Andrew Kier Wise
On the morning of 11 August 1934, Aleksander Robertovich Lednicki plunged to his death from a second-story window of his Warsaw home. He was distraught over allegations of impropriety concerning his role in resolving a Polish-French dispute concerning financial interests in factories located in Zyrardow. For over a decade, Lednicki had endured a long series of attacks on his patriotism. The Zyrardow affair was the last straw -- Lednicki no longer had the willpower to respond to the latest charges that he had betrayed Polish national interests.
While Lednicki suffered many personal hardships in his life, he always remained an inveterate optimist who believed in the progress of mankind. He abhorred Oblomovs and those mired in self-doubt; pessimism was utterly alien to his character. Yet by 1934, Lednicki's spirit was broken. He had grown tired of defending his honor, his polskosc (Polishness), and his vision of Poland's future. (Polskosc is defined by one scholar as something more than Polishness or Polish character. "It can signify everything that the dictionary says, but it also signifies, as it were, something more, something elusive. Polskosc signifies the very essence of being a Pole.") Lednicki was laid to rest in Warsaw on 16 August 1934. Several thousand friends and supporters attended the funeral ceremony. Many of those present were old friends: members of the former Polish colonies in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where Lednicki lived for most of his adult life, as well as Russian comrades in the liberation movement, now residing in exile in the West. The large gathering not only mourned the loss of a dear friend and colleague, but the death of one committed to the traditions of Polish progressive thought, a true champion of freedom for all peoples. Lednicki had devoted his whole life to combatting the forces of extremism; his brand of pragmatic politics called for compromise and mediation, rather than conflict and violence. Aleksander Lednicki was a cosmopolitan liberal whose time had seemingly passed.
A Polish Catholic nobleman, Aleksander Lednicki was born 14 July 1866 on the family estate near Minsk in the Northwestern Region (Sevorozapadnyi Krai) of the Russian Empire. Referred to by Poles as the kresy (borderlands), the area was populated by many different ethnic and religious groups: Polish and Lithuanian Catholics; Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian Orthodox; and Jews. According to the 1897 census, Poles made up only 4.9% of the population in these provinces, which had been part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Belorussians were by far the largest ethnic group in the kresy, totaling 63.5% of the population. They were followed by Jews (14.2%) and Russians (5.9%). Vastly outnumbered, kresy Poles were confronted with an entirely different situation than residents of the Polish Kingdom, which was more ethnically Polish. The kresy Poles, however, had made peace with their minority status; Poles from the borderlands were known for their acceptance of other cultures.
It seems clear that Lednicki's upbringing and early education in the borderlands greatly influenced his personality and political outlook throughout his life. Aleksander Lednicki's eight years at the Minsk gymnasium (1878-1885) first exposed him to the harsh treatment of non-Russians in the empire. He attended school there during a period of intense russification in the kresy and was punished several times for speaking Polish in school.
Indeed, Aleksander's education at the local gymnasium had to a certain extent russified him. Although his home environment acted as a counterbalance, his absorption of Russian culture would affect him throughout his life. Aleksander Lednicki was forever a "man standing on the border of two cultures -- Polish and Russian".
Yet at the same time, Aleksander's school days in Minsk must surely have made him acutely aware that he was different, that he was not Russian. As one biographer states, this experience "deepened in Aleksander a feeling of separateness in relation to Russian society". This sensation of "otherness" had a lasting effect. As an adult, Lednicki would be a staunch defender of equal rights for all national minorities in the empire.
In August 1885 Lednicki travelled to Moscow to study law at the university. At a lecture in 1886, Lednicki met a fellow Pole who would change his life. Bronis Peczlewicz led a study group consisting of Polish students from three institutions of higher learning located in Moscow: the University, the Technical School and the Agricultural Institute. About one hundred students belonged to the Polish zemliachestvo. Formally banned by tsarist authorities, zemliachestva were self-help and self-education groups consisting of students from the same home district or the same nationality. Formally educated at Russian institutions, Lednicki had undertaken little serious study of Polish culture and history. Encouraged by his new roommate Peczlewicz and intimidated by those in the group with a better command of the Polish language, Lednicki embarked on an intense program of self-education in all things Polish.
The young Lednicki also became active in Polish cultural activities outside the university community. The Polish colony in Moscow at that time numbered about 7,500, and it maintained close relations with Polish students at the university and other schools in the city. Amateur theatrical productions, balls, concerts and fundraisers for destitute students were held at the homes of prominent Poles, at which students and their compatriots comingled. It was at one such event in 1887 that Aleksander first met his future wife, Maria Odlanicka-Poczobutt Kriwonosow. Smitten, he became a regular at functions of the Moscow Polish colony. As his son later noted, it was quite ironic that only in Moscow, the center of old Russia, would Aleksander Lednicki experience the "definitive crystalization of his polskosc".
