view in discussions on Polish foreign policy was that the Polish-Soviet relations were in a rather poor state, while those with Germany were good and seemed quite normalized or, perhaps, even pretty close. On account of that, opposition circles would raise the objection that Poland’s ‘balance policy’ had been ‘warped’ towards the Third Reich.

One of the main reasons behind the deterioration of climate of the Polish-Soviet relations was the fact that Polish government rejected the project of an Eastern Pact proposed by the French government in the summer of 1934 as a system of collective safety for the East-Central Europe with the participation of the USSR, Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic states. The Polish justification of the rejection left no doubt that the diplomatic leadership in Warsaw perceived the proposed pact as irreconcilable with the principles of their ‘policy of balance.’ There were in fact big fears that in the new conditions created by such a document the Soviet state might become France’s chief partner. Even greater was the desire to prevent any attempts at shattering the Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact.

The ruling circles, understandably, did not criticize the standpoint of Marshal Piłsudski and Minister Beck regarding the Eastern Pact. It must be admitted, though, that in the forum of Polish public opinion there were some voices that indicated at least some sympathetic interest in that project. Such declarations came mostly from commentators on international politics belonging to two camps, namely, to the National Party and Polish Socialist Party – in spite of all the contrasts or differences between those two political forces. Those critical of the moves of Polish diplomacy regarding the issue of ‘collective safety’ would instruct the Ministry for Foreign Affairs that the proposed system was actually in Poland’s interest. In general terms, they claimed that collaboration with the Soviets – based on such a foundation – could contribute to the consolidation of peace. However, they were unable to see that Poland’s access to the Eastern Pact would have irreversibly put an end to her policy of neutrality between Germany and Russia. Also, they apparently did not suspect that a collaboration with the Soviets would have demanded great concessions on the part of Poland; perhaps not immediately, but in the long run definitely so. A case in point was an issue that was mentioned in diplomatic offices throughout Europe already during the negotiations on the Eastern Pact, and was later to dominate the international policy in 1939, namely, the problem of Polish consent to the passage of the Red Army troops through the territory of the Second Polish Republic; without such a permission the Soviets would have been unable to perform their obligations towards their prospective allies.

Several points constantly reoccurred in the criticism of ‘Minister Beck’s policy,’ as the contemporary Polish line was called by his opponents. The first among them was the already mentioned charge that Polish-German relations were markedly better than the Polish-Soviet ones. Second, the argument was raised that Hitler, in principle, could not be trusted. Third, a strongly emphasized opinion was that Poland was dangerously drifting away from France – for which the Warsaw government was also to blame – while her international image suffered because of the close relations with Germany and Italy.

Representatives of the National camp viewed Hitler as a mere German nationalist; a continuator of the centuries-old tradition of German expansionism, and follower of Frederick the Great and Bismarck. They argued that, in the long run, Germany would not put up with Poland’s independent existence within her borders as determined by the Treaty of Versailles. For the Socialists, the leader of the Third Reich was, first of all, the butcher of German democracy and the man who tried to subordinate the Polish state to Germany; to tear Poland away from the West and isolate her, and then impose upon her his own conditions for collaboration. In responding to those arguments, Piłsudski’s followers would most often point out that regardless of Hitler’s real intentions this Polish-German rapprochement was necessary as a kind of modus vivendi in the mutual relations, as it gave Poland an opportunity to pursue an independent foreign policy, which was all the more valuable since Poland could not count on an effective collaboration with the Western powers because of their policy of concessions (as well as for many other reasons).

The charge perhaps most often raised against Beck’s diplomacy was that of a lack of guiding principle in manoeuvering between Germany and France. Obviously, having no access to diplomatic papers, the commentators on international policy of the 1930’s were not fully aware of the fact that France, steering for collaboration with the Soviet Union (in 1934—1936), and then pursuing the policy of appeasement (in 1936—1938), could not have been a valuable and effective partner for Poland, whose international position was deteriorating markedly.

         One of the most essential notions of the government camp in the 1930’s was not only a specific program of foreign policy, but also a certain philosophy of international relations, which the ruling circles endeavoured to propagate and implant in, especially, the younger generations. Shortly speaking, its assumptions could be called an attempt at a synthesis of a sceptical Realpolitik with the belief in certain unchanging and non-negotiable values (imponderabilia; most important among them was considered the principle ‘nothing about us without us’). This Realpolitik was perceived in opposition to the empty slogans such as ‘universal peace’ or ‘collective safety.’ It grew out of a disbelief in the efficiency of the League of Nations and of the whole system of international obligations as well as programmatic mistrust of external factors, which arose from the belief that international politics was a game of various states’ interests and that those interests could only very seldom, and to a limited extent, be harmonized in a peaceful manner. Piłsudski’s formula of Realpolitik was also an affirmation of bilateralism and the theory which maintained that the most important task of each individual state was properly to shape its relations with the neighbours, being aware, that it was geopolitics that determined certain virtually unchanging principles and limitations.

Contrary to the convictions of Beck’s, and Piłsudski’s, opponents, the theory of imponderables was by no means a slogan devoid of content. It was, first and foremost, the response to certain disorders of Polish political consciousness that dated back to the period of Partitions, when Poland did not exist as an independent state but was subjugated and powerless. ‘No other factor changed our lives as deeply in that period as our attitude towards the outside world did [ …],’ declared Beck in his famous speech to the candidates for diplomatic service of the 26th of June 1931.[88] Thus the ‘characters were deformed,’ and ‘the very issue of our attitude towards foreign countries was questioned most thoroughly.’ Beck, appointed Poland’s minister for foreign affairs on the 2nd of November, 1932, would often condemn the servilism towards foreign factors. ‘The nations’ defencelessness and lack of its own state forced the people officially to tolerate such symptoms which had weighed heavily upon our present reality.’[89] As a politician, Beck seemed to believe that ‘successive generations of Poles become more and more independent with every passing year.’[90]

The new Poland, independent and free, was to ensure the practical application of the principle ‘Nothing about us without us.’ Such a definition of Polish policy found a peculiar expression in Minister Beck’s famous speech before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Sejm on the 15th of February, 1933, which was his first exposé after assuming the office. Its recapitulation enables us to define three general principles: primo, ‘None has ever changed the statutes of Europe with his words only;’ thus negotiations concerning any territorial concessions are out of the question. Besides, ‘no resolutions concerning our immediate interests, but taken without our participation or cooperation, can, obviously, have any binding power upon us.’ Secundo, Polish diplomacy is supposed to apply, without exception, the principle of symmetry, i.e., Poland’s attitude towards Germany shall reflect the attitude of Germany towards Poland. Tertio, ‘Poland is open to loyal and creative international collaboration, yet shall never be a toy in anybody’s hand.’[91]

