Le Point: This is how Victor Hugo told Russian soldiers not to crush freedom-craving Poles in 1863


In 1863, the French novelist Victor Hugo (1802-1885) called in a letter to the Russian forces to stop the massacres of the Poles who were fighting for their freedom, but his words had no effect, and this message resembles the letters of European solidarity with Ukraine in the midst of its war Russia is currently on it, it chronicles the limited influence of writers and poets on major political events at the time.

The events known as the “January Revolution” in the Kingdom of Poland were an armed rebellion that sought to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from Russian rule, but was violently suppressed by Russian forces in 1864, and despite the support of European powers such as France, Britain and Austria for the Catholic Poles, their desire to maintain peace with Russia This has limited support for rebel fighters.

Writer Francois Guillaume Lorraine says, a report Published by the French newspaper “Le Point” (le point), the French poet and writer Hugo publicly expressed his support for 3 foreign causes: Mexico attacked by France during the reign of Napoleon III, the Italian leader Garibaldi who wanted to force Rome to wage war on Austria, and the Poles who rebelled Against the Russian occupation beginning in 1863.

The writer shows that Hugo’s support for the Polish cause is not strange to him. In 1831, during the First Uprising in Poland, Hugo was one of the most active members of the Franco-Polish committee that considered “all of France is Polish”.

In a poem concluding his collection Autumn Leaves, published in 1831, Hugo highlights the events, criticizing the Russians sharply.

The uprising against the Russians

In February 1863, while the Polish rebel forces responded with arms to the forced conscription by order of the head of the Russian civilian government in mid-January 1863, the situation was not yet hopeless for the Poles who were trying to wage a guerrilla war against the occupier where about 100,000 men were stationed in the Polish part.

At that time, Stefan Bobrowski, head of the Polish Provisional National Government, who promised to liberate the territories, wrote two letters “to the Lithuanian brothers and the Russian brothers” urging them to join them in the rebellion.

The Russian socialist libertarian thinker Alexander Herzen, who knew Hugo, sent a letter to the latter in exile on Guernsey (now the British Crown) asking for help: “Big Brother, help us! Say the word civilization.” This means that the invitation was not directed by the Polish side, but by a Russian opponent of the Tsarist political system.

“universal conscience”

The author of Les Misérables was their universal conscience, and he promptly responded by writing this letter, which was subsequently published in various French and European newspapers. And he sent a long letter to the other end of Europe, where the fighting was raging.

Hugo appealed to the humanity of these Russian soldiers and bet on the goodness of their hearts by reminding them that they are also weak and must not abandon the cause of “civilization,” which means that Herzen’s message was well received.

'Polonia (Poland), 1863', by Jan Matejko, 1864. Pictured is the aftermath of the failed January 1863 Uprising.  Captives await transportation to Siberia.  Russian officers and soldiers supervise a blacksmith placing shackles on a woman (Polonia).  The blonde girl next to her represents Lithuania.  Copyright: public domain 1863–1864 Uprising, drawing by Artur Grottger Copyright: public domain https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1118227/reburial-of-1863-uprising-leaders-pivotal -moment-in-relations-of-lithuania-poland-and-belarus
A painting depicting the aftermath of the failed January 1863 Uprising as Polish captives await transport to Siberia (websites)

Hugo largely followed the line of the later Polish-German poet Johannes Bobrovsky (1917-1965) who called on the Russians to rebel. Hugo used the word “butcher” to describe the “tsar”, a description similar to US President Joe Biden’s recent reference to his Russian counterpart, Putin, and Pope Pius IX, the Catholic, condemned the anti-religious “cruel king”‘s attempts to end the “Catholic religion of the Poles”.

Like all the nations of Europe, France did not help Napoleon III in 1863 the Poles, and it is clear that Hugo’s letter had no effect, and the massacres increased again during 1863 with the execution of hundreds of rebels and the deportation of nearly 40,000 Poles to Siberia, which deepened The hatred of the Poles towards the Russians, according to the French newspaper.

Until his death Hugo remained associated with the Polish cause, repeating before his death in 1885, “I am Polish, because I am French… Poland will be victorious. If it dies forever, it means the death of all our European peoples because Poland is part of the heart of Europe.” He said many other words that are still alive today like this message, similar to European letters of solidarity with Ukraine today.

1863–1864 Uprising, drawing by Artur Grottger Copyright: public domain https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1118227/reburial-of-1863-uprising-leaders-pivotal-moment-in -relations-of-lithuania-poland-and-belarus
Russian soldiers after crushing the uprising of the Poles in January 1863 (websites)

Hugo wrote in his letter:

To the Russian army, you Russian soldiers, you will become men again This glory is now given to you, seize the opportunity. And while there is still time, listen… officers of noble heart, if you continue this savage war this whim may You disgrace the Poles and deport them to Siberia, you soldiers, yesterday’s serfs and today’s slaves, torn violently between your mothers, your fiancées, and your families.”

The letter added, “You are slave subjects, suffering from ill-treatment and malnutrition, condemned for many years and indefinitely to military service, the most difficult military service in Russia than anywhere else. When you are given the choice between Saint Petersburg, where the tyrant is, and Warsaw, where freedom is.”

“If in this decisive struggle you ignore your duty, your unique duty, if you ignore the brothers, if you cooperate against the Poles with their executioner and executioner against the Kaiser, if you are oppressed and have learned no other lesson from oppression but the support of the oppressor, if your misfortune makes you ashamed, and if you are the ones who Carrying the sword, you were in the service of tyranny, which is like a huge but weak beast that crushes you all, and if you, the Russians, as well as the Poles, have blind and deceitful strength.”

Hugo said in his letter, “And if, instead of turning around and confronting the butcher of nations, you would rather be cowards who, under the superiority of weapons and numerical superiority, overwhelm these desperate and heroic populations who demand the first rights, which is the right to their homeland, if you complete the mid-19th century the assassination of Poland. If you do this, know, men. The Russian army that you will fall, which seems impossible even under the American gangs in the south, you will execute the civilized world!

The French poet and novelist concluded his message by saying: O Russian soldiers, take inspiration from the Poles, do not fight them.

Poland is not the enemy, it is the example.

Victor Hugo

Hotville House, February 11, 1863.


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