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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

Answer to Józef Piłsudski

Michał Römer
Traduction de Zuzanna Ładyga

Texte intégral

1Title: Odpowiedź Józefowi Piłsudskiemu (Answer to Józef Piłsudski)

2Publishing House: Unpublished until 1989 (first edition: Znak 409/1989, pp. 72–75.)

3Language: Polish
The excerpt used is from the original.

About the author

4Michał Römer (Lit. Mykolas Römeris) [1880, Bohdaniszki, Lit. Bagdoniškys (present-day Lithuania) – 1945, Vilnius]: journalist and politician. After studying in St. Petersburg, in Cracow and at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris, Römer worked as a lawyer in Vilnius, where he also published the moderate Polish newspaper Gazeta Wileńska (Wilnian gazette) (1906). During his studies in France, Römer met Juozas Petrulis, promoter of the idea of Lithuanian national revival based on the co-operation of the inhabitants of the land regardless of their ethnic identity. In fact, Petrulis influenced many of the Polish-speaking members of the Lithuanian gentry. During the First World War, Römer escaped from Vilnius to join the Legiony of Piłsudski. He supported the latter’s federalist ideas, but rejected the proposal to organize a Polonophile Lithuanian government which would compete with the Lithuanian nationalist government in Kaunas. According to Römer, independence was a precondition for a federation between Lithuania and Poland (which was the equivalent of the political agenda of the Polish Socialist Party). In 1920, when the Polish forces entered Vilnius, Römer was forced to choose between the two loyalties. Finally, he moved to Kaunas to become one of the most influential academics in Lithuania (he was the rector of Kaunas University). As a professor of law he represented Lithuania at the International Court in The Hague. His main achievement was the enlargement of Lithuanian sovereignty over Klaipeda (Pol Kłajpeda, Ger. Mem el) against Germany. After the Soviet government ceded Vilnius to Lithuania, Römer became professor at the new Lithuanian university which replaced the Polish Stefan Batory University. Nowadays one of the universities in Vilnius bears the name of Mykolas Römeris, an acknowledged authority on Lithuanian historiography and jurisprudence.

5Main works: Stosunki etnograficzno-kulturalne na Litwie [The ethnographic and cultural features of Lithuania] (1906); Litwa. Studium o odrodzeniu narodu litewskiego [Lithuania. Study on the revival of the Lithuanian nation] (1908); Admin-istracinis teismas [Administrative court] (1928); Dabartinės konstitucijos [Contemporary constitutions] (1932); Valstybė [The state] (1934–1935); Soviety naujoji 1936 metų konstitucija [The new Soviet constitution of 1936] (1938).


6Michał Römer represents the group of Polish and Lithuanian citizens that were in fact unable to precisely define their national identity. Many of them were attached to the tradition of the multinational Commonwealth of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For those people, the collapse of the Russian Empire meant not only the freedom of their motherland, but also the painful end of ‘traditional federalism’ rooted in the history of the Commonwealth. Michał Römer formulated in his diaries the idea of a multinational federation in Central Europe, which would include Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Belarus and Latvia. The point of disagreement with Piłsudski (see Józef Piłsudski, Address delivered in Vilnius) was the principle of independence of all states participating in that federation. Römer strongly disagreed with the primacy of Poland. Neither of the two federalists, Römer or Piłsudski, could imagine that their beloved city of Vilnius would remain outside their state.

7Römer’s protest against the Polish occupation of Vilnius was a marginal offshoot of the diplomatic attempts to restore Lithuanian sovereignty over Vilnius. His impact on subsequent Lithuanian political thought was relatively small. The group that Römer attempted to attract to the idea of Lithuanian statehood, that is the Lithuanian Poles, chose the Polish solution. Thus Römer’s answer remains as ‘archaic’ in its pre-nationalist formulations as Piłsudski with his idea of the East-Central European Commonwealth.

8Being the ‘man in-between,’ Römer has generally been met with certain reservation in both Polish and Lithuanian national historiographies. In the late 1980s, the Polish-Lithuanian historian Bronisław Makowski (Bronius Makauskas) started to work on Römer’s diaries. He also published the letter sent by Michał Römer to Józef Piłsudski, written in reaction to the speech made by Piłsudski in 1922, after the incorporation of Central Lithuania into the Polish state. Since then, several (predominantly Polish) authors have analyzed Römer’s political ideas. In Lithuania, however, he attracts mostly the attention of researchers specialized in the history of jurisprudence.