         The veritable credo concerning Poland’s presence on the international scene was formulated by one of the keenest publicists of the government camp, Ignacy Matuszewski, in his article entitled ‘Drogi Polski,’ published in the columns of ‘Polityka Narodów’ as a side-note to the above-mentioned exposé by Minister Beck. It is, therefore, worth while to refer to that paper and quote its extensive excerpts. ‘The existence of nations is a train of efforts and struggles; of overcoming resistance. In the long run, there is no lasting success in it that has not been prepared by a nation’s independent thought, persistent pursuit, and well-advised concentration of forces and means. That is the universal law of existence, which is valid in reference both to individuals and to whole groups of people. It would be naïve, then, to hope that Poland, reborn through a sudden recovery of the European balance of power that had once been feloniously disrupted, would be welcome in the company of nations with solicitous sympathy as its favoured member. On the contrary; it should have been expected that she would also come within the universal laws of existence; that she would have to follow the ordinary path of toil, adversity, and opposition. That was the view prompted by sheer logic. The same logic, then, now demands that we should gladly accept, with a sense of responsibility, the inevitable consequences of the laws of existence, because in them also is expressed the mystery and power of life. The logic demands that we should calmly assume the burdens of travail and struggle as long-anticipated, unavoidable manifestations that carry, somewhere deep inside them, creative opportunities for development; for the rise of our own strength. With every passing year, Poland is being lifted towards such a conscious and consistent attitude. The primary premises of her activities in the field of foreign policy are also being fully expressed. Thus self-reliance, peaceful intentions, inviolability of borders, and maintaining Poland’s existing alliances are the four principles accepted in their entirety by all the factions of Polish political thought. There is no difference of opinion or any vacillation among us concerning those points. This unanimity now lends a valuable strength to our diplomatic activity and, at the same time, solidly cements its individual stages. From a dynamic perspective, however, from the point of view of the necessity to reveal the guidelines of our tangible efforts on the international scene, the above principles demand further elaboration. One of them refers to the peaceful intentions of Polish politics. There can be no room for any ambiguity here; this peacefulness is not a result of any fear or lack of self-confidence. Rather, it has its source in the essential features of the Polish nation and, on the other hand, in a certain well-grounded political conviction. The latter proclaims the Demosthenes’ truth […], “trust in the stability, efficiency, and purposefulness of the process of loyal international collaboration”. In the light of that motto, Poland’s peacefulness shall be affirmative and active; she is seeking understanding and agreement; looking for goodwill and ready to offer it herself. The Non-Aggression Pact and conciliation agreement with the USSR is just an expression of the realization of those assumptions. These are the results of several years of persistent efforts dedicated to the development of international relations in Eastern Europe, and instances in which proper forms were found that express that evolution. In the West, things do not shape so well, unfortunately, since revisionist propaganda is running wild in Germany. Naturally, it has its impact upon our attitude towards our western neighbour. But if Germany shackles Polish political initiative, we can still do her a favour anyway, namely, we can awaken her to soberness - which is, after all, not alien to the German nation – and appeal to that nation’s sense of responsibility. We can calmly and openly hint at her that “None has ever changed the statutes of Europe with his words only.” Thus we shall give a warning to the disturbed minds of “pacifists” outside Germany, filled with empty slogans. The second explanation refers to the general method of our diplomatic activity, which is practical and strives for concrete results. Hence our caution in relation to agreements based solely upon a trust in the goodwill of all the contracting parties which are then so easily distorted under the pressure of the realities. Therefore a Polish initiative originated to grasp the already achieved results of the disarmament conference within a framework which was, perhaps, quite basic, and yet attainable at the given moment and among the existing divergences of opinion. Therefore we keep on measuring the dimensions of the part Poland plays in the broad international scene according to the proportion of our means and strength. We do not overestimate our own powers, and do not try to mask their scarcity by outbursts of artificial activity. But we shall never display an attitude of non-attendance or passiveness, or lose the sense of what can be done and what, in fact, should be done in the name of the Polish raison d’état. Such a standpoint dictates the last elaboration on the above principles of Polish foreign policy. Some of its paths lead towards the overcoming of the mental scars of the per-war era, some of which still persist in human minds and in politics in the international scene. Thus that policy follows the line which is labelled ‘peace and safety.’ Other paths lead towards the full attainment of the second - but no less valuable - national property, namely, that Poland’s voice regarding those international issues that affect her directly should be strong and respected,’ Matuszewski concluded.[92] Three more general conclusions seem to ensue from his reasoning: first of all, that the ‘Nothing about us without us’ rule is the most important watchword. Secondly, there is no harmony of the interests of individual nations and states; instead, there is conflict and struggle for existence and survival. Thirdly, a nation’s honour as the supreme authority in foreign policy is not a rhetorical flourish but, rather, a proposition proclaiming the validity of certain priceless values.

Thus the superior command and principle appeared to be the preserving of the state’s independence at any price and maintaining the sovereignty of its say in the international scene. Already after the tragedy of September 1939, Michał Łubieński, the head of Beck’s office, would write that the Polish nation’s prolonged sense of a lack of its own state ‘degenerated [after that state was recovered] into an exaggerated sense of sovereignty which was further intensified by the fact that we had been deprived of that sovereignty throughout the period of Partitions.’[93] Regardless of whether we agree with Łubieński, or not, it was impossible to forsake the assumption that there are certain non-negotiable values such as territorial integrity, independence, or national honour. Renouncing it would have misguided and perverted the political thought, and this conclusion just cannot be lost on a historian.

From the beliefs of Poland’s ruling camp of the 1930’s the confidence arose that she had the power to contribute to the stabilization of international situation in East-Central Europe in spite of being situated ‘on the border between two worlds,’ as Beck put it in 1933, referring to his country’s neighbours – the Soviet state and Hitler’s Germany.[94] Jan Szembek, in one of his private letters (meant pro foro interno) stated in 1937: ‘[…] we are a factor necessary to both sides of that struggle, as each of them fears that we might pass over to the opposing camp and wants to prevent it. I think I am beginning to trash out the paradox that our famous or, rather, notorious geographical location is not that bad after all, since it turns us into a buffer between two giants.’[95] Suffice it to add that Beck, in an interview for the ‘North American New Paper Alliance’ and ‘Daily Telegraph’ magazines of the 24th of January, 1938, briefly answered: ‘I am not a pessimist,’ when asked if it was still possible to maintain the political balance in the international scene.[96] Surely, such assessments were overly optimistic in relation to reality. It is, however, fitting to note that the opposition circles showed similar optimism regarding the international significance of Poland in their enunciations. The part Poland could play as a stabilizing factor in the international relations in East-Central Europe was definitely overestimated also by those environments. Both the ruling camp and the various opposition factions that fought against it assessed Poland’s stabilizing potential and her defensive capabilities as much greater than they actually were.

         The program principles of Polish political practice, as formulated by Piłsudski and Beck, could be summarized in the form of the following formula: primo, adoption of the principle of neutrality between Germany and Soviet Union as the only method of securing Poland’s political sovereignty; secundo, maintaining the alliance with France and establishing closer relations with Great Britain, according to the maxim that ‘the road to Paris is via London;’ tertio, the aspirations to construct a bloc of Central-European states which would return time and again in the form of various unspecified and yet readable projects such as the notion of the ‘Third Europe,’ which was Beck’s own invention that cannot be found in Piłsudski’s enunciations; quarto, rejection of various conceptions that could bring about subordination of Poland to the interests of the USSR (i.e., of the notion of the Eastern Pact of 1934—1935), or of Germany (the offer to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, or the territorial demands of 1938/1939).

’[…] would our neighbours not most gladly welcome a passive, powerless and inert Poland?,’ Marshal Rydź-Śmigły asked rhetorically in one of his speeches.[97] One can safely say that the Polish foreign policy of the second half of the 1930’s was definitely not a policy of accommodation to the realities which were shaped by the great powers; instead, it was an attempt at following Poland’s own independent political course, which admitted of a dissentient voice in the defence of her raison d’état. It is true, though, that the government propaganda often used – or abused – the slogan of Poland as a state ranging among the great powers. It was bandied by the press of the Camp of National Unity, especially in 1937—1938. There is no doubt that such declarations were readily received by the wide circles of society. However, in accordance with the view of the authoritative spheres of government, Poland was never supposed, and in fact was unable, to pursue a policy of a great power, though it was to aspire to become an irremovable component of the regional balance of power in Central, and Eastern, Europe. After all, Beck would always repeat that his country was not a great power with global interests but a state with ‘only limited’ – i.e., regional - interests.

         There were no significant differences between the government circles and opposition factions with respect to the belief that Poland should shake off the status of a second-rate state and avoid being objectified in international relations. For instance, the pronouncement by Zygmunt Berezowski, a deputy of the National Party, prepared as program declaration of the Camp of Great Poland in 1927, can easily be treated as an appeal for gaining such a position for the Polish state that would allow it to fluctuate between ‘the leading powers and the small states.’[98]. In the 1930’s, there was a virtual volley of opinions that claimed that it was necessary to raise Poland’s position and significance in Europe at any cost.

         The general consensus in relations to values such as sovereignty, self-determination, or independent position in the international hierarchy did not mean that the opposition factions stopped criticizing minister Beck’s policy. Though it is impossible to list all the controversies here, there are essentially three views that should definitely be mentioned.[99] All the three attempted to indicate a possibility for the correction of, or even to point out alternatives for, the ‘policy of balance.’ However, the opposition was unable to suggest an alternative that would form an overall political solution.