It was also in Russia that Lednicki became politicized. In 1887, he was expelled from Moscow for his participation in student demonstrations that closed the university for much of the fall semester. He was forced to finish his legal education in Yaroslavl. Lednicki's years at Moscow University, however, proved crucial. He established life-long relationships with prominent Russian political activists, with whom he later helped establish the liberal Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party.
In the fall of 1889 Lednicki returned to Moscow to marry his beloved Maria, and to begin his professional career. The young man quickly established a reputation as a skilled attorney. By the time of the Russian revolution in 1905, Lednicki was quite wealthy and widely recognized as one of the finest lawyers in Russia. Lednicki parlayed his status and reputation into a public career, which always took three paths: work for the welfare of Poles living in Russia, especially among the Polish colony in Moscow; cooperation with political and cultural organizations in Poland; and political action among Russian society promoting the Polish cause.
In constant flux, the Polish colony in Moscow was traditionally difficult to organize. Many Poles would go to Moscow for their higher education, then return to Poland after graduation. Others, however, did remain permanently, pursuing lucrative professional careers. Yet residency in Russia had a high cost; russification, and often total assimilation, caused many Poles to lose their national identity. This further complicated efforts to consolidate the Polish colony. Social differentiation also posed a problem in developing a sense of community among Poles in Moscow, for members of the professional intelligentsia had little in common with their working-class compatriots.
One common denominator was their Catholicism, and it was around the Church that the colony began to coalesce. On 16 December 1885, the Roman Catholic Relief Society held its first meeting in Moscow. Originally founded to help the children of destitute Poles and to facilitate the acclimation of new members of the colony, the society gradually widened the scope of its activities. It did so at the urging of Lednicki, who from 1890 was the secretary of the society and represented the interests of the younger generation of Poles living in Moscow. In 1896 he assumed the presidency, marking a new period of increased activity for the society and the Polish community in Moscow. His home became a center of Polish cultural activities.
Waclaw Lednicki recalls that a distinctly Polish atmosphere pervaded his parents' spacious home in the Arbat district of Moscow, site of many functions of the Polish colony. Frequented by Poles of all sorts, especially clergymen, it served as "a [Polish] island in the surrounding Russian sea". Zygmunt Nagorski argued that "despite his permanent residence in Moscow he [Lednicki] always lived a Polish life". In fact, Lednicki abhorred those who abandoned their polskosc; for example, he criticized those Poles who attended the elite schools for sons of the upper nobility in St. Petersburg, where future tsarist officials were groomed. To Lednicki, the presence of Poles in these schools was "a compromise, a silent resignation from national ambitions".
"National ambitions," the desire to promote the Polish cause, was Aleksander Lednicki's raison d'etre. Initially Lednicki's compulsion to serve his fellow countrymen was manifested in his cultural activism. Poles in the late 19th century felt the increasing pressure of russification and responded by acting to preserve their national cultural traditions. This was especially the case for those who lived in Russia, struggling to preserve their polskosc in a hostile environment. Influenced by the philosophy of Warsaw Positivism, which called for the strengthening of a nation's cultural and material wealth as a necessary precursor to political independence, Poles embraced the notion that "the most vital, most important foundation of every nation is its culture, its language".
The Lednicki home also functioned as a sort of political salon, where Poles -- and Russians -- gathered to discuss current issues. It was in these informal gatherings that Lednicki pursued a rapprochement between Poles and Russians. In no small measure due to Lednicki's influence in Moscow society, Russians were becoming more aware of the Polish issue. Lednicki was uniquely qualified for this role, for he was a man of two worlds. As Pavel Miliukov (historian and leader of the liberal Constitutional Democratic Party) wrote at the time of his close friend's death, although "a great Polish patriot, 'Alexander Robertovich' was regarded by his Moscow friends as a genuine Russian intellectual".
Lednicki's son later recalled that, around 1903, his father had frequent conferences with Russian friends, noting that "these meetings, often large, created in the household a certain atmosphere of vigilance". Their unease was well-founded, for the police had begun to scrutinize Lednicki's activities. Surveillance reports confirmed police suspicions that Lednicki was "among the main leaders" of a clandestine anti-government camp - the Union of Liberation -- which began to coalesce in 1903. Interestingly, Lednicki would later deny membership in the Union of Liberation. Lednicki participated in the third and fourth congresses of the Union of Liberation in 1905. The fourth and final congress was held at his home in Moscow!. This was no doubt part of an effort to re-write the history of his life in Moscow. In interwar Poland, his political career ground to a halt because of accusations that he was too "Russian."
