The publication of Cynthia Khlor’s English-language translation of Malte Rolf’s sophisticated and deeply researched study of late imperial Russian rule in the Polish Kingdom brings this important work to a wider readership. Fully conversant with the new imperial history and employing a situational approach, Rolf demonstrates how the complex encounters and communications in this key peripheral region shaped the imperial state and contributed to its disintegration.
After crushing the Polish Uprising in 1863–1864,Russia established a new system of administration and control. Imperial Russian Rule in the Kingdom of Poland, 1864–1915 investigates in detail the imperial bureaucracy’s highly variable relationship with Polish society over the next half century. It portrays the personnel and policies of Russian domination and describes the numerous layers of conflict and cooperation between the Tsarist officialdom and the local population. Presenting case studies of both modes of conflict and cooperation, Malte Rolf replaces the old, unambiguous “freedom-loving Poles vs. oppressive Russians” narrative with a more nuanced account and does justice to the complexity and diversity of encounters among Poles, Jews, and Russians in this contested geopolitical space. At the same time, he highlights the process of “provincializing the center,” the process by which the erosion of imperial rule in the Polish Kingdom facilitated the demise of the Romanov dynasty itself.
Poland was to the Russian empire what India was to the British: prosperous, densely populated, ethnically and religiously diverse, and keenly aware of its own distinct identity. But what should have been a jewel in its crown turned out to be a thorn in St. Petersburg’s side. Malte Rolf’s deeply researched and fluidly written study makes admirably clear why Poland was so hard to fit into the jigsaw puzzle that was the Russian empire.
Malte Rolf is professor of modern European history with an emphasis on Eastern Europe at the University of Oldenburg’s Institute of History. His main areas of research include the multiethnic empires of Eastern Europe during the long nineteenth century, the nation states of Central and Eastern Europe in the interwar period, and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. He is the author of Imperiale Herrschaft im Weichselland: Das Königreich Polen im Russischen Imperium, Elites and Empire: Imperial Biographies in Russia and Austria-Hungary (1850–1918) and Soviet Mass Festivals, 1917–1991.