Answer to Józef Piłsudski

Citizen Józef Piłsudski
The Supreme Commander and Head of the Polish State
in Belvedere, Warsaw

11Sir, I have read your speech delivered in Vilnius. I read it in Kaunas. Accept, Sir, the bitter comments from a native son and Lithuanian citizen. You have listened to the opinions of Poles, some of whom admire you and some of whom hate and condemn you. However, a man who lives by the Vistula River and acts as the Supreme Commander and Head of the Polish State, yet calls himself a ‘Vilnian’ and delivers a speech in Vilnius, has no right to evade the judgment of the Lithuanians. Sir, you realize the importance of Vilnius and everything that is associated with this minute mark on the map which is called a capital and which encapsulates the history of the nation and the country. You have expressed this in your speech. Therefore, having called yourself a Vilnian, you cannot limit the historical and patriotic judgment of your actions to the Polish perspective, but you have to accept the judgment of Lithuania. For Poland, whose aim is to make it part of its territory, Vilnius is not a capital, it is not—and cannot conceivably be—what you make of it in the first part of your speech. The Polish state does not view the acquisition of Vilnius as an act of appropriation of foreign territory, but as an act of national unification. Hence, Vilnius is no different to Poland from Lublin, Poznań or even Łomża. This is the Polish raison d’état and the way Poland justifies her right to Vilnius, which is contested by Lithuania on the European stage.

12Lithuania, however, perceives her right to Vilnius in the way you have outlined in your speech, and that is her basis for claiming it as her capital, that is her recourse to the law and the reason for her protest against incorporating Vilnius into Poland. In your speech you have pronounced yourself as belonging both to Polish and Lithuanian history, therefore your deeds belong to Lithuania as well as Poland, which makes you responsible for Lithuanian history. A Pole could never say the things you have said about Lithuania, for if he did, he would have negated the basis for Poland’s claims.

13The opening part of your speech—in which you pay heartfelt tribute to ancient Lithuania, for which Vilnius is a crowning achievement and the symbol of Lithuanian perseverance, the great capital of a nation—is both powerful and beautiful. Its main point boils down to the saying that you quote yourself: the land was here before us and it will outlast us.

14In view of what you have said in your speech about Lithuania and its capital, the above mentioned saying can only be interpreted in one way: that Vilnius had been part of Lithuania before we (that is the Poles) arrived, and it will be part of that country regardless of what we try to do (that is when we leave). In other words, Vilnius—Lithuania’s accomplishment and its capital city—can never be anything else than what this nation intended it to be. Any other arrangement is bound to pass into oblivion, any attempt at fabricating an alternative to Vilnius’s true character, whether through an act of annexation, parliamentary resolution or something else, will fail and crumble like that defective tenement house built for profit by contemporary Poles in Warsaw or indeed, Vilnius. The land will outlast us: Vilnius will regain its position, become part of Lithuania again as her rightful capital and her creation. It is with unprecedented power that you affirm the Lithuanian character of Vilnius in your speech. No Lithuanian could express it more clearly and profoundly. Vilnius is not only the capital of Lithuania—it is her tragedy, while for Poland it is a mere tidbit to satisfy her greed.

15What is ironic for the history of Vilnius and your own, Sir, is the fact that you said all the above on the occasion of Poland’s seizure of Vilnius, when the profound truth about Vilnius and Lithuania was contradicted and the raising of the Polish flag in Vilnius celebrated. What is more—it was said by the Supreme Commander of Poland! For that reason, the ending of your speech, in which you applaud the act of annexation and call it Vilnius’s anniversary, has no logical or emotional connection with its opening part. For how can you call Vilnius’s funeral or at least the attempt at burying its true nature, its anniversary?

16Sir, in the first part of your speech you are a Vilnian. What you have said no Pole could be capable of saying. The ending of your speech, however, is an act of betrayal of Lithuania by which you belie the very ideas you have initially expressed and understood. It is an act of condemnation of your own actions—hear my words, Sir—for by delivering the first part of your speech you have already declared yourself a Lithuanian. The latter part of your address could well be spoken by a Pole, and it would contain nothing that a Lithuanian, even today, would find appalling. It could not, however, be spoken by a Lithuanian from the opening part of your speech.

17One cannot serve two gods at once, especially when they are at war with each other. I am not surprised that the Poles condemn you for the first part of your speech, which you delivered as a Lithuanian—it threatens the very basis of their claims. As the Supreme Commander of Poland you have to be completely Polish and cannot remain a Lithuanian in Poland’s conflict with that country. If, however, you wish to be a Lithuanian in that conflict, then you cannot be the Supreme Commander of Poland. Towards the end of your speech, in concord with the expected standpoint of the Supreme Commander of Poland, you become a Pole. At the same time, clearly contradicting what you have just said, you reach out to the Lithuanians and call them “brothers.” While you seemed like a brother to them in the first part of your address, you destroyed that kinship yourself in the latter part of your speech. How can you expect your gesture to be accepted! After all, the occasion you were celebrating was nothing else but an act of taking Vilnius away form Lithuania. Are such circumstances appropriate for demonstrating “brotherhood”?

