Poland in the Great Game
Many Poles ask me: “Why are you still writing about Central Asia or the Caucasus? How does it relate to Poland?!” Well, that's not a "researcher's passion", just opposite, I do not have any tendency to be a scientist - but I am truly sure that a careful observation of the situation around Eurasian integration is needed for Poland. Moreover, there are several historical examples from which ignoring seemingly far events had the worst influence on my nation. And that is not only Polish problem...
Polish thinking about history and politics goes between two extremes - from over-superpowered to over-zealousness. On the one hand, some Poles truly believe that the whole World is watching us, that the fate of the World depends on our efforts (and especially on declarations and declamations), and that the attention of the Powers is focused once and again between the Tatras and the Baltic. On the other, there is a tendency opposing - trivializing our actual role and geopolitical position, depreciating all efforts for its improvement and wider international activity. According to this second school we have no significance, so the sooner we renounce all the attributes of sovereignty by ceding them to international organisms - the better, also for our national complexes.
Both schools have historical and current arguments in support of their arguments, some even true. Our international position should be given the right measure by seeing it in the context of the policy of the Superpowers and neighbours, globalization, regional integration tendencies - and indirectly also connected with relations between the main and second geopolitical actors. That is why watching affairs in the Caucasus area, Kazakhstan, but also China, The Eurasian Customs Union, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization or The Collective Security Treaty Organisation - is more sensible than clinging to the already-strong passé European Union, and NATO conducting a contradictory with the Polish raison d'être activity, or boring the whole World with a fairy-tale about “the Intermarium”.
But I am to write, however, about historical evidences, not about the present and future obviousness - because the transfer of the weight of the geopolitical World to Asia and into the Pacific area is just apparent. But let's stay on the obvious. Perhaps the most important geopolitical experience of the Nineteenth Century was the Great Game - that is, the rivalry between Russia and Great Britain on Asian territory spreading across Turkestan, Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, the Chinese and Indian frontiers. To this day, it is the subject of research by diplomats and intelligence all over the World, but is more widely known to admirers of travel-adventure literature, and Rudyard Kipling's novels, or Vasily Vereshchagin's paintings. In Poland, it is known only to a few Central Asian specialists, who are hobbyists, deeply detached from national affairs and interests. What's even worse - often they themselves describe their research field. In Poland (but not only there...), if someone is a specialist in the history of the Nineteenth Century often hardly remember from his studies that there was also the Eighteenth Century, and that next centuries came after. If anyone is able to describe the Gur-i Mir Mausoleum details, it does not perceive any connection between the Samarkand and Polish/European situation. This is a broader phenomenon - a military historian does not know the economy, an economist ignores political factors, a political scientist - all others.
Meanwhile, in Poland, although the Nineteenth Century is still a major period for research and todays references - all sink in details and common patriotic sauce. These skirmishes without importance, monuments and occasional speeches in honour - all obscure the image. On the one hand, we have typical Polish political messianism; on the other, knowledge about the provocative nature of majority insurrectional movements has already been established in more sensible circles. Especially the national democratic school of history (based on works of the Nineteenth Century conservatives from Cracow) - well-described Prussian influences as well as relationships between Polish "patriots" and secret organizations – the Freemasons, the Carbonari and others. If we see signs of activity of other actors, such the Western Powers for the idealists it is only proof of their nobility and selflessness - and for the realists proof that their (but also Poles) were only instruments in the hands of the lodges (and the Semites).
But the situation was more complex. A factor that Polish researchers often missed was the impact on the Polish affairs of the great, and with time the greatest world power, the United Kingdom. English diplomacy (one of the first that deserves the name in modern terms) first met the Poles already in the XV / XVI in the Baltic Sea area.
London (which means - City) also closely observed and interfered with the Polish crisis of the 17th century (Khmelnytsky Uprising – “Swedish Deluge”/Second Northern War – Russo-Polish Thirteen Years' War). In the 18th century this influence became increasingly significant, which was evident especially in the era of the Bar Confederation and the infamous "Prussian Alliance". These are commonly known facts, although they are not always properly weighed. Probably just two British appearances, done their own hands and transparent or almost transparent are common known and widely recognized. First was an attempt to inspire another Polish uprising against Russia during 1877 diplomatic crisis. Second - effective provocation known as the "British guarantees for Poland", which started II World War. However, "British Satan" was also active on the remaining fatal events for Poland, primarily the other catastrophic uprisings in Nineteenth Century. Why? Because of the interests of London in Asia and the course of the Great Game. And here we come to the point of contact between Asian and Polish matters.
