Alternate History

West Galician Crisis (Twilight of a New Era)

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Although the Federal Solution provided ample political and cultural autonomy in West Galicia, it was not considered enough for some. For many, West Galicia a state created around the majority of Polish nationality by the Federal Solution was a step toward reunification with Poland , recreated after World War I. An important factor was that Krakow was considered a historical polish city, part of the Lesser Poland region. West Galicia was also a refuge for exiles from the Tsarist Russian Empire, and during World War I one of important centers of propaganda for an independent Poland. Local military and men had volunteered in mass to the Polish Legions.

Also, the end of censure made it possible for Polish patriotic press and propaganda to be openly spread. Songs and printed works highlining polish patriotism made its progress among the rural zones.

The beginnings and development of the West Galician Crisis

On the first election for the Diet of West Galicia (1921) the National Democratic Party (NDP, more commonly called Endecja) obtained 36% of the vote, under the simple program of Polska, Teraz! (Poland, Now!). The chief platform of the Endecja was immediate union with Poland. The Endecja became the second major parliamentary group behind the social democrats and ahead of the progressive liberals. In such position it became the arbiter of the State's politics. In the same election they also won control of the city of Krakow and almost half of the county councils. The Endecja tried to force a constitutional crisis by means of parliamentary obstruction and a policy of no cooperation with any state government.

The crisis came to its climax in the early elections of 1924, in which the Endeja and its allies in the Bloc of Polish Unity won the majority (45% of the votes) in the Diet of Galicia and formed the state´s government. It immediately tabled a future vote for independence from Austria-Hungary and union with Poland. Its tactics were to harass and obstruct the opposition and if possible session and vote with the minimum quorum at the Diet. The former policy of recovering Polish language, became under the nationalists government one of offcial exclusion of other languages, facilitated since around 90% of the population spoke Polish. The Ukrainian and German minorities were given the minimal legal and material conditions to exist. Antisemitism, although not an official policy, became widespread. The most abhorrent legislation was tuned down or derogated after the State Constitutional Court ruled its unconstitutionality. Frequent were the vetoes of the State Governor, overruled by the Diet.

The public broadcaster, Krakow Radio (KR) found it an uneasy to maintain its neutrality. The licensed public broadcaster had as one of its obligations the promotion of Polish culture and values, but under pressure from nationalist and the availability of production, it instigated union with Poland.

Nationalism already had a strong and unconditional following among the farmers and the countryside. The intelligentsia became part of it by the migration from Lvi in East Galicia after Federal law in 1921 demoted Polish to an auxiliary language and promoted Ukrainian in the university. The vast majority of professors and students move to the Jagiellonian University and became partisans of union, to many the byword was ‘better in Poland than elsewhere’’.

In 1926 after being approved by the Diet, assisting only the Endecja and Bloc of Polish Unity, the union with Poland, two days of street fights sprung in Krakow and other cities between nationalist and left wing parties. The street cry of nationalists was Polska, teraz! (Poland Now!).

A state of emergency was declared by the Governor, who was immediately removed from his post and a prominent Endecja politician named in his place. Poland had already moved troops to the frontier with Austria-Hungary.

The federal government called on the army to suppress the unrest and ordered the arrest of nationalists for breaching public and federal order and property. However Polish speaking soldiers refused to follow and confronted units loyal to the federal government. What followed was a general strike called by the opponents of the union with Poland, that was countered by militias in favor of unification. A state of civil war had emerged.

Federal units were called in action from West Galicia to disband mutinied soldiers, unarm rebellious groups and restore constitutional order. This movement prompt a general mobilization of the Polish Armed Forces. Fearing an escalation of the conflict diplomatic channels were opened between Poland and Austria-Hungary mediated by a delegation from the League of Nations.

A settlement and end

A settlement was worked out between the parts. A referendum in 30 days would be called putting to vote the unification with Poland. The Federal Parliament would pass the necessary legislation in case West Galicia decides to secede. Poland and Austria-Hungary signed a protocol, that whatever the results of the referendum a demilitarized zone would be establish, the international borders would be respected, there would be no promotion of separatism movements on both sides of the border, and it would be allow freedom of movement (no need of visas) for a period of five years for those that wish to permanently emigrate (mainly Ukrainians, Poles and Germans) to or from Austria-Hungary.

The referendum, having a commission of the LoN as overseer of the ballot and results. The vote was for ‘’Do you agree with the reunification of West Galicia with Poland’’. The results, with 95% of the electoral casting their vote was 65% in favor for unification with Poland and 35% against it.

Details of results referendum (1926)
Choice Votes %
For 1.265.599 65%
Against 681.477 35%
Invalid/blank votes 17.688 -
Total 1.964.764 100%

Being clear the results, Austria-Hungary started the demobilization in West Galicia and the transfer of non-Polish personnel, altogether some Polish soldiers and officers decided to remain in service of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces. They were followed by some of the gendarmerie, frontier police and law enforcement personnel that retrieved to East Galicia.

The three months before the formal union were chaotic in terms of displacement of persons and the removal and relocation of Imperial and Federal bureaucracy. The West Galician government took the opportunity to disband local government bodies, and expel authorities and civil servants that were hostile to the unification. The unstated purpose was to have loyal Poles as authorities and in the State bureaucracy before the formal change of status. An emergency committee of the LoN that had the mission to safeguard migration and transfer was restricted in its operations only to assigned cities. Several private and state schools that had non-Polish languages as the medium of instruction were closed. This became a clear sign, especially in inner districts and those close to Poland, for non-Polish to leave.

The day before the transfer, the First Federal Vice-chancellor presided in the ceremonies of the lowering of the Imperial-Federal flag at the Diet and Palace of the Governor. Notable was the absence of the Governor itself in the ceremonies, who was the same day named provisional Polish Voivod of West Galicia

On the midnight of the transfer date the Polish Army advanced to Krakow and localities at the border of the demilitarized zone. At the same time in all frontier posts, already staffed with loyal personnel, the Polish flag was raised and proceed to establish migration, identification and customs controls.

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