         (1) The National camp was critical of Beck’s diplomacy which, by them, was perceived as definitely overly pro-German and anti-French. It should be noted that the pro-French orientation of the National Democracy had been seriously shaken already in the period before the Locarno Conference. However, representatives of that camp still believed it was necessary to stick to France. At the same time, they saw more and more clearly that this alliance alone was not enough. Then the system of Poland’s alliances should be expanded. As late as 1935, and in spite of the changing realities, Stanisław Kozicki, a famous commentator of international politics, propagated the undoubtedly outdated idea of an alliance with the Little Entente and postulated for similar agreements with Italy and Belgium. He also claimed that some modus vivendi with the USSR was indispensable, though he never stated precisely what such a settlement should consist in.[100]

Sharp, suggestive, and bristling with historical erudition was the criticism of Beck’s policy carried out by Professor Stanisław Stroński, the leading expert on international affairs in the National camp. Significant part was also played by the publicism of Bolesław Koskowski. In a similar vein developed the critique of Minister Beck’s policy as formulated by the new political force in the country in 1937, namely, the Front Morges, whose representatives concurred with the pro-French arguments of the National camp circles.[101] In this context, and by way of example, General Władysław Sikorski’s political articles published in ‘Kurier Warszawski’ deserve attention. All in all, it can be concluded that Sikorski did not go beyond the doctrine of Poland’s neutrality between Germany and the USSR and even tried to motivate the catchy slogan ‘Neither with Germany nor with Russia.’

         The main arguments of this pro-French orientation in the Polish political thought resolved themselves into the following recommendations: a) that it was necessary to renew the Polish-French alliance; b) that collaboration with the Soviets on the platform of the doctrine of collective safety was possible and lay in the interest of Poland; c) that a fundamental revision of Poland’s hostile policy towards Czechoslovakia was necessary. The most important task was still to prevent the severance of Poland’s ties with the West and the loss of the alliance with France which would reduce the Polish state to the role of a tool of the superpower policy of the Third Reich.

(1) A constant theme in the thinking of the representatives of the National camp was the doctrine of the German threat, which, in their opinion, was not appreciated properly in Poland of the 1930’s. A member of that camp, Professor Władysław Konopczyński, stated – already ex post facto – that the policy of Piłsudski’s successors developed in the society a false impression that Poland was safe and the non-aggression pact with Germany would protect her interest for a long period of time. He bluntly called that strategy ‘putting the nation’s vigilance to sleep’ and also added that the ‘Poland of the Sanation regime was waking up from anaesthesia’ only at the very last moment.[102]

(2) The criticism by the Polish Socialist Party was based upon the conviction that the rapprochement with the Third Reich had gone much too far. If in the 1920’s the Socialists pointed to the threat posed by the Soviet Russia, constantly claiming that the Soviet state was a totalitarian empire striving for control over the whole Europe, then after the events of 1934 and 1935, namely, the USSR’s accession to the League of Nations and the resolutions of the 7th World Congress of the Comintern, whose tone was conciliatory towards the prevailing European social-democracies, that assessment was softened up considerably. The view then began to spread that the Soviet state, in fact, had peaceful intentions and was conservative. Needless to say, such opinions were far from reality; but the notions about the USSR differed widely even among the Socialists.

Just like all the other political factions, the Socialists recognized the necessity of constructing a Central-European political bloc, but their standpoint was markedly anti-Czechoslovak (and thus similar to the view of Piłsudski’s followers). However, they did not express their opinions on that subject distinctly enough. Instead, they pronounced for the necessity of protecting the territorial status quo. They also emphasized the significance of the League of Nations, although they were fully aware that that institution was rapidly loosing its importance.

Representatives of the Polish Socialist Party disapproved of political conceptions of Minister Beck, who considered the warming up of the Polish-German relations as his greatest achievement. The Party’s deputy Kazimierz Czapiński even spoke of a ‘Hitlerophil orientation’ in Polish foreign policy. They were also pretty allergic to any manifestations of a rapprochement between Poland and Italy, whose fascist regime alienated all the Leftist, Democratic, and Liberal circles throughout Europe.

         (3) There appeared also some Right-wing criticism of Beck’s policy. Although intellectually it was, perhaps, the most consistent, it could hardly be called realistic. For representatives of that political option, the champion and authority was Władysław Studnicki.[103] Stanisław Mackiewicz, the editor of the Vilnius daily ‘Słowo,’ considered himself his disciple. Also the young Conservatives rallied around the magazines published in Warsaw by Jerzy Giedroyć – ‘Bunt Młodych’ and ‘Polityka’ (since 1937) - were, at heart, Studnicki’s intellectual successors. Pride of place among them definitely belonged to Adolf Bocheński. Their idée fixe was the vision of a Polish-German Arbeitsgemeinschaft.[104]

Studnicki held an extremely anti-Soviet view, which he combined with sharp pronouncements against Czechoslovakia. He perceived that country as the ‘invalid state’ of the Versailles Europe, whose downfall was to be to Poland’s advantage. He openly appealed to the Polish ruling circles to abandon the role of a state keen on protecting the status quo. According to his vision, Poland was to become a revisionist state. Bocheński was even more suggestive on that point, formulating his ‘theory of geopolitical relativism,’ based upon the argument that a state’s international position is determined by the ratio of its strength to that of its neighbours. Thus Poland was able to secure its independent existence only by provoking the breakdown of one of her mighty neighbours, namely, the USSR, since it was impossible to weaken the Great Germany and bring about her disintegration. Therefore the Poles ought to think not about a defence of the territorial Versailles Order but, instead, of how to use the German expansionism in the struggle against the Soviet empire. The notions of Polish ‘imperialism’ and ‘Polish Monroe doctrine’ in Eastern Europe were drawn up by Bocheński in three general directions: 1) Poland must not grant any territorial concessions; 2) the Polish state must not owe its territorial integrity to either of its great neighbours; 3) Poland must not permit the imperialistic policies of the neighbouring great powers to absorb the small nations with statehood aspirations, since their political emancipation, objectively, was in the interest of Poland.[105]

Bocheński’s views came under criticism of Zygmunt Wojciechowski, a representative of the younger generation of the National camp.[106] Wojciechowski argued that the slogan ‘For our freedom and yours,’ coined in the post-Partitions period, should not be renounced expresis verbis, though the Promethean struggle was a dangerous idea. Therefore it should be confronted with the policy of Polish nationalism and imperialism. Poland’s strength was not dependent on her strong presence in the East, but in the Baltic region, and the struggle for control over the mouth of the Vistula was the key to the nation’s future.[107] In an article published in the columns of the ‘Myśl Narodowa’ magazine Studnicki was called ‘an unreal doctrinaire under the guise of an advocate of ultra-realism.’[108]

Towards the end of the 1930’s there was a sudden storm of postulates for the reconstruction of the ‘Intermarium’ Europe. The notion of a new ‘Intermarium,’ under the protectorate of Poland, was gaining new followers mostly among the representatives of the young generation, who entered the political scene in the atmosphere of a severe economic crisis, deep anxiety about the future, and general offensive of the totalitarian powers. The ‘Central-European bloc’ was the program notion shared by the circles of inelligentsia among Piłsudski’s followers and the representatives of the National Right, especially from under the banner of the young generation. The main purpose of that endeavours was to save the independence of the whole ‘Intermarium’ region of Europe from domination by the great powers, as Karol Stefan Frycz put it.[109] In such enunciations, a strongly pronounced theme was the criticism of the policy of defending the status quo. The ‘balance policy’ was perceived precisely as an element of such a conservative political strategy.

