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GASTLUM, Alejandro

Notes

Une histoire politique des masses en Europe du 20 e sicle


le 27 avril 2009

Environmental Chauvinism in the


Prussian East: Forestry as a Civilizing
Mission of the Ethnic Frontier, 1871-1914
Jeffrey K. Wilson

I.

Introduction to Environmental Chauvinism

Pomeralia (the Polish Corridor) and Tuchel Heath, was annexed by Prussia from
Poland in 1772.

Area seen as the North American Frontiers.


Frederick II spoke of its inhabitants as his Iroquois.
The Slavic Game Poacher perceived as an Indian on the warpath.

Gustav Freytag immortalized Friedrichs arrival on the frontier in his


work Bilderaus der deutschen Vergangenheit, characterizing the
place as an abandoned land, without law, without authority; it was
a wasteland.

The Germans saw themselves as the bearers of civilization of Kultur.


Tuchel Heath, the author described it containing a primitive Slavic
population interspersed with Germans, who more andmore bring
culture here.
The mission for the Germans was to cut agricultural communities
out of the wild woodlands.
Wild forests and swamps were regarded as impediments to culture,
deserving to be swept away by a German colonization that would
bring order to the unkempt landscape and expand productive
agriculture.
There was a culture of barbarism and lawlessness in this frontier.
Idea that no one could travel there without escorts.
State property was put to the torch.
The French retreat from Russia; peasants in this area ambushed
them and buried them there.
Notion of the American wild west.
Prussian authors argued that Prussia had brought law and order to the
region.
Imperial mindset
Belief that the polish lands needed to be torn out of backwardness
and into modernity.

GASTLUM, Alejandro
Notes

Une histoire politique des masses en Europe du 20 e sicle


le 27 avril 2009

Over the course of the nineteenth century, Berlin sought to integrate these territories more
fully into the kingdom through a whole series of measures designed to combat sources of
opposition and strengthen those loyal to the dynasty: abrogating the traditional rights and
freedoms of the towns and nobility and subordinating them to the absolutist state, limiting
the autonomy of the Catholic Church, imposing the German language in schools and
administration, favoring German commercial interests, fostering German cultural
institutions, encouraging the settlement of German colonists, and generally harassing nonGermans with all manner of bureaucratic impediments.

Industrialization:
Germans flocking the cities, and Poles (with higher birthrate)
staying in the land
Fear that the Polish nation would once again rise and cut through
the best areas of Prussia.
Knigliche Ansiedlungkommission in 1886: German program to buy
up failing Polish nobles land which ultimately failed since Polish
nationalists worked hard to block this.
Mastery of the environment by the Germans seen as important to controlling
the people; and therefore, developing a rationalized agricultural economy,
well-tied, to the rest of Germany. Only Germans were seen as having the
capacity of accomplishing this, whereas other nationalities were described as
having failed at controlling the environment and exploiting the land.
The German colonial project, in this manner, was riddled with problems in
regard to the ethnic and national differences and their relation to the state.
The author of the article explains his purpose; Given my focus on
understanding the German colonial project, my purpose here is not so much
to reconstruct the ethnic conflict in this region, but rather to understand the
ways in which Germans perceived this struggle and the means for its
resolution.
***

II.

Prussian Forestry and Peasant Resistance

After failed attempts establishing an agricultural community in the


eastern frontier due to poor harvests, animals leaving, dryness, etc., the
Prussian government decided to adopt a system of reforestation since they
realized that forests helped provided an environment for the establishment
of such a community.
Environmental Chauvinism towards the region: The Germans believed
that the Poles had mismanaged the land and destroyed this once-healthy
woodland. According to Shtte (a fierce advocate of reforestation whose
ideas inspired this program) in medieval times Polish prefects had advocated
mass deforestation projects without restraint.
Frederick II seen as the savior of the Eastern Borderland, but his
actions were less environmental than economical, as he had a vision of this

GASTLUM, Alejandro
Notes

Une histoire politique des masses en Europe du 20 e sicle


le 27 avril 2009

area being Prussias wood reservoir. He was concerned with making Prussia
more productive.
Projects that rationalized the production of wood arose in order to
reforest. Natures design was torn down and in its place, a mathematical grid
of plant life imposed. Some local plant life was deemed inefficient and
replaced with non-native. The plants that would produce the most wood were
preferred. These changes allowed for the deskilling of sylvan laborers
through the standardization of cutting procedures. It also required the
exclusion of the peasantry, who in many places still maintained feudal userights (Servituten) to the woods, for unauthorized disturbances.
As in the American frontier, indigenous people did not appreciate this
encroachment into their way of life. Frederick IIs answer to this threat was to
place the region under his War Department; soldiers and officers of the army
became forestry officials. The Crowns land was inaccessible by locals.
However, the locals were still exposed to the recklessness of the local
population. A serious problem of deforestation followed due to these
peasants who sometimes pillaged tree branches before they were fully
developed. In Kashubia, Berlin finally let go of their hold on the forest in
1808, and finally the forests were chaotically deforested by the local
population. Prussians affirmed that these populations lacked maturity and a
managerial sense. However, this also occurred in lands owned by Germans,
but the Prussians and authors like Shtte overlooked this. Still, the idea
that Germany had to save the Pomeranians from themselves
persisted.
People in the region lived under destitute conditions, above all, the
Kushabians (minority). The poor agricultural soil provided for this; and as the
Prussians saw it, a simple system of agriculture and an inability to properly
utilize their land. The long-term project to reform the landscape and address
this poverty became a justification for German rule.
German authors: Impoverished conditions provide inability to civilize.
Their superstition was considered to be an impediment to civilization, and
also allowed for a strong Catholicism.
Pomeralians in general had viewed the forest for centuries as property
of the Polish king which was for them to use as they saw fit. Pomeralians
engaged in a wider range of activities that went against the law of the
Prussians.
Foresters- symbols of capitalism and German authority. Germans
viewed this strguggle through a nationalist sense. The author of this article
states to be carful not to do this, as nationalism came from above rather
than from below.
Wood Theft
Wood was a source of livelihood by Pomeralians, food, fuel, etc., denied
by the Germans. These were daily necessities. Foresters practiced
techniques for general good, to maximize state profits. As this went on,
theft increased.