In short, the geopolitical interest of England included: the dominance on the Oceans (having a fleet at least twice as strong as the combined two largest other ones); keeping rivals away from Belgium (to block the main possible direction of invasion to the Islands); protection of India (constituting imperial status of London). The role of the Polish November Uprising 1830-1831 in saving the Belgian Revolution is well known. On the other hand, we recognize the correlation between other insurrectionary outbursts in Poland and the Russians' activity in the East, which threatened the British pearl in the Crown. Let's look at the Great Game calendar. The Twenties of the Nineteenth Century are the period of the Russian-British race to Bukhara and Khiva. Of course, not yet for conquest but for gaining commercial influence and getting information useful for broadening political influence in Central Asia. Thanks to such people as Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov or Aga Mehdi - St. Petersburg managed initially to gain a diplomatic advantage. What is more, activity in the Transcaucasia and Middle Asia could finally convince Russian decision makers not to continue to deal with the problems of the European shithole (and to not act as a continental gendarme). Someone could even find that the main (during the decades) direction of |Russian expansion, Constantinople and Straits is a choice, even if not wrong, but certainly overestimated and not the only one to achieve similar strategic effects - the exit to warm Oceans (guaranteeing full sovereignty) and exclusive influence on the area of the Heartland (what means security). Meanwhile, however, the Polish 1830 Uprising broke out and for two decades the British ruled the roost in Asia. When Petersburg was trying to be back on track - London pushed Turks and Frenchmen to the Crimean War, which (for our luck, unsuccessfully) Brits also wanted to drag Poles into. Russia quickly shakes up, cooperating with the Persians, effectively extends own influence in Shymkent, Turkestan, and finally Tashkent. But the British answer is even faster - another uprising in Poland, 1863-64. Finally, after its infamous fall - Russia is almost irresistible marching to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Ili. So then, to stop the Russian victory over Turks - took place the last Nineteenth Century “Polish” (and for real – British) insurgent attempt, already publicly sponsored and organized by the English, and surprisingly and fortunate failed, thanks to the very rare among Poles responsibility of our leaders.
Great Game ended (in this composition of players) after the defeat of St. Petersburg in a War that "the Russians were not allowed to win" against the allies of the English - Japanese. Despite the efforts of politicians - like Sergei Witte and theorists like Esper Esperovich Ukhtomsky - Russia has turned away from Asia (i.e. China, India, Tibet, Afghanistan) throwing into fatal European conflict with Germany. Its effects proved to be beneficial for the reconstruction of the Polish state, but tragic for the World, ancient monarchies and traditional values.
Not only puppets
As a rule, the rivalry of the Powers in Asia had dramatic negative consequences also for Polish national interests. This did not, of course, stem from the diabolical politics of London (and St. Petersburg), but it was a simple consequence of the fact that " 'Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes Between the pass and fell incensèd points Of mighty opposites"… But Poles participated in the Game not only as unaware witnesses, which is proofed by persons as Jan Prosper Witkiewicz or Bronisław Grąbczewski. It is characteristic that especially the first character is also a symbol of the lie and so defective Polish memory of the events of the 19th century in Asia. Witkiewicz (uncle of a famous Polish painter) played a great role in educating the Petersburg elites on the importance of the Afghan issue for the balance of power in Eurasia. Obviously, murdered by the British intelligence - Witkiewicz is in the family legend (dominating in Polish literature) a victim of… the Okhrana (which did not exist at the time of his death, May 1839), “hero taking vengeance on the Russians by provoking a War with the United Kingdom” (of course to be won by the English to resurrect Poland etc.). The descendants of one of the best Tsarist scouts ignore his real title for Glory: the fact that in the Polish interest he supported our Russian brothers in the conquest of Asia. In the eternal rivalry of the Continent and the Ocean Witkiewicz stood in the front line, which is the geopolitical heritage for today and for us all.
Nowadays, although the emanation of Ocean Forces is no longer London, but Washington, the rules of the Great Game, remain the same. The increasing activity of Russians returning to the Central Asia, closely watching the situation in Afghanistan and Iran - sooner or later must face a strong controversy on the part of their American rivals - Poland is a proven tool to distract Russia.
Fortunately, today (as it seems) the instruments remaining in Polish (?) hands seem to be less effective than in the Nineteenth Century and until now no one is able to organise another uprising or war against Russia. But... But provoking anti-Russian attacks, hostile economic declarations, returning to the Promethean fantasies, and attempts to harm Russia in the international arena (such as NATO, European Union and Eastern Partnership) - come from the same packet of tricks from which they were taken 200 years ago.
So, are we, the Poles only some little puppets, or our land sometimes seems to be an alternative, lesser chessboard of an important World Game? Well, maybe both, depends on when and to what extent. Certainly, there are areas more absorbing the World Rulers’ attention than the Central and Eastern Europe. But at the same time, it does not mean that the events taking place e.g. in the Middle Asia do not affect our part of the Globe - and vice versa. Therefore, it is worth knowing what is happening in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan as well as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and the Caucasus. Whether we want it or not - we are all only a part of the Great Game. And this time we should win it together!