Undoubtedly, a certain clear split and significant dichotomy of attitudes were manifested in the Polish reflection on foreign policy in the assessment of Poland’s powers. O the one hand, representatives of the younger generation – whether neo-Conservatives or Nationalists – openly postulated for turning her into a revisionist state interested in territorial changes and reckoning on profits from a tactical cooperation with the Axis powers, with her own aspirations to be a regional great power or even to vie for her own empire. Surely, the above-mentioned effusions of Adolf Bocheński on the Polish ‘Monroe doctrine’ in East-Central Europe hardly correspond with a realistic political orientation. A similarly unrealistic utterance was ambassador Juliusz Łukasiewicz’s pamphlet Polska jest mocarstwem from the autumn of 1938, although, in spite of the title, its author admitted that ‘currently we are incomparably weaker than Germany or Russia [...].’[110] Pronouncements by some representatives of the older generation markedly differed from such enunciations. One of them was Professor Władysław Grabski, the former prime minister and reformer of the state’s finances, who wrote that ‘it will not be easy to maintain our current possessions.’[111] The former prime ministers from Piłsudski’s camp - Kazimierz Bartel and Aleksander Prystor in 1939 – rose to speak in the Senate in a similarly cautious tone. They also appealed for an improvement in the situation of national minorities (first of all, of Ukrainians).

As time went on, towards the end of the Second Polish Republic’s short existence the former ‘orientation controversy’ between Piłsudski’s followers and National Democrats over the respective contributions and services rendered to the reconstruction of the Polish state was slowly becoming a thing of the past. The argument that it was necessary to synthesize the legacies of Dmowski and Piłsudski was gaining more and more adherents. One of them was a leading follower of the idea of the Promethean struggle in the 1930’s, Włodzimierz Bączkowski, the editor of the ‘Biuletyn Polsko-Ukraiński’ and ‘Problemy Europy Wschodniej’ magazines. The prospects of that geopolitical notion seemed to gain a new dimension in 1938. As is commonly known, that movement, understood as a campaign for liberation of the subjugated nations of the USSR which originated during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919—1920, became a significant chapter of the Polish political thought of the 20th century. Treated by some as an impractical political Utopia, it was, in fact, an anti-imperial conception, realized in part only after the fall of the USSR in 1991, when Ukraine and nations of the Caucasus exercised their right to self-determination. The noble cause of emancipation of the subjugated nations of Eastern Europe – suffering under totalitarian domination – could not, however, become the practical programme of Polish foreign policy hic et nunc. It could have become a page of a real political agenda only had the Soviet empire declined and broke down under pressure of external factors. Yet even in such circumstances it was beyond doubt that the first European power interested in the destruction of Russia would have been Germany, and not Poland.[112] The Germans would have tried to reap vital profits from Russia’s downfall. Anyway, the general impression that such a downfall was already looming – an impression formed at the height of the Stalinist terror in 1937—1938 – proved to be a mere illusion.

         The Italian invasion of Abyssinia launched on the 3rd of October 1935 and Mussolini’s war of aggression in Africa provoked an ambivalent response from Polish diplomacy, which, in turn, occasioned an interesting discussion among Polish commentators on international politics. Though he did not openly favour the aggression and submitted to the rules of the economic sanctions against the invader voted by the League of Nations, Beck demonstrated, above all, his desire to maintain good relations with Italy. He was hoping to use her growing interest in Central European problems and trusted that it would be possible to establish a ‘horizontal Axis’ Warsaw-Rome in order to counterbalance the German influence. Poland’s pro-Italian policy, confirmed by the lifting of sanctions in 1937 – which Beck did as the first of international politicians – was criticized mostly by the Socialists, who would remind that it was a line oblivious of the times when Polish state did not exist on the maps of Europe and Polish patriots sought support of European great powers for their postulates and national aspirations, just like king Haile Selassie did in Geneva at that time.

         There was, however, no criticism on the part of the opposition in relation to the campaign Beck undertook in order to re-vindicate the region of Zaolzie. Though it was pointed out – by the press of both the National camp and the Socialists - that the activities of Polish diplomacy directed against Czechoslovakia, regardless of the actual Polish motivation, were convenient to Germany, the view still prevailed that Beck’s postulates were just. It should be reminded that the President of the Second Polish Republic even received formal congratulations on the annexation of that region from Ignacy Paderewski, who resided in Switzerland at that time. Wincenty Witos, condemned in the so-called ‘Brest Trials,’ and living as an emigrant in Czechoslovakia, considered the Polish action a political mistake, but he made no public pronouncement on that matter.

         During the crisis of 1938, Polish diplomacy carried out efforts to achieve two goals that were, beyond all doubt, incoherent. The first aim was to deepen, consolidate, and prolong the normalization of the relations with Germany which had been initiated by the Non-aggression Pact of January 1934. Meanwhile, the second was the realization of the vision of a geopolitical transformation of the ‘Intermarium’ region through the construction of a system of the ‘Third Europe.’ Foundations of that system were to be laid by the collaboration of the ‘geopolitical triangle’ consisting of Poland, Hungary, and Romania. Their collaboration, in turn, was to be rendered possible through a ‘radical detente in Romanian-Hungarian relations and a close agreement between Poland, Romania, and Hungary that could become a “platform” for the other Balkan states,’ Beck believed.[113] Both the goals were not realized, since no Polish political line was able to create suitable conditions for their fulfilment. The Hungarian-Romanian antagonism proved too deep and could not be adjusted by any efforts of the Polish side. Meanwhile, the good neighbourly relations with Germany seemed to stand the test, at least for now, which pro-government press acknowledged with much satisfaction.  

Following the resolutions of the conference of the heads of governments of the four great powers (Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and France) of the 29th of September 1938, the new system of the ‘Munich Dictate’ began to take shape. In his insightful reflections of the end of that year, Jerzy Stempowski called this new order the ‘vacatio legis in Europe’. This new arrangement indicated, above all, the decline of the Western influence in East-Central Europe, which regained the right of self-determination after the Great War. The Munich Agreement opened up the perspective of a long-lasting domination of Germany over that region. Thus Stempowski declared an ominous ‘return to the law of nature’ in international relations – the law of force and domination of the mighty over the weak. ‘The simplest alternative for the League system was the return to the law of nature; to the unconstrained play of forces in which the medium states would absorb the small states, only to be devoured, in their turn, by the great states. For the Eastern, and Central, Europe such a solution would have meant the return to the pre-war system of great empires which had evolved from a similar play of forces. In the parlance of diplomacy, that regress was simply called the return to the system of four to five great powers, resembling the former “Concert of Europe.” Surely, the sheer awareness of those perspectives had largely contributed to the fact that at the critical moment the ground was cut from under the Czechs’ feet. It is hard to achieve anything by force of arms against a law of nature which is, in addition, recognized by all the political powers of the globe.’[114]

Thus Piłsudski’s forecast of 1929 – that ‘the Treaty of Versailles is the corner-stone of the European stabilization in its current form [but] if it is so much as touched, all shall be knocked over’ – became reality.[115] And yet Minister Beck had no intention of correcting his political line. He saw no alternative for the principles he was then following. Objectively speaking, there were no such alternatives, either.



The Tragedy of 1939


         The depth of the Polish-German antagonism and the threat to the very existence of the Polish state were only manifested in full in March 1939.[116] This does not mean, naturally, that there were no earlier symptoms of the danger to alarm the public opinion in Poland. Such signs were visible on the turn of the year 1938 and already at that time fear began to mount, fuelled by the uncertainty as to the direction of Germany’s further expansion.

Already in 1938 Kazimierz Czapiński argued – significantly - that the German advance against the Soviets might follow the southern path. The Germans would have opened such opportunities for themselves if they conquered Czechoslovakia and reached an agreement with Romania. Czapiński’s suggestion was published in the summer of 1938, that is, shortly before the Munich Conference.[117] Similar illusions would quite often appear in Polish publicism of the late 1930’s.

         The territorial demands on Poland, made by Hitler and von Ribbentrop in October 1938 and then again in January 1939, indicated that it was impossible further to maintain the good neighbourly relations with Germany without a ‘ransom’ in the form of concessions irreconcilable with the principle of preserving Poland’s independence and territorial integrity. The demands regarding the cession of the Free City of Danzig, an extra-territorial highway that would lead to East Prussia, and Poland’s accession to the Anti-Comintern Pact, which were imparted by von Ribbentrop himself to the Polish ambassador, Lipski, on the 24th of October, 1938, were to be disclosed to the small circle of top Polish leadership in January 1939, and would only be revealed to the general public in April of the same year.