In 1906 Lednicki won a seat in the first Russian parliament, or Duma. He served as a Kadet representative from his Minsk homeland. While progressives hailed Lednicki for being "in the first rank of parliamentarians" in the First Duma and praised him for speaking on behalf of all peoples in the Empire, Polish nationalists questioned the loyalty of this Pole who aligned himself with the program of the Russian Kadets (Kraj 18, 1906, p. 4. Roman Dmowski, founder of the chauvinist National Democratic Party (Endecja) in Poland, despised the Kadets, who he believed were "financially dependent . . . [on] Jews. This dependence they did not even try to conceal, . . and Jews to a significant degree dictated its [the Kadet party's] line of progress." "Jews," he added, "have everywhere been very evil politicians.") Another critic maintained that it was inconceivable that
a Pole under German occupation could belong to any sort of German group, or belong to an Austrian group under Austrian occupation . . . Lednicki, however, managed as a Pole to belong to a Russian group.
This feat was denounced as an unnatural act of "political hermaphroditism".
Unwilling to divorce his search for a solution to the nationalities question from its Russian context, Lednicki simultaneously represented no fewer than five constituencies in the First Duma, which convened from April to July 1906: the Russian Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party, co-founded by Lednicki in October 1905; the Polish Progressive-Democratic Union, co-founded by Lednicki in late 1904; the "Parliamentary Group of the Western Territories", created by Lednicki and consisting of kresy delegates to the Duma; the Union of Autonomists' parliamentary fraction, consisting of non-Russian representatives devoted to equal rights for all peoples living in the empire; and the people of Georgia, who had asked him to represent their interests until elections in their homeland could be completed. But Lednicki proved unable to meld together the all-Russian movement he so desired. In the First Duma, his bases of support were undermined by class conflict and national chauvinism.
The collapse of the tsarist regime in February 1917 suddenly thrust many of Lednicki's Russian colleagues into power. Prompted by a manifesto issued by the Petrograd Soviet, the Provisional Government was induced to consent to the separation of Poland from Russia. A member of both bodies, Aleksandr Kerenskii was instrumental in convincing Russians to act on the Polish question. At Kerenskii's urging, the new foreign minister, Pavel Miliukov, summoned Lednicki to Petrograd to help draft the Provisional Government's declaration of Polish independence. Lednicki hailed the manifesto as a "glorious testament to the ideals of universal freedom, brotherhood and equality, for which the Polish nation had always shed its blood". On 28 March, Lednicki was nominated to the post of President of the Liquidation Commission, the branch of the Provisional Government entrusted with coordinating the delicate task of unraveling the many administrative ties between Russia and Poland. It should be remembered, of course, that German troops occupied most of Russia's Polish lands.
Lednicki served in this post for the duration of the Provisional Government. He was nominated to the position of minister but refused the title, recognizing the dangers of being considered too "Russian." Now that Poland would regain its independence, he desperately wanted to play a role in the new state. He did not want to be regarded as a Russian toady. At the same time, he used his position in the Provisional Government to consolidate his power base within the Polish community in Russia. He openly fought the National Democrats, refusing to follow the lead of the Dmowski-led Polish National Committee in Paris. Endecja members on the Liquidation Commission resigned in protest, and during the summer of 1917 Dmowski and the National Democrats battled Lednicki's growing influence in Russia. But leaders in the Provisional Government, those same men with whom Lednicki had coordinated the Russian liberation movement in 1905, staunchly supported their old colleague.
It was Lednicki's unflagging loyalty to his Russian comrades that crippled his bid to become a major political figure in the new Polish state. The Provisional Government opposed the Polish National Committee's plan to create an independent Polish army in Russia. Eager to buttress the war effort on the eastern front, the Western Allies supported this scheme. But the Provisional Government feared that if the Poles separated from the general Russian army, then other nationalities would follow suit. The Russians believed that such a development would leave the army in shambles.
Lednicki supported this line of thinking, thereby alienating Western policy makers who placed a premium on a two-front war. Despite Western leaders' personal distrust of Dmowski, he became their "Polish man." Dmowski's support of Western initiatives in the summer of 1917 induced the Allies to recognize the Polish National Committee as the "legitimate" government of the future Polish state. Lednicki would find no backers in the West.
