The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century
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The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century

Volume 1: Challenges of Modernity

Włodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec, Joachim von Puttkamer, Włodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec, Joachim von Puttkamer

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eBook - ePub

The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century

Volume 1: Challenges of Modernity

Włodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec, Joachim von Puttkamer, Włodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec, Joachim von Puttkamer

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About This Book

Challenges of Modernity offers a broad account of the social and economic history of Central and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century and asks critical questions about the structure and experience of modernity in different contexts and periods.

This volume focuses on central questions such as: How did the various aspects of modernity manifest themselves in the region, and what were their limits? How was the multifaceted transition from a mainly agrarian to an industrial and post-industrial society experienced and perceived by historical subjects? Did Central and Eastern Europe in fact approximate its dream of modernity in the twentieth century despite all the reversals, detours and third-way visions? Structured chronologically and taking a comparative approach, a range of international contributors combine a focus on the overarching problems of the region with a discussion of individual countries and societies, offering the reader a comprehensive, nuanced survey of the social and economic history of this complex region in the recent past.

The first in a four-volume set on Central and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century, it is the go-to resource for those interested in the 'challenges of modernity' faced by this dynamic region.

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Publisher
Routledge
Year
2020
ISBN
9781000711011

1

Urban and rural development in Eastern Europe

Błażej Brzostek and Ivana Dobrivojević Tomić
In 1908, a group of farmers from a village near Warsaw went on an educational trip financed by a large research foundation, the Józef Mianowski Fund. They travelled from a province of the Romanovs’ empire to a province of the Habsburgs’ empire, from the former Republic of Poland to the former Czech kingdom. One of the farmers, a certain Teofil Kurczak, published his impressions. A train transported the peasants across the border to Cracow, the historical capital of Poland, where they were received with patriotic warmth and were given accommodation for the night. The next day, with their faces pressed to the train’s windows, they observed the landscapes of Moravia. In Kurczak’s words:
We see, as far as the eye can reach, flat crops everywhere, grains are swaying evenly like a wave on the sea … from border to border, as if perfectly trimmed, they stand in a solid wall that stretches across the entire field. How would our fields – which barely yield anything in the furrows and burn along the ridges – compare to these? They would be like squalor next to affluence! Oh, you poor, backwards Polish peasant! … The villages we see up close and far away on the horizon are all white with houses built of brick and stone and, as we found out later, roofed with slate. At first we found it difficult to believe that these were villages, just town after town, and as for poor villages or wooden houses, especially those covered in straw – you simply don’t see them.
Their impressions intensified during the two-week visit. Kurczak described village schools, the robustness of crops and cattle, the opulence of houses, the democratic relations between people (‘they don’t kiss women on the hand. Equality is equality’). The name of the Moravian town of Vyškov sounded the same as Wyszków, a town near Warsaw that was well known to Kurczak. But there was a difference:
In ours it’s dirty; foul-smelling sewage flows through the gutters; in the alleys, in the hallways, in the shops and stalls, filth assaults a passer-by’s nose like some kind of acid … and here – there’s cleanliness everywhere, sewage flows through underground sewers … all of the streets are lit with gas lamps; here and there, electric light can even be seen in the windows … Houses, some of them a few stories high, with large windows, with very clean hallways, painted … In a word, the exemplary order of the civilized world can be seen everywhere here, while our towns present such a vision of poverty, slovenliness and mud that only hogs feel content there’.1
This ‘order of the civilized world’ was one of the aspirations taking root, clearly, in the consciousness of various social groups. While the elite considered the Western world as a model for civilization, for the peasant population it was, quite simply, the ‘world’, which could reveal itself even on a trip from Wyszków to Vyškov. The indicators of civilization were recognized in the quality of the crops, village houses, peasants’ clothes and the cobblestones on the streets of towns. This concept also encompassed the character of relations between villages and cities, as well as the extent and character of urban development – reflecting social and economic order, the effectiveness of administration and probably a certain quality of life sometimes measured today by indices such as the World Happiness Report.
