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Maps You Should Know 2

Polarization in Poland

Maps You Should Know is a series of articles which will provide you relevant information about a certain topic using maps, graphs and charts.
This episode will be focused on the 2019 Polish parliamentary elections and the way history has shaped this country.


Results of the 2019 Polish Parliamentary Elections and the borders of the old German Republic.


Europe after the Congress of Vienna, 1815.


Vienna, 1814. Following the defeat of the French lead by the famous Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who rose to prominence during the French Revolution, the main European powers meet to rearrange the borders of the war-torn countries and establish a long term peace plan, in a conference that would later be called the Congress of Vienna. Mediated by the Austrian Klemens von Metternich, nearly every state in Europe had a representative in the Congress (more than 200 states and princely houses were present), notably the Austrians, Russians, British, French and Prussians.
The aftermath of this Congress was vast, complex and would have long-lasting effects, including the first time in history where the representatives of the main European states condemned the Atlantic Slave Trade.

East vs. West

Focusing on the territory that is now Poland, the Congress of Vienna gave the Russian, which had been ruled by the imperial dynasty of the Romanov since 1613, the duchy of Warsaw. 

On the other hand, out of the decentralized states that composed the multi-ethnic Holy Roman Empire, which ended in 1806 during the French invasions, the Congress created the German Confederation, whose borders can be seen in red in the second map above. This granted a level of coherence and alliance between the member states which was not present in the Holy Roman Empire –  however, a sense of nationality was still not present, as the people frequently identified themselves with the member states, like Prussia or Austria, instead of seeing themselves as German. 

Interestingly, a few decades later, the German Confederation saw the German Revolution of 1848/49, fueled by national, liberal and democratic principles, hinting about the popular desire for democracy, liberalism and national unity felt at the time, possibly fueled by the ideals of the Enlightenment era. This revolution was, however, unsuccessful, and lead to the emigration of the defeated revolutionaries to countries like the United States of America.
The actual unification of Germany wouldn’t happen until 1871. After conflicts and wars between the member states of the German Confederation (namely the Austro-Prussian war), Prussia emerged victorious. The south german states (except Austria) joined Prussia soon after and a new constitution came into force on April 16th, 1871, creating the German Republic with, approximately, the borders that can be seen in black in the first map. Wilhelm l, King of Prussia from the House of Hohenzollern, was crowned German Emperor. However, the main figure of German politics of the time was not the Emperor but the Head of Government, the Executive Power, the Chancellor – Otto Von Bismarck.
Bismarck dominated foreign affairs in Europe while he held office, forging alliances and maintaining peace within Europe (for instance, promoting the Berlin Conference in 1884 to regulate African colonization and trade). To historian Eric Hobsbawn, he “remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, [and] devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers”. However, domestically, Bismarck was conservative, which, in a society increasingly more liberal and progressive, gathered significant opposition. Feeling his support slowly fading, Bismarck implemented multiple social and progressive measures, introducing a form of welfare state, with, for instance, accident and old age insurance and a form of socialized medicines.
This, however, was not enough, and Bismarck ended up losing the parliamentary elections in 1890 where the Centre, Social Democrats and Progressives gained the majority of the seats in the Reichstag (German Parliament, currently known as Bundestag). Bismarcks successors then implemented the so-called Weltpolitik, aiming to transform Germany into a global power. To achieve this, they changed the Realpolitik carried out by Bismarck and implemented progressive measures, moving towards free trade, promoting industrial, commercial and technological development and implementing better social conditions (like extended reach of insurances and increased the control over child labour). This created a prosperous country with remarkable social awareness. However, they were not so notable in maintaining foreign relations, often antagonizing European Powers and abandoning old alliances (like, for example, the cooperation established with the Russian Empire during Bismarcks era), significantly contributing to the outbreak of World War I. Thus, after Bismarck, there was a notable change in the focus of German politics from foreign affairs to internal balancing.
To the East, the conditions were different. Lead by the Romanov dynasty for nearly 3 centuries, the Russian Empire was ran as an absolute monarchy based on the ideological doctrine of Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality implemented by Nicholas I. As an autocracy, any diverging opinions were quickly and violently suppressed and the peasants, the bedrock of the society, hardly saw any profit of their work while the urban bourgeoisie reaped the benefits. A society marked by conservatism and inequality during a time of liberal and progressive thinking, coupled with poor and distanced leadership (analyzed further in this article), eventually culminated in the revolts of 1905 and 1917, the latter putting an end to the Romanov rule and czarist Russia.


Towards the end of the first World War, the Russian Empire, suffering a large number of casualties (roughly 4 million) and poorly guided, signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in 1918, officially withdrawing from the war but also ceding large territories to Germany, namely land in eastern Poland. Then, following the German defeat, Poland obtained its independence in 1918 and, after a number of border conflicts, settled its frontiers in 1923. Its final borders would finally be settled after World War 2, once the Nazi/Soviet occupation of Poland ended in 1945, looking approximately like the ones we see today, shown in the first map.
Taking a look at the patterns seen in the latest Polish Parliamentary Elections, in 2019, the impact of the German Republic and the Russian Empire can evidently be identified, clearly shown when overlapping the borders of the German Republic over present day Poland (this pattern is not a recent event as well, as all recent elections follow the same trend. Important to note as well is the fact that a small percentage of the southern part of Poland was not only Russian territory but also Austro-Hungarian).
The Polish territories which were inside German territory align more to the center, voting in larger percentages in the in the Civic Coalition alliance (KO) – a coalition oriented towards liberalism and social progressiveness, supporting Polish participation in the European Union and NATO and environmentally aware (for instance promising to end the use of coal for energy in Poland by 2040).
In a clear-cut contrast, the present day Polish territories which were included in the Russian Empire manifestly support the right-wing, conservative and populist party Law and Justice (PiS). PiS presents itself as Atlanticist, economically protectionist and eurosceptic (also opposing the Euro). Socially, as a conservative party, it opposes most liberal ideas such as LGBT rights or abortion. It also advocates for strong social measures, like increased welfare spending or universal health care. A nationalist party, it has taken anti-immigration and anti-Muslim stances, namely during the 2015 European migrant crisis.
The polarization of Poland can very clearly be traced back to its history. The East-West contrast noticeably aligns with the countries which once shared Polish territory. Present-day Poland, as many other countries, is a living example of how much history can socially, politically or economically shape a country, inevitably compelling us to wonder “what if?”.
What do you think about the Polish ideological contrast? Do you know any other countries with such a clear divergence? Lets us know down below!

by YKW // 31 March 2022

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