  • 1 The hero of Adam Mickiewicz’s poetic novel, Konrad Wallenrod (first edition in Petersburg, 1828), (...)

18I realize the unbearable position of Lithuanian Poles, who are neither entirely Lithuanian nor Polish. I am one of them. In the times when the interests of both nations are common such duality can be fruitful, in the times of conflict, however, it becomes a burden. In the times of conflict a man is faced with a choice: he can either stand aside, or, if he wants to remain active, he has to choose a side. Under no circumstances can this man comprehend, say and believe one thing and then legitimize—let alone maintain in one speech—another which is in clear contradiction to what he said earlier. For this reason, Sir, you, who have proven your greatness in recreating independent Poland and paving the way for its creative reconstruction, you are forever weak and conquered in the case of Lithuania. The bankruptcy of your eastern policy has always been inevitable and your lofty ideas of federation do not resemble the magnificent passage of an eagle but rather the crude stomping of a dwarf. Your actions in that matter, by the force of events and possibly contrary to your intentions, do not serve to advance your cause, but are a mere tool in the hands of Poles, of typical Polish ethnographic nationalists, whose servant you have become and whose machinations and speculations you have to legitimize and actively support. Lithuania will judge you not by the opening part of your speech, but by the nature of your actions, which ruthlessly wrench at her flesh. Instead of a memorable achievement, you are building in Lithuania a shabby tenement house bound to crumble into ruins. Perhaps it is against your wishes, Sir, but that is in effect what you are doing. In all of your speeches and actions concerning Lithuania there is something strikingly typical: you begin with one thing and finish with another, you stand up as a Lithuanian and sit down as a Pole, you wish to fly like an eagle but trudge like a dwarf instead. You will not succeed and you will not be remembered as one of Lithuania’s heroes as long as you are not… Wallenrod!1 As long as you are not like him, your work in Vilnius is neither great nor is it your own. It is the work of a reign of violence; it is part of Polish nationalism in its crudest form. […] Therefore you are not worthy of such words as those spoken in the first part of your speech in Vilnius, in which you talk about the great tragedy of that city as a Lithuanian would.

19Sir, I fought under your command for the independence of Poland. I believed that her independence would also pave the way for the independence of my motherland—Lithuania—that it would be the guarantee of Lithuania’s independence. I still have not lost faith in spite of all that has happened so far. […] I worshipped you, Sir, in the struggle for Poland’s independence, of which you were a true hero. You are not a hero, however, in the history of Lithuania. Bear these harsh words from one of your soldiers. I only say this because you have called yourself a Lithuanian and have spoken like one—therefore you will be judged by Lithuania.

20I realize that the status of Vilnius as an integral part of Lithuania, which will inevitably be restored cannot be restored by ‘uprooting’ us, the Lithuanian Poles, who are that part of Lithuanian society that in the course of history has not only accepted, but mulled over the culture of this country and has given birth to a new strain. A strain that produced people like Kosci-uszko, Mickiewicz, as well as you, Sir, a strain so unlike in character and desires to the ethnographic Polish strain, cannot perish and has the right to exist and bear fruit in the motherland. Lithuania in its revival will constitute a synthesis of the whole nation, in which that strain will find its place. Vilnius will be a central and essential part of that synthesis. But the method you have chosen does not lead to a synthesis, but to a division and a reign of Polish ethnic nationalism in its crudest form, which seeks to bury Lithuania.


1 The hero of Adam Mickiewicz’s poetic novel, Konrad Wallenrod (first edition in Petersburg, 1828), was a master of Teutonic knights who hides his Lithuanian origins. Sacrificing himself for his natural motherland, he betrays the Germans causing their defeat. The tragic choice between two loyalties leads to a tragic end: Wallenrod commits suicide after having confessed his treason to the Teutonic knights. The book was widely known and discussed, often criticized for its immorality. The impact of this unusual work lasted for several decades serving as a cliche for dozens of revolutionaries. It was radically rejected after the suppression of the January uprising in 1863–1864. However, the thesis that Poles as a nation represent a particular tendency towards betrayal appeared often as a popular motif in political debates in Galicia (where it was raised by the Ukrainian socialist Ivan Franko) and other regional contexts.


Zuzanna Ładyga (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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