There were enough images of overpopulated, impoverished villages and small towns stinking of sewage in the vast areas of Eastern Europe to imagine the ‘world’ as their opposite. This world built industry, allowing emigrants from villages to earn money for food and impressing newcomers. In 1901, Dimitrie Marinescu, a typesetter from Bucharest, was awed by the factory chimneys he saw in the suburbs of Budapest. Of course, a large city also needed, in addition to chimneys, a rich history and monuments of national culture, aspects that other chimney-endowed cities – Lodz, in the Kingdom of Poland, springs to mind – nonetheless lacked. Budapest, as the capital city of a nation, put great effort into displaying attributes of this kind, with the aim – as Maciej Janowski writes – of diminishing the ‘prestige deficit’.2 In this respect, it achieved the highest status among all of the cities of Eastern Europe. In the eyes of the typesetter Marinescu the city appeared as a ‘temple of beauty and civilization’.3
The splendour of the kingdom’s capital was meant to illuminate the nation. Neighbouring capitals that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century – Bucharest, Sofia and Belgrade – also constructed public buildings, drew up boulevards and established parks, though with less flair than Budapest, which dared to rival Vienna itself. In the local context, all of these cities could be considered metropolises, though they were not among the world’s largest capital cities. At the turn of the twentieth century, the yardstick for being a large city was to have a million inhabitants. London was far beyond all of the others with 4.7 million (6.4 including the suburbs), while Paris had 2.7 million (3.3 with the suburbs). Of the capital cities that dominated the region that interests us, the smallest was Istanbul, which had reached one million inhabitants by 1900. Petersburg had 1.4 million residents (the same as Tokyo and Manchester), Vienna 1.7 million and Berlin 2.7 million (including its suburbs), which ranked it among the five largest cities of the world. At this time, Sofia and Belgrade each had about 70,000 inhabitants, and Bucharest 280,000. Budapest, this ‘temple of beauty and civilization’, was smaller than Vienna by one million inhabitants, but its population of 700,000 gave it a metropolitan status in the region. Warsaw was also nearly this size, but it lacked the qualities of a capital city. However, the size alone of the nation’s primary city held an important place in people’s imaginations. A Polish woman from Galicia wrote in 1911: ‘We are a nation that has no worth in the world. We have disappeared … And yet … Warsaw … A certain pride overcomes me when I’m in this city. Immensity, greatness, this language of mine heard everywhere, these hard-working hands of ours, this vast number of us, all together … The shame which made me hang my head in the face of other nations has vanished’.4
1 Teofil Kurczak, Pierwsza wycieczka włościan polskich do Czech i na Morawy w r. 1908-ym [Polish peasants’ first journey to Bohemia and Moravia] (Warsaw: Władysław Pepłowski, 1909), 9–10, 90–91.
2 Maciej Janowski, ‘Stolica na peryferii: specyfika rozwoju wielkiego miasta w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej’ [The capital on the periphery: characteristic developments of the great cities in East Central Europe], in Drogi odrębne, drogi wspólne: Problem specyfiki rozwoju historycznego Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej w XIX-XX wieku, ed. Maciej Janowski (Warsaw: IH PAN, 2014), 368.
3 Dimitrie Marinescu, Impresiuni de voiaj culese din Austro-Ungaria, Germania, Belgia şi Franţa [Travel impressions collected from Austria-Hungary, Germany, Belgium and France] (Bucuresci: Tipografia ‘Speranţa’, 1904), 3.
4 Marcelina Kulikowska, Z wędrówek po kraju [From wanderings through the country] (Cracow: Spółka Nakładowa ‘Książka’, 1911), 132–33.
Many of the nations of Eastern Europe did not have their own capital city. Some did not really have cities to speak of, with the overwhelming majority of the population living in villages, subject to the economic and political domination of the privileged few, as in the case of the Ruthenians in Galicia and the Slovakians in Upper Hungary. This constituted one of the many complications in relations between the village and the city and influenced the image of urbanity and the development of nationalism. The defining feature of these concepts was often an idealized, post-romantic image of a rural community most fully expressing the ‘national spirit’, in opposition to the city. Rivalry was very much alive between indigenous concepts, invoking the peasantry and countryside as the embodiment of a healthy society, and modernizing ones in which urbanization held the leading position, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century.
