The Jagiellonian Idea and its Implications in 20th Century Polish Geopolitical Thought

Barbara Stankevič


The Jagiellonian idea could be analyzed as an analytical category possessing cultural and spatial meaning: on the one hand, as the territories ruled by the Jagiellon dynasty until the 16th century and the state habitat of the Republic of Two Nations until the end of the 18th century; on the other hand as unique historical multinational structure in Europe. This article seeks to relate the Jagiellonian idea with the 20th century Polish geopolitical thought and to demonstrate how the concept of the Jagiellonian idea itself and its interpretations in Polish memory emerged, as well as to show what influence it had on the construction of the 20th century Polish geopolitical concepts and whether the aforementioned concepts had any place in Lithuania. In order to achieve these objectives, the article analyzes the direction of Polish federalist geopolitical thought which is most likely related to the practical and written heritage of a politician Jozef Pilsudski, a historian Oskar Halecki, an editor Jerzy Giedroyc and, partially, of the inter-war period Vilnius Polish publicists. This area of the analysis has been determined by the belief that the Jagiellonian idea, as a rethinking of historical memory and space, is a significant object of interdisciplinary research dedicated to the creation of the argumentation of the cultural meaning of national geographical space in Europe as well as to the analysis of the European regional geopolitical importance of sovereign states created at the end of the 20th century on the previous territory of the Republic of Two Nations.
The authors and proponents of the Jagiellonian idea characterized the space of the Republic of Two Nations as a civilization space of Western Europe. However, the practical implementation of the idea until the division of the Republic of Two Nations and in the 20th century had its own gaps and even painful long-term consequences, having conditioned the gap from the aforementioned civilization space. O. Halecki, who dedicated his research to that idea, argued that the collapse of the Republic of Two Nations was conditioned by the factor that the Jagiellonian idea had not been fully realized, as in the 16th-17th centuries its third member Russia (present Ukraine) had not been included. J. Pilsudski’s practical federalist project on the realization of the Jagiellonian idea in the inter-war period foresaw the corrections of the conclusions presented in Polish historiography. However, Poland’s war with Bolshevik Russia and the 1921 Treaty of Riga prevented their implementation as they deprived Lithuania of its historical capital Vilnius and parcelled out Ukraine and Belarus, which had just regained their independence. Only as late as after World War II J. Giedroyc, who found himself in emigration, was able to dialectically criticize J. Pilsudski’s previous plans and the Jagiellonian idea itself; therefore, he clearly spoke for the creation of sovereign states of the largest nations: the Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Belarusians, that were part of the Republic of Two Nations. For the Polish it meant the recognition of the claims of civil nationalism of its Eastern neighbours, as only they could return all the states to Western Europe and insure smooth future cooperation under new geopolitical conditions.
Nowadays, thoughts on the Jagiellonian idea have not been completely disrupted in Polish public discourse and obviously they should be significant not only to the Polish, but also equally important to the Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Belarusians in the context of the system of the European Union and European regionalism.


Jagiellonian idea; ULB concept; federalism; historical geography; geopolitics

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236