When the Provisional Government was overthrown in October 1917 and his Russian friends fell from power, Lednicki found himself without the support of any foreign government. For a brief time he served as emissary in Russia for the Regency Council, the governing body of the Polish puppet regime created by the Central Powers. His "collaboration" with the Germans further antagonized the Polish National Committee and distressed western governments. Finally expelled by the Bolsheviks in early 1918, Lednicki would be greeted rudely upon his return to Poland.
It was because of his apparent russification and his multicultural outlook that Lednicki's polskosc came to be questioned by political opponents. Zygmunt Wasilewski, publicist and political ally of the chauvinistic leader of the National Democrats, Roman Dmowski, maintained that Lednicki was a man not able to define his nationality. Wasilewski charged in the interwar period that Lednicki's return to Poland was purely an act of expediency, and that he felt no kinship with other Poles. He regarded Lednicki as a sort of human chameleon: "when there was not a Polish state but there was a Russian state, Lednicki passed himself off as a Russian. While today , when there is no Russian state but a Polish state, he passes himself off as a Pole".
Other Polish critics commented on Lednicki's inherent Russianness, which he still retained as an elderly man living in Poland. One acquaintance recorded his revulsion upon meeting Lednicki in 1925, noting that "his accent appeared to be not of Wilno, like that of [Joseph] Pilsudski. . . but Muscovite; his clothing was something from Moscow or Petersburg, and his mentality also seemed completely foreign to me". Zygmunt Wasilewski went so far as to declare that for his "sins" committed against Poland - at various times Lednicki was described as being a Russian, a half-Jew, or pro-German - "Pan Aleksander Lednicki . . . did not have the right to enter Polish society without a penitential act".
Lednicki struggled to stay active in his new life in Poland, but he would never hold an elected office. He sought to remedy the damage wrought by the venomous attacks by Endecja hacks who so savagely ridiculed his "foreignness" and questioned his integrity.
Lednicki would never get an opportunity to take part in the political life in the new Polish state. Removed from his familiar milieu in Moscow and St. Petersburg, he was out of his element in Poland. He had devoted his early life to the Polish cause as an unofficial Polish ambassador in Russia, living as a Pole among Russians. In a brutal twist of fate, he would die an outsider in his beloved Poland, living his final years as a Russian among Poles.
Jerzy Jedlicki. "Holy Ideals and Prosaic Life, or the Devil's Alternatives" in Stanislaw Gomulka and Antony Polonsky, eds. Polish Paradoxes. London/New York: Stanislaw Gomulka and Antony Polonsky/ Routledge, 1990, p.41.
Norman Davies. God's Playground: A History of Poland. New York: Columbia University Press, vol. 2, p.67
Feliks Gross. "Kresy: The Frontier of Eastern Europe." Polish Review 23, no.2, 1978, p. 12; and Andrzej Micewski. Roman Dmowski. Warsaw: Verum, 1971, pp.14-17
Waclaw Lednicki. Pamietniki. London: B. Swiderski, vol.1, 1963-67, p.261
Pilsudski Institute. Archiwum Wladyslawa Studnickiego. Teka IV, Teczka 4. Incomplete typed copy of Studnicki's Ludzie, idee i czyny. p.1
Mieczyslaw Smolen. Dzialalnosc polityczna Aleksandra Lednickiego w Rosji: 1905-1918. Ph.D. dissertation. Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, 1979, p.32 and also Wlodzimierz Dzwonkowski, "Aleksander Lednicki," in Rosja a Polska, Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza Interim, 1991, p. 130."
W. Lednicki. Pamietniki. vol.1, p. 271.
Zygmunt Lukawski. Ludnosc polska w Rosji 1863-1914. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 1978, p.127.
Walentyna Najdus. Polacy w rewolucji 1917 roku. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1967, p.39.
W. Lednicki. Pamietniki vol.1, p.275
Zygmunt Nagorski. "Aleksander Lednicki (1866-1924)." Zeszyty historyczny 1, 1962, p.29. This article is also included in Nagorski's Ludzie mego czasu. Sylwetki. Paris: Ksiegarnia Polska w Paryzu, 1964.
W. Lednicki. Pamietniki. vol.1, p.24.
Nagorski. "Aleksander Lednicki." p.29
W. Lednicki. Pamietniki. vol.2, pp.68-72
Leslaw Sadowski. Polska inteligencja prowincjonalna i jej ideowe dylematy na przelomie XIX i XX wieku. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1988, p.177
Paul Milyukov. "Alexander Lednicki" Slavonic and East European Review 13, 1934/35, p.677; also Pawel Milukow. "Aleksander Lednicki jako rzecznik polsko-rosyjskiego porozumienia," Przeglad wspolczesny18, 1939, p.25
W. Lednicki. Pamietniki. vol.2, p.477
Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii.fond 63, opis 24, delo 403, list 28. Report dated 13 May 1904.
