Polish Insurrection of 1863–4

Polish Insurrection of 1863–4. An armed uprising against Russian rule that sought independence for Poland and social reforms. It began in Warsaw in January 1863 and was centered in the Congress Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, with relatively minor activity in Right-Bank Ukraine beginning in early May. Poles living in Austrian-ruled Galicia and Prussia supported the revolt, organized volunteer detachments, and gave financial aid to the insurgents. Despite some successes the Poles were never able to form a regular army; their military activities were largely uncoordinated, and the insurgents generally fought in small, partisan detachments. By mid-1864 the rebellion had died out, although some military engagements continued into 1865.

Support for the uprising was strong among Poles in Right-Bank Ukraine, who were largely from the nobility. But appeals to Polish patriotism could not sway the largely peasant Ukrainian population to join the revolt. In an attempt to gain Ukrainian support the Polish provisional government issued two proclamations in Ukrainian shortly after the insurrection began, ‘Zolota hramota’ and ‘Ruskyi narode!’ In them the provisional government made some national and cultural concessions and promised more favorable emancipation terms to the peasantry than the tsarist government had offered. The attempts were on the whole unsuccessful: most peasants continued to associate the Poles with the lords and the system of serfdom. The Ukrainian intelligentsia largely refused to co-operate, for it could not accept the program to re-establish the borders of the old Polish Commonwealth. Already on the eve of the insurrection a small group of young, largely Kyiv University students (known as khlopomany), many of whom were Polonized descendants of the old Ukrainian nobility, had split from the Polish secret societies of Kyiv (which were in favor of the insurrection) to join the Ukrainian national movement. All the same a small number of Ukrainian peasants and intellectuals supported the rebellion.

The repercussions of the insurrection and its failure were immense. Russian chauvinists, led by M. Katkov, took advantage of the tense circumstances to frighten the government and to discredit liberals and radicals, who were largely sympathetic, at least initially, to Polish claims for more autonomy. Peasant disturbances and the rise in discontent among the radical intelligentsia further frightened the regime. Those factors served to strengthen conservative, chauvinistic, and reactionary tendencies in Russian government and society. They also hastened the decline of Polish influence in Right-Bank Ukraine and, consequently, of the ties of that region to ethnic Poland. During and following the insurrection the regime determined to extend the practice it had begun after the failed Polish Insurrection of 1830–1 of weakening Polish influence in the Right Bank and to Russify the region thoroughly.

The insurrection had repercussions on the nascent Ukrainian national movement. Despite its general antipathy toward the Poles the Ukrainian movement was called a ‘Polish intrigue’ and labeled ‘separatist,’ and some Ukrainian activists were accused of fomenting discontent among the peasantry. Those sorts of charges contributed to the issuing of Petr Valuev's circular of 1863, which forbade publication of popular religious and educational texts in Ukrainian, and the repression of individual Ukrainian activists. The Uniate church, which had been banned in Right-Bank Ukraine following the Polish Insurrection of 1830–1, was abolished in the Kholm region and Podlachia in 1875 after an extended period of persecutions that began in the aftermath of the insurrection.

Rawita-Gawroński, F. Rok 1863 na Rusi (Lviv 1909)
Marakhov, G. Pol’skoe vosstanie 1863 g. na Pravoberezhnoi Ukraine (Kyiv 1967)
—(ed). Suspil’no-politychni rukhy na Ukraïni v 1856–1864 rr., 2 vols (Kyiv–Moscow–Wrocław 1963–4)

Bohdan Klid

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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