The decision to reject the German demands was taken in strict secrecy within the circles of Polish state leadership already in January 1939, immediately after Beck’s return from the talks with Hitler in Berchtesgaden and following a secret session at the Warsaw Castle with the participation of – among others – President Mościcki and Marshal Śmigły-Rydz. Since that moment, the chief political goal of Polish government – increasingly less surreptitious for the general public - was the internationalization of the conflict with Germany, since Poland’s rejection of German demands remained incontrovertible. On the turn of the year 1938, Poland’s political objectives could be reduced to two assumptions: first, to prevent the Germans from imposing their demands upon the Polish state, by submitting a counteroffer of a ‘special highway’ leading through Pomerania; and second, if the conflict with Germany proved to be unavoidable, to prevent it being just a local and isolated confrontation.

Meanwhile, the British offer of territorial guarantees came in late March 1939; unexpectedly, to be sure, for both Poland’s political circles and general public. Thus after the 31st of March, 1939, it was possible to formulate three new goals of Polish foreign policy: (1) transforming the guarantees received into a bilateral Polish-British agreement; (2) obtaining a more detailed specification of military obligations of Poland’s allies – above all, France; (3) preventing a subjection of Poland to the Soviets in connection of the Western Allies’ endeavours to reach an agreement with the USSR. Besides, two additional assumptions were valid, namely, that Poland’s allies, in their own best interest, would come to her aid, while the Soviets, in spite of their hostility towards the Polish state and the Versailles Order, would remain neutral in the Polish-German conflict.

Interestingly enough, there were virtually no controversies regarding those aims within the current of the Polish political thought. All the sets of public opinion seemed grounded upon the belief that it was necessary to fight for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the state and to prevent the loss of independence at the price of preserving peace. As is commonly known from all the available records and testimonies from that era, the speech delivered in the Polish Sejm by Józef Beck on the 5th of May, 1939, won universal applause and unanimous support of the society, which the minister had sought in vain when he strove for a consolidation of good neighbourly relations with Germany.  

The reliability of Poland’s allies, won in March and April of 1939, did not raise any doubts.[118] Both the political circles and broad segments of society in Poland were evidently persuaded of the significance of Great Britain’s position. When the Polish-British alliance became reality – first in the form of a provisional agreement of the 7th of April, 1939, and then as the final Agreement of Mutual Assistance of the 25th of August of the same year, the value of the alliance was never questioned. A politician of the National Party, Zygmunt Berezowski, wrote in the ‘Polityka Narodowa’ monthly of April 1939: ‘That agreement [the Polish-British Agreement of Mutual Assistance – M.K.] testifies not only to the fact that Great Britain appreciates properly the danger connected with the aggressive German policy and the significance of Poland for the balance in, and freedom of, Europe, but also to the English readiness to wage war. For it is clear that the English-French military aid to an invaded Poland would have to bring about an outbreak of a general European war.’[119] This pronouncement seems typical of the way of thinking of the contemporary political circles in Poland.

It is true that a large proportion of the society distrusted minister Beck. On the hectic and critical days of March 1939, intense emotions directed against him found expression, too. He still remained the champion of the pro-German orientation, who would stake all he had on it. Undoubtedly, a considerable proportion of the Polish society held the view that their foreign minister could actually accept the territorial concessions that the leadership of the Third Reich demanded. The many years of accusations and imputations had left their trace. ‘The attacks directed against the Minister assume unprecedented proportions. Incredible rumours are afloat in the city,’ wrote in his Diariusz Beck’s deputy Jan Szembek after a conversation with Michał Łubieński on the 23rd of March 1939. ‘The German offers of territorial guarantees,’ he went on, ‘are not worth a dime and if we yielded today on just one point, fresh demands would, automatically, come tomorrow.’[120] After the leader of the Third Reich violated the recently concluded Munich Agreement, only such as assessment of the situation was, in fact, realistic.

Both throughout the 1930’s and in the year 1939, the annus terribilis of Polish history, Polish society remained – unfortunately – unaware of the imminent threat posed by the USSR. Similarly, the possibility of a Berlin-Moscow rapprochement seemed supplanted from the Poles’ consciousness. This was true of both the ruling circles and anti-government environments. In a series of articles published in the columns of the ‘Kurier Warszawski’ daily, General Władysław Sikorski pointed out that it was very important that the western powers should reach an agreement with the Soviet government in their Moscow talks on a mutual assistance pact. However, even he did not reflect on whether such an agreement was in fact profitable for the Soviets or if the Russian government had a chance to come to an understanding with Germany.[121] Also such a keen observer of international politics as Adolf Bocheński wrote in one of his articles of April 1939 that ‘following the guidelines left by Lenin himself, the efforts of the USSR government are directed towards provoking an armed conflict between Poland and Germany [...].’ This quite realistic conclusion was, however, supplemented with a surmise that ‘Poland’s situation in case of a war with Germany would be favourable inasmuch as the Soviets would not, probably, take up arms against us.’ Thus ‘Poland would face the Soviets who would remain neutral but would undoubtedly try to deprive us of all the profits from a victorious war [...].’[122] So Bocheński was afraid of the danger coming from the East, but anticipated it only towards the end of Poland’s victorious war against Germany, fought in a coalition with Great Britain and France.

Generally speaking, the Polish society regarded the state of the Soviets as a strange country, distant, and isolated from the rest of the international community; in short, as a foreign and separate world. Naturally, nobody as much as imagined the scenario that History was about to write. The makers of Polish foreign policy reiterated that Poles had no fear of Bolshevism because the ‘anti-Bolshevik inoculation’ was still effective, which, as Beck used to say, had been injected into the Polish society by the Polish-Soviet war of 1919—1920. One of the publicists of the National-Radical camp - Stefan Rozłucki - wrote in 1939: ‘Our eastern border is quiet and safe; none is interested in violating it.’[123] Opinions in which the fear of a possible Soviet attack was evident – that is, more realistic views – were pretty rare. They were usually uttered by people who spoke in a relative isolation, such as the retired diplomat Roman Knoll, or intelligent army officers, for instance Colonel Stefan Rowecki in his private Dziennik, published many years later.[124] Telling reflections on that surprising sense of safety of the Polish society can be found in the memoirs of an economist and Sovietologist Stanisław Swianiewicz - W cieniu Katynia. In his opinion, a tide of pro-Russian sympathies was even rising with the overall sense of the looming danger. The prevailing view was that ‘Russia is already huge and does not need any additional territories.’[125]

If there were any misgiving that galvanized Polish political circles, they only appeared following the news of the Hitler-Stalin Pact; and even then they were related not to a possible alliance of the two powers against the Second Polish Republic, but to the anxiety that the British government might call off their obligations towards Poland on account of the change in the international situation.

Among isolated warnings can surely be counted Roman Knoll’s statement - uttered in his pamphlet called Uwagi o polityce polskiej - that a German-Soviet agreement – in spite of all the apparent obstacles - could ‘become reality at any moment, irrespective of both parties’ regime or political issues, if only the interests of the two great powers turn out to be convergent; and such a convergence could easily be achieved in relation to the Polish question, which had once formed the basis of long and fruitful collaboration of these two potentates.’[126] Therefore, it is impossible to concur with Roman Wapiński’s view that ‘the majority of champions of the argument that the main threat was in the East were not assisted in their endeavours by any advanced political thought.’ Knoll’s remarks clearly contradict that statement. This conclusion, however, does not change the state of affairs described above, namely, that in 1939 pronouncements such as the one by Knoll usually came from outsiders of Polish political life.

After the Hitler-Stalin Pact of the 23rd of August 1939 became reality, there was a tide of comments that underestimated its importance. Perhaps simply due to the shortage of time, there was, however, no further discussion on its real significance and implications. One can form the impression that the hectic last days of peace were passed in anxious anticipation of what was to come.