The desire for the ‘order of the civilized world’ was a profound aspiration of the elite. Villages, at least in terms of health and hygiene, were expected to try to resemble towns, and towns to follow the model of cities. The second half of the twentieth century, marked by the consequences of war, represented the triumph of modernization, both in endeavours to undertake material reconstruction (and restructuring) and in the ideology of so-called communist regimes. The triumph was perhaps superficial, especially against the backdrop of the various transformations that were occurring in Western Europe. The accelerated development that was inscribed in national plans was meant to free the East from economic dependence, primarily through the building of its own industrial base in conjunction with swift urbanization. Would it be, however, ‘urbanization without modernization’?5
Dominated by the development of heavy industry and marked by constant shortages, a centrally controlled economy was not conducive to the development of the services that constituted an important element of urbanization. It was not able to satisfy the long-term needs of the masses who, in most countries of the region, flowed into cities, nor to fulfil the requirement (exhibited most strongly, perhaps, in Romania and Bulgaria) of effacing the cultural gap between the village and the city. Overpopulation in villages decreased due to increased migration, and poor areas shrank. At the same time, however, villages became based on collectivized farming, which ended in most countries at the beginning of the 1960s. The result was the perpetuation of economic dependence on agriculture and the dominance of cities, the supplying of which became a strategic goal of political leaders. However, in places where collectivization was permanently halted (Poland and Yugoslavia), villages remained areas of private economy in nations geared towards collective ownership. While in Western sociology the established opposition of the concepts of ‘city’ and ‘village’ could be challenged (for example, by Manuel Castells in The Urban Question, 1982), these concepts seemed to remain as antithetical in Central and Eastern Europe as before.6 It is true that traditional folklore had survived in very few of its regions and that radio and television – information carriers that people had not even dreamed of at the beginning of the century – were reaching villages everywhere, serving as an indication of the massification of culture. However, in an economic and psychological sense, the village was still marked with the stigma of being second-rate, dependent on the city and ‘backwards’. The road to the city remained a road of liberation, almost like in traditional cultures. On the other hand, cities were often plunged into deep crisis in the 1980s and remained dependent on villages, which supplied cities through unofficial routes with various goods – goods that were attractive in an economy plagued by shortages.
5 Jan Węgleński, Urbanizacja bez modernizacji? [Urbanization without modernization?] (Warsaw: Instytut Socjologii UW, 1992).
6 Wanda Patrzałek, Społeczne i ekonomiczne relacje miasto-wieś w okresie realnego socjalizmu i zmian systemowych w Polsce [Social and economic relations between city and village during the period of real socialism and the regime change in Poland] (Wrocław: Uniwersytet Wrocławski, 1996), 8–9.
The following text is an attempt to investigate the relationship between the village and the city in Central and Eastern Europe – a relationship informed by both the real socio-economic standards of living and by the collective ideas about them.
We begin by outlining elements of the situation at the beginning of the twentieth century, when traces of feudal structures, scarcely noticeable in large cities, were still present in the provinces. These characterized, to a great extent, the mentalities of the landed gentry and the peasantry, groups tended more towards continuity rather than towards change, although – as shown by the example of Teofil Kurczak – there existed inclinations towards modernization among farmers (although few peasants were able, like Kurczak, to write accounts of their travels). Set against this conservative disposition towards preserving the existing resource of the land, which was often shrinking (in the case of landowners who were in debt and peasants who had to divide their fields), the expansionistic mindset of the middle-class elite contrasted sharply. This elite had already previously conquered the economic and cultural space of the West, as noted by Charles Morazé.7 The bourgeoisie created a new type of life path, marked by a desire for success. Although the traditional East was expected to differ from the realities of England, France and Germany through its ‘lack of a middle class’, this group gained leading standard-setting importance there, as well. The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by numerous tensions connected with the aspirations of various social groups. The example of advancement demonstrated by the middle class had an effect on the attitudes of workers and even some peasants, who were distancing themselves from the conservative mindset and turning towards a vision of change for individual and communal fates.
Next, we attempt to depict the various consequences of this movement, into which collective ideas were inserted. It ge...

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