A. Lednicki. "Z Pamietniki," Niepodleglosc 7, 1933, p. 39
K. F. Shatsillo. "Novoe o `Soiuze Osvobozhdeniia'" Istoriia SSSR. no. .4,1975, p.142
Roman Dmowski. Polityka polska i odbudowanie panstwa. Intro. and commentary by Tomasz Wituch, 2d ed., vol. 2. Warsaw: Instytut Wydawniczy Pax, 1989, p.109]
Zygmunt Wasilewski. Proces Lednickiego. Fragment z dziejow odbudowy Polski 1915-1924. Warsaw: Sklad glowny w Ksiegarni Perzynski, Niklewicz i Sp., 1924, p.321
Viestnik Vremennago Pravitel'stva. 18/31 March 1917.
Wieslawa Toporowicz. "Komisja Likwidacyjna do spraw b. Krolestwa Polskiego w 1917 r. " Zdziejow stosunkow polsko-radzieckich. Studia i materialy 9, 1972, pp.11-12
Wasilewski. Proces Lednickiego. p.88
W. A. Zbyszewski. "Dwaj Ledniccy" Kultura 22, 1968, no. 8/9, p.157
Wasilewski. Proces Lednickiego. p. 3
Norman Davies. God's Playground: A History of Poland. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
Roman Dmowski. Polityka polska i odbudowanie panstwa. 2 vols. Intro. and commentary by Tomasz Wituch. 2d ed. Warsaw: Instytut Wydawniczy Pax, 1989.
Wlodzimierz Dzwonkowski. "Aleksander Lednicki". In Rosja a Polska, pp.111-208. Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza Interim, 1991.
Jedlicki Jerz. "Holy Ideals and Prosaic Life, or the Devil's Alternatives". In Polish Paradoxes. Stanislaw Gomulka and Antony Polonsky(eds.). London & New York: Routledge, 1990.
Feliks Gross. "Kresy: The Frontier of Eastern Europe" Polish Review 23, no. 2, 1978, pp.3-16.
Aleksander Lednicki. "Z Pamietniki" Niepodleglosc 7, 1933, pp. 29-41.
Waclaw Lednicki. Pamietniki. 2 vols. London: B. Swiderski, 1963-67.
Zygmunt Lukawski. Ludnosc polska w Rosji 1863-1914. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 1978.
Andrzej Micewski. Roman Dmowski. Warsaw: Verum, 1971.
Paul Milyukov. "Alexander Lednicki" Slavonic and East European Review 13, 1934/35, pp.677-80.
Paul Milyukov. [Pawel Milukow]. "Aleksander Lednicki jako rzecznik polsko-rosyjskiego porozumienia." Przeglad wspolczesny 18, 1939, pp.166-215.
Zygmunt Nagorski. "Aleksander Lednicki (1866-1924)" Zeszyty historyczny 1, 1962, pp.27-66.
Walentyna Najdus. Polacy w rewolucji 1917 roku. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1967.
Leslaw Sadowski. Polska inteligencja prowincjonalna i jej ideowe dylematy na przelomie XIX i XX wieku. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1988.
K. F Shatsillo. "Novoe o `Soiuze Osvobozhdeniia'" Istoriia SSSR no. 4, 1975, pp.132-45.
Mieczyslaw Smolen. "Dzialalnosc polityczna Aleksandra Lednickiego w Rosji: 1905-1918." Ph.D. diss., Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, 1979.
Wieslawa Toporowicz. "Komisja Likwidacyjna do spraw b. Krolestwa Polskiego w 1917 r." Z dziejow stosunkow polsko-radzieckich. Studia i materialy 9, 1972.
Zygmunt Wasilewski. Proces Lednickiego. Fragment z dziejow odbudowy Polski 1915-1924. Warsaw: Sklad glowny w Ksiegarni Perzynski, Niklewicz i Sp., 1924.
W. A Zbyszewski. "Dwaj Ledniccy." Kultura 22, no. 8/9, 1968, pp.153-61.
Dr. Andrew Kier Wise received his Ph.D. in History at the University of Virginia in 1996. He teaches European History at Daemen College in Amherst, New York. In addition to the issue of multiple identities in Eastern Europe, his research interests include the political thought of Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, a key figure in the Polish Renaissance.