         In the columns of the conservative ‘Czas’ daily of the 23rd of August, 1939, the following comment was published: ‘No one is under any illusion concerning the proper assessment and specific significance of the current German-Soviet diplomatic manoeuvres. In no respect do they change the political situation or the actual balance of power, which is quite permanent. Therefore both here, in Poland, and in the West nobody seems to attach any importance to those negotiations.’ All in all, the ‘Czas’ argued, the whole Pact is just a ‘recent renewal of the German-Soviet agreement from Rapallo.’[127] On the same day, a Catholic daily from Kraków - ‘Głos Narodu’ – also maintained that ‘the Soviets are free to enter into any obligations, since between them and the German imperialism there stands Poland.’[128] In other words, Poland’s continued existence was indispensable for the USSR as a geopolitical ‘barrier’ separating it from the Third Reich. Although in ‘Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny’ of the 24th of August, 1939, an eminent journalist Konrad Wrzos argued that ‘the Soviets and the Germans can easily turn the blind eye to the discrepancy of their ideological assumptions,’ he still doubted whether the two states were able ‘equally easily to overlook their conflicting real interests both in the Baltic region and in Ukraine or, last but not least, in the Middle East, not to mention the consequences that the Soviet-German pact is bound to produce in the Far East.’ He was of an opinion, that ‘only a far-reaching and fundamental adjustment of those conflicts and discrepancies could, in a longer perspective, give some real political value to the pact which has been announced.’[129] In the same issue of the magazine a statement was uttered that the Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1932 still retained its binding force.

         An issue much more often discussed – both within the Polish political circles and in the forum of public opinion – than the potential joint German-Soviet threat, was the danger related to the Soviet demands regarding the passage of the Red Army through the territory of Poland. This problem was disclosed to the general public in the middle of August 1939. The society was unanimous in its rejection of such a possibility. Not a single voice was heard that would exhort to give the Soviet troops a permission to cross Poland’s borders.

It can be assumed – without risk of error – that the government of the Second Polish Republic had behind them a genuine consensus omnium with regard to the fundamental decisions taken in the period of the last six months of peace, i.e., between March and September 1939. This definitely refers to the rejection of both the German and the Soviet demands.

Beyond doubt, freedom of speech in Poland of 1939 was limited considerably due to the censorship. It should not, however, be inferred that the affirmation of the fundamental decisions of the government and the lack of critique of its activities in the international scene were simple consequences of that situation. The awareness of the principles of Polish raison d’état, which it was impossible to renounce, was so profoundly felt and so deeply ingrained in the politically conscious layers of society that simply no alternative appeared to the rejection of German demands, or to the alliances with the Western powers. Moreover, it can be surmised that the Polish nation would not have accepted the decisions of their own cabinet if they had threatened the territorial integrity or independence of their state. Therefore at the critical hour of Poland’s history there was no great debate on her situation, not to mention any controversy regarding the legitimacy of the political line that was pursued, namely, the policy of rejection of German demands.[130] Władysław Studnicki’s famous letter to Minister Beck, and his book W obliczu nadchodzącej drugiej wojny światowej (confiscated by the censorship in June 1939) were just isolated pronouncements. Besides, the unanimous view prevailed that Poland was entering the war as a member of an operative coalition whose prospects for a share in its joint victory seemed quite bright.

[1] A. Zaleski, Przemowy i deklaracje (Warsaw, 1929), vol. 1, p. 43. Exposé for the Foreign Affairs Committee, January 4th, 1927.

[2] Naturally, all the political forces are meant whose standpoint was grounded upon the idea of the preservation of the Polish state; for whom Poland’s independent existence was an axiom and imponderabilium. This, in fact, does not refer only to Polish Communists.

[3] O. Górka, Dziejowa rzeczywistość a racja stanu Polski na południowym wschodzie, ‘Polityka Narodów’ No. 1, 1933, s 33.

[4] Janusz Jędrzejewicz called those determinants ‘invariants;’ see W. Jędrzejewicz (ed): J. Jędrzejewicz, W służbie idei (London, 1972), p. 177.

[5] See Roman Dmowski’s memorandum submitted to the head of the Territorial Committee at the Peace Conference, March 3rd, 1919 [in]: idem, Polityka polska i odbudowanie państwa (Warsaw, 1925), p. 624 (appendix).

[6] The Chief of State supposed – though he never spoke about it openly - that if his scheme for the reconstruction of Eastern Europe failed, Poland would only be able to fight for the incorporation of certain important territories in the East in the name of strategic necessity. Thus Włodzimierz Suleja rightly assumed that, in a sense, the ‘federation’ and ‘incorporation’ schemes should not be contrasted (see W. Suleja, Józef Piłsudski, Wrocław, 1995, p. 214).

[7] J. Łojek, Idea niepodległości w okresie zaborów, ‘Zeszyty Historyczne’, fasc. 64, 1983, p. 67.

[8] J. Faryś, Koncepcje polskiej polityki zagranicznej 1918—1939 (Warsaw, 1981), p. 64. The efforts of Polish political thought from the period 1918—1921 regarding the reflection on the notion of a federation should be gathered and surveyed in a separate paper, as there is still no such work in Polish historiography.

[9] W. Wakar, Przymierze, ‘Przymierze’, No. 1, August 15th, 1920, p. 2.

[10] Memorandum of Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs of June 12th, 1919; Archiwum Akt Nowych, Roman Knoll records, sign. 2.

[11] S. Grabski, Na nowej drodze dziejowej (Warsaw, 1946), pp. 20—25.

[12] T. Kutrzeba, Wyprawa kijowska 1920 roku (Warsaw, 1937), p. 334.

[13] W. Tomkiewicz, ‘Ukraina między Wschodem a Zachodem,’ [written before 1964], Biblioteka Polska (London), Manuscripts, sign. 1875, p. 113.

[14] Piłsudski had a grudge against Dmowski as the latter, as the Polish delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, did not suport the cause of Ukrainian independence. This contributed to the deepening of the antagonism between the two leaders. See R. Wapiński, Roman Dmowski (Lublin, 1988), p. 292.

[15] J. Bartoszewicz, Zagadnienia polityki polskiej (Warsaw, 1929), p. 49.

[16] E. J. Dillon, Spotkania, rozmowy i korespondencja z Romanem Dmowskim 1917—1922, ‘Glaukopis,’ Nos. 5—6, 2006, p. 43 (the conversation took place on June 20th, 1919; quoted after Dillon’s notes).

[17] As cited in J. Szczepański, Społeczeństwo Polski w walce z najazdem bolszewickim 1920 roku (Warszawa – Pułtusk, 2000), p. 65.

[18] This decision taken by Piłsudski was questioned by the Conservatist Marian Zdziechowski in his article ‘Z historii stosunków polsko-rosyjskich nazajutrz po wojnie światowej,’ [in:] idem, Widmo przyszłości. Szkice historyczno-publicystyczne (Vilnius, 1939), pp. 110–111. The paper has been published earlier in ‘Przegląd Współczesny’ in 1936. This pronouncement, however, provoked virtually no discussion on that subject.

[19] A. Lednicki, Nasza polityka wschodnia (Warsaw, 1922), p. 32.

[20] P. Wandycz, Z zagadnień współpracy polsko-ukraińskiej w latach 1919—1920, ‘Zeszyty Historyczne’, fasc. 12, 1967, p. 24.

[21] Stanisław Grabski would defend himself against such accusations. See M Pruszyński, Jak straciliśmy Mińsk i federację z Białą Rusią?, ‘Bunt Młodych,’ No. 2, 1936. See also Pruszyński, Tamci (Warsaw, 1992), p. 25. See also S. Grabski, The Polish-Soviet Frontier (London, 1943).

[22] See Z. Grocholski, Kresowe ziemie ruskie Najjaśniejszej Rzeczypospolitej (Warsaw, 1922).

[23] See M. Kornat (ed), Memorandum programowe polskiego MSZ z 1925 r. (w związku z rokowaniami lokarneńskimi), ‘Zeszyty Historyczne,’ fasc. 168, 2009, pp. 200—222.

[24] A. Lednicki, Nasza polityka wschodnia, p. 7.

[25] S. Grabski, Uwagi o bieżącej historycznej chwili Polski (Warsaw, 1923), pp. 155–156.