GASTLUM, Alejandro
Notes

Une histoire politique des masses en Europe du 20 e sicle


le 27 avril 2009

The same families were usually always the same that committed the
crimes, since they were consistently in need of the woods for their livelihood.
Prussian reports of the theft usually consisted of an official tracking down an
offender, being lied to by them, and exchanging pejorative terms against
them (i.e. these reports are biased and generally supported the idea of the
need to subjugate the Pomeralians). Quote from one of these reports:
appearing as an innocent child, they see to quietly do harm Perhaps he
who shoots you tomorrow kisses the hem of your coat today. Wood theft
continued to trouble the caretakers of the area, and they were unable to
completely eradicate the practice in spite of its decrease after 1893 (when a
reforestation campaign occurred).
Poaching
Since medieval times, the Polish gentry were allowed to hunt as is their
wont in the forests. Prussia sought to eliminate this medieval practice and
favor the right of the landowners and the state while practicing a scientific
method of cultivation.
Many polish gentry were hardly distinguishable from the non-nobles.
Hunting/poaching was a way to supplement their income. German account:
Poaching was a way to get revenge on Prussia.
Arson
Fire undermined Berlin plans for the region. While many farmers
utilized the use of fire for agricultural reasons (provide heather for bees, and
pastures for livestock), the general Prussian feeling was that they were
mostly politically motivated.
1863: the rebellions in Polish Russia. Guerilla tactics and fires were
used.
Schutte: connection between fires and political unrest.
There is proof to both sides, Wreschen School Strike, a fire started and
burned a lot of forest lands. However, one must also consider climate
conditions.
There was a view that Germans countered this reckless lawlessness
and imposed civilization.

III.

Forestry as Civilization: Discipline and


Improvement

Importance of control over the local population was evident; policing


decreased poaching. Strict controls over the forests. In order to coerce the
populations to stop fires, they promised to return some of the pasture fees to
the region.
Disciplining the region was always a priority by the state; public works,
as a mean of civilizing the region and integrating it into Prussia (Bromberg
Canal, etc.). Investment in the regions forestry developed the economy of
the region and after a while, certain industries flourished and were seen as
advanced thanks to Prussian influence (civilization).

GASTLUM, Alejandro
Notes

Une histoire politique des masses en Europe du 20 e sicle


le 27 avril 2009

State forests had grown over time, and the Foresters (who were German
officials in charge of state forests) were mostly people who could be counted
on to push the German agenda. Law of 1898, foresters were obliged to work
for the interest of Germandom. (Officials could be dismissed for sending
children to Polish schools, or voting for Polish candidates). These limitation
imposed by the state, lead to a lower representation of the Poles in the
Reichstag. This also lead to imposition of Germandom on the employees they
hired, they were, for example, not allowed to hire those that did not speak
German.
The tactics used to go forth with forestation, since it was tightly
controlled by the state, Shutte argues that helped to discipline as well since
these tactics were mathematical, rational, and proper. These things,
therefore, civilized, once again, the indigenous peoples of Pomeralia. There
was a belief by German intellectuals that these practices had moralized
the populations. The people were less engaged in stealing ad poaching and
more on working for wages from the migrant workers of the forests (idea by
Borne). German practices as a new way that indigenous life thrived
economically; source of new jobs, land, and wages. Foresters were therefore
seen as champions of this transformation and for reversing the culturally
deprived region. Other commentators state that the populace had for the
most part noticed that the forest was an integral part of the expanding
economy and important for their well being, therefore showing that the
bringers of Kultur had triumphed.

IV.

The Failure of Environmental Chauvinism

Ethnicity was an important factor to the voters of this region.


Furthermore, just because the intrusion by these communities had
decreased, it had by no means disappeared, and would, in fact reappear
during the First World War. During this time, radicals I the region poached in
gangs, killed game, and set fire to many forest lands as well as killed
officials. The Public, in general, also supported these actions, and therefore,
it shows a failure by Berlin/
V.

Conclusion

Through the Prussian lens, there were two problems with Pommeralia;
poverty and resistance. Attempts to rationalize the economy came in
conflict with tradition in the region. Poles were seen as stubborn because of
this. Prussians launched a program in the 1890s of reforestation believing
that it would help increase influence over the region by; the ownership of
huge ethnically contested territory, and the employment of large numbers of

GASTLUM, Alejandro
Notes

Une histoire politique des masses en Europe du 20 e sicle


le 27 avril 2009

Poles an Kashubians. Imposing order (economic rationalism, policing the


land) would Germanize the people.
Modernization was a failure as it was unable to assimilate the Slavs, and
arson was still a problem. The harsh treatment by the foresters spurred
resistance from the population already in place. It would be until the end of
WWI and the reemergence of Poland as well as its annexation of territories
previously owned by Imperial Germany and Russia that the German program
of assimilation would change to racial reordering.