[26] Memoriał szefa Sztabu Generalnego W. Sikorskiego ‘Polityka zagraniczna z punktu widzenia bezpieczeństwa państwa’, [in:] T. Jędruszczak, M. Nowak-Kiełbikowa (eds), Dokumenty z dziejów polskiej polityki zagranicznej 1918–1939 (Warsaw, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 182–191.

[27] Ibidem, p. 183.

[28] Those issues have not been sufficiently discussed or analyzed by historiography as yet.

[29] H. Tennenbaum [Rykten], Polska w polityce światowej. Szkic polityczny (Warsaw, 1923), p. 70.

[30] S. Kutrzeba, Nasza polityka zagraniczna (Warsaw – Cracow, 1923).

[31] J. Dąbrowski, Między Rosją a Niemcami, ‘Przegląd Współczesny,’ vol. 8, 1924, pp. 267—268.

[32] J. Dąbrowski, Polska a przyszła wojna, ‘Przegląd Współczesny,’ vol. 2, 1922, p. 338.

[33] Various rumours spread of a secret protocol annexed to the treaty, but they had no basis in reality.

[34] W. L. Jaworski, Z zagadnień polityki światowej (Cracow, 1921), p. 5.

[35] A. Skrzyński, Polska a pokój (Warsaw, 1924), p. 98.

[36] R. Dmowski, Polityka polska i odbudowanie państwa, p. 501.

[37] M. Zdziechowski, Tragedia Węgier a polityka polska (Cracow, 1920), p. 40.

[38] See J. Kurnatowski, Czechosłowacja i Czechosłowacy (Frystat, 1926).

[39] For more details on his political conceptions, see P. Wandycz, Aleksander Skrzyński. Minister spraw zagranicznych II Rzeczypospolitej (Warsaw, 2006).

[40] N. Cybulski, Nauka wobec wojny (Cracow, 1918), p. 39.

[41] A. Skrzyński, Mowa Pana Ministra Spraw Zagranicznych wygłoszona 6 lutego 1923, [Warsaw, 1923], p. 15.

[42] A. Skrzyński, Mowa wygłoszona na plenarnym posiedzeniu Sejmu w dn. 28. X 1924, [in:] Polska a Protokół w sprawie pokojowego rozwiązywania sporów międzynarodowych. Mowy Ministra Spraw Zagranicznych Dr. Al. Skrzyńskiego, [Warsaw, 1924], p. 28.

[43] A. Skrzyński, Mowa wygłoszona na plenarnym posiedzeniu Zgromadzenia Ligi Narodów w Genewie dn. 5. IX 1924, [in:] Polska a Protokół w sprawie pokojowego rozwiązywania sporów międzynarodowych…, p. 5.

[44] [A. Skrzyński], Liga Narodów jako punkt centralny polityki zagranicznej. odczyt b. premiera i Ministra Spraw Zagranicznych dr. Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego Wygłoszony dn. 3 lutego 1929 r., w Warszawie, w Sali Rady Miejskiej, na zaproszenie Polskiego Akademickiego Koła Przyjaciół Ligi Narodów, [Warsaw, 1929].

[45] Drogosław [Stanisław Bukowiecki], Polityka Polski Niepodległej. Szkic programu (Warsaw, 1922), p. 26.

[46] Ibidem, p. 22.

[47] Ibidem, p. 27.

[48] Ibidem, p. 60.

[49] S. Posner’s speech at a session of the Senate on April 30th, 1926 [in:] S. Posner, Pięć lat pracy w Senacie Rzeczypospolitej 1922—1927 (Warsaw, 1928), p. 198.

[50] S. Kutrzeba, Nasza polityka zagraniczna (Warsaw – Cracow, 1923), p. 118.

[51] S. Bukowiecki, Polityka Polski Niepodległej, p. 5.

[52] S. Kutrzeba, Nasza polityka zagraniczna, p. 111.

[53] Wielka deklaracja Marszałka Piłsudskiego, ‘Głos Prawdy,’ No. 129, February 27th, 1926.

[54] R. Dmowski, Polska jako wielkie państwo (Mowa wygłoszona w Poznaniu 28 czerwca 1929 roku podczas uroczystości obchodu dziesięciolecia Traktatu Wersalskiego), [in:] idem, Polityka narodowa w odbudowanym państwie. Mowy i rozprawy polityczne z lat 1919–1934 (Częstochowa, 1939; ‘Pisma,’ vol. 9), p. 8.

[55] Ibidem.

[56] Ibidem, p. 7.

[57] A. Garlicki (ed), List Romana Dmowskiego do Aleksandra Skarbka z 1919 roku, ‘Przegląd Historyczny,’ No. 1, 1973, p. 135.

[58] R. Dmowski, Polska jako wielkie państwo…, p. 7.

[59] J. Warszawski, Międzynarodowe gwarancje bezpieczeństwa Polski (Warsaw, 1929), p. 59.

[60] J. W. Borejsza, Rzym a wspólnota faszystowska. O penetracji faszyzmu włoskiego w Europie Środkowej (Warsaw, 1981), p. 22.

[61] [S. Bukowiecki], Polityka Polski Niepodległej, p. 60.

[62] G-H. Soutou, L’Alliance franco-polonaise 1925–1933 ou comment s’en débarasser?, ‘Revue d’Histoire diplomatique,’ No. 2/3/4, 1981, pp. 295–348.

[63] A. Skrzyński, ‘Blaski i cienie zwycięstwa Jerzego Clemenceau,’ ‘Pamiętnik Warszawski,’ No. 3, 1930.

[64] T. Kutrzeba, Wpływ układów w Locarno na warunki obrony Polski, ‘Przegląd Współczesny,’ vol. 5, 1926, p. 126.

[65] Ibidem.

[66] S. Stroński, Pierwsze lat dziesięć (1918—1928) (Lviv, 1928), p. 497; speech at the session of the Polish-French Parliamentary Group on December 1st, 1926.

[67] See E. Czapiewski, Koncepcje polityki zagranicznej konserwatystów polskich w latach 1918—1926 (Wrocław, 1988), p. 196.

[68] The wording by Ambassador Alfred Wysocki; see P. Jaworski (ed), Na placówce dyplomatycznej w Sztokholmie 1924—1928. Wspomnienia (Toruń, 2005), p. 81.

[69] A. Skrzyński, Dwie mowy (Warsaw, 1927), pp. 102–103.

[70] [S. Posner], Locarno. Przemówienie senatora Stanisława Posnera na posiedzeniu 125 Senatu w dyskusji nad ustawą o ratyfikacji paktów lokarneńskich, Warsaw, 1925, p. 3. 

[71] Ibidem.

[72] E. Czapiewski, Koncepcje polityki zagranicznej konserwatystów, p. 210.

[73] J. Faryś, Koncepcje polskiej polityki zagranicznej, p. 203.

[74] J. Rembieliński, Idea Ligi Narodów, ‘Myśl Narodowa,’ March 1st, 1927 (as cited in J. Faryś, Koncepcje, p. 255).

[75] Ambassador Jules Laroche to Minister Briand, January 2nd, 1930; Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères in Paris; series: Europe 1918—1940, Pologne, vol. 340—341.

[76] Memorandum of the expert on international law (later a legal adviser of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs), Dr Władysław Kulski, of 1928; Archiwum Akt Nowych, Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych, sign. 1682.

[77] ‘Sprawy Obce,’ vol. II, fasc. VIII, 1931, p. 639.

[78] ‘Świat (Przegląd ilustrowany),’ June 17th and June 24th, 1930.

[79] W. L. Jaworski, ‘Konferencja Europejska’ Brianda, ‘Sprawy Obce,’ vol. I, 1929—1930, fasc. 4/1930, p. 745.

[80] Ibidem, p. 749.

[81] A. Zaleski, Przemowy i deklaracje, vol. 1, p. 61; speech in front of the headquarters of the Towarzystwo dla Badań Zagadnień Międzynarodowych in Warsaw, January 9th, 1927.

[82] The latter agreement was not ratified by the Reichstag and did not come into force.

[83] Peasants’ Party members declared for the ratification of the agreement; Zygmunt Graliński advocated its ratification in his speech in Sejm on February 7th, 1930 (see J. Faryś, Koncepcje, p. 221).

[84] M. Zdziechowski, Od Petersburga do Leningrada (Vilnius, 1934), p. IX.

[85] For more details, see H. Wisner, Z historii stosunków kulturalnych polsko-radzieckich 1919—1939 (Warsaw, 1987).

[86] The magazine was issued in 1932—1935 as ‘Przegląd Wschodni. Dwutygodnik poświęcony badaniu rzeczywistości oraz stosunków wzajemnych Polski i ZSRR.’ Włodzimierz Wakar died in the summer of 1933.

[87] M. Kornat, Polska polityka zagraniczna 1938—1939. Cztery decyzje Józefa Becka (Gdańsk, 2013), p. 42.

[88] J. Beck, Przemówienia, deklaracje, wywiady (Warsaw, 1939), p. 15. Beck was a Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs at that time.

[89] Ibidem, p. 16.

[90] Ibidem, p. 18.

[91] Ibidem, p. 59.

[92] I. Matuszewski, Drogi Polski, ‘Polityka Narodów,’ vol. 1, fasc. 1—2, 1933, pp. 3—5.

[93] M. Łubieński, Refleksje i reminiscencje (preface, footnotes, and editing - M. Kornat; Warsaw, 2012), p. 83.

[94] Notes from Minister Beck’s convesation with René Massigli and Jean Paul-Boncour (French delegates for the Disarmament Conference) in Geneva, October 3rd, 1933; Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN), Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych, sign. 108.

[95] The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London, Jan Szembek’s papers, sign. 85/47 (letter undated; most probably spring of 1937).

[96] J. Beck, Przemówienia, deklaracje, wywiady, p. 401.

[97] E. Śmigły-Rydz, Byście o sile nie zapomnieli. Rozkazy, artykuły, mowy 1904—1936 (Lviv – Warsaw, 1936), p. 160.

[98] Z. Berezowski, Polityka zagraniczna (Warsaw, 1927), p. 18.

[99] For more details, see M. Kornat, Spór o polską rację stanu w roku 1937, [in:] J. Kloczkowski (ed), Geopolityka i zasady. Studia z dziejów polskiej myśli politycznej (Cracow – Warsaw, 2010), pp. 45—73.

[100] S. Kozicki, Wobec projektów niemieckich rozbioru Polski, ‘Przegląd Wszechpolski,’ No. III, 1935 (as cited in J. Faryś, Koncepcje, p. 188).

[101] J. Faryś, Koncepcje, pp. 317—319.

[102] W. Konopczyński, Historia polityczna Polski 1914—1939 (with introduction by T. Wituch; Warsaw, 1995), p. 205.

[103] For an extensive elaboration of that subject, see J. Gzella, Między Sowietami a Niemcami. Koncepcje polskiej polityki zagranicznej konserwatystów wileńskich zgrupowanych wokół „Słowa” (1922—1939) (Toruń, 2011). See also  J. Sadkiewicz, Idea porozumienia polsko-niemieckiego w publicystyce Władysława Studnickiego (Cracow, 2012).

[104] W. Studnicki, System polityczny Europy a Polska (Warsaw, 1935).

[105] A. Bocheński, Między Niemcami a Rosją, posłowie M. Pruszyński, Warszawa 1994, wyd. 2, p. 127—135.

[106] An important title – albeit rather unreliable as an account of events – is Jędrzej Giertych’s book Stronnictwo Narodowe a kryzys dziejowy 1938 roku: relacja pamiętnikarska (London, 1987).

[107] Z. Wojciechowski, Między Niemcami a Rosją. Z powodu książek: Adolfa Bocheńskiego, ‘Między Niemcami a Rosją’ i W. Bączkowskiego, ‘Grunwald czy Pilawce’ (Poznań, 1938), pp. 21—23.

[108] Majaki Studnickiego, „Myśl Narodowa”, nr 18, 5 maja 1935, p. 275.

[109] K. S. Frycz, Europa Środkowa, [in:] idem, Ku „nowemu barokowi”. Myśl polityczna Karola Stefana Frycza (1910—1942). Wybór źródeł (ed. by A. Meller and P. Tomaszewski; Warsaw, 2012), pp. 135—138.

[110] J. Łukasiewicz, Polska jest mocarstwem (Warsaw, 1938), p. 35.

[111] W. Grabski, Idea Polski (Warsaw, 1935), p. 178.

[112] This subject is extensively elaborated upon in my article Idea prometejska a polska polityka zagraniczna (1921—1939/1940), [in:] M. Kornat (ed), Ruch prometejski i walka o przebudowę Europy Wschodniej 1918—1940 (Warszawa, 2012), pp. 35—90.

[113] R. Dębicki, Journal, Józef Piłsudski Institute of America, Roman Dębicki’s papers, sign. 40/2, ch. 22.

[114] J. Stempowski, Europa w 1938—1939, ‘Ateneum,’ R. II, No. 3, 1939, pp. 370—371.

[115] Report of the French Ambassador to Warsaw, Jules Laroche, to Minister Briand, of July 23rd, 1929; Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères (Paris); Europe 1918—1940, Pologne, vol. 114.

[116] Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive study, properly based upon available sources, on the public feeling and the set of Polish public opinion in the face of the mounting threat to the state’s existence in the period form March to August 1939. A brief introduction to that subject is an article Wapiński (Wzajemne oddziaływanie polityki zagranicznej i wewnętrznej Polski wiosną i latem 1939 r., ‘Dzieje Najnowsze,’ fasc. 1—2, 1992, pp. 39—58).

[117] K. Czapiński, Świat na wulkanie. Krótki zarys sytuacji międzynarodowej (Warsaw, 1938), p. 19.

[118] The British guarantees came on March 31st, 1939; the French government proposed a similar declaration on April 13th of the same year.

[119] Z. Berezowski, Pakt polsko-angielski, ‘Polityka Narodowa,’ No. 3, 1939, p. 156.

[120] J. Zarański (ed), Diariusz i teki Jana Szembeka (1935–1945), vol. 4 (1938–1939) (London, 1972), vol. IV, p. 528.

[121] Gen. W. Sikorski, Publicystyka generała Władysława Sikorskiego na lamach „Kuriera Warszawskiego” w latach 1928—1939 (Warsaw, 1999).   

[122] A. Bocheński, Co to jest polityka 1934 r., ‘Polityka,’ No. 7, April 9th, 1939.

[123] As cited in: W. Bączkowski, Karta z historii stosunków polsko-ukraińskich, ‘Biuletyn Polsko-Ukraiński,’ ‘Niepodległość,’ vol. 19, 1986, p. 128.

[124] R. Knoll, Uwagi o polskiej polityce 1939 (Warsaw, 1939); S. Rowecki, Wspomnienia i notatki autobiograficzne (1906—1939) (Warsaw, 1988). For more details, see M. Kornat, Polska 1939 roku wobec paktu Ribbentrop-Mołotow. Problem zbliżenia niemiecko-sowieckiego w polityce zagranicznej II Rzeczypospolitej (Warsaw, 2002), pp. 351—441.  

[125] S. Swianiewicz, W cieniu Katynia (Paris, 1976), p. 37.

[126] R. Knoll, Uwagi o polskiej polityce 1939, p. 38.

[127] ‘Czas”, August 23rd, 1939 (untitled editorial).

[128] Moskiewska niespodzianka, ‘Głos Narodu’ (No. 232), August 23rd, 1939.

[129] K. W., Bluff czy nowy zwrot taktyczny, „Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny” (nr 233), 24 sierpnia 1939 r.

[130] Such a discussion only began to take shape in the reflections of Polish diplomats after Poland’s defeat of September 1939; its traces can be found in Szembek’s records; see his Diariusz, wrzesień — grudzień 1939 (ed. by B. Grzeloński; Warsaw, 1989; earlier publication in ‘Niepodległość,’ vol. 20, 1987, pp. 3—169].

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