Galician Universities as Battlegrounds
for Polish-Ruthenian Rivalry

When changing Habsburg Emperors had to gradually release the universities of Galicia into the hands of Poles, another and even more explosive fault line opened between Poles and Ruthenians. As much as the University of Krakow can be seen as the womb of Polish nationalism, the University of Lviv is a key to Ruthenian national identity. However, whilst the University of Krakow was thoroughly Polonised until 1871, the Ruthenians played the role of a minority in Lviv under Polish dominance.

Note that especially since the revolts of the Polish elite in the 1830ies and 1840ies (most importantly 1846 to 1848), the Habsburgs supported the (predominantly peasant) Ruthenians. This resulted, for example, in Emperor Franz Joseph I′s permission of the Ruthenian language in addition to German at Galician primary schools in 1848. In the second half of the 19th century, this pro-Ruthenian policy of Vienna gained a systemic dimension, as Ruthenian culture was suppressed Russia since 1863 (confirmed and extended in 1876).

Within Habsburg-Austrian Galicia, the West was dominated by Poles; the East of the Kronland, however, was traditionally Ruthenian. National conflicts increased through the Austrian-Hungarian Ausgleich and the Austrian-Polish Ausgleich, as other ethnicities felt a disadvantage or because the division of responsibilities between Vienna and local authorities was unclear. An important date to note is 1879, when the central government in Vienna tried to solve the national quarrels in the Empire with a "Allerhöchste Entschließung" (acts issued by the central government in Vienna - there is another famous one dealing with a similar matter from 1861) once and for all - delegating questions of language and national representation to local authorities. Effectively, this act only fuelled nationalist rivalries, especially in Kronländer of mixed ethnic composition.

In 1900, Galicia had a population of 7.3 millions, of which 54.7 percent were Polish and 42.3 percent Ruthenians. Ten years later, the population had increased to almost 8 millions, with 58.6 percent Poles and 40.2 percent Ruthenians. The Ruthenian influence on Galician politics was equally in decline. However, in eastern Galicia more than 61 percent of the population (in total 5 millions in 1900) were Ruthenian, only 34.6 percent Polish. In addition to a social divide (Polish landowners with Ruthenian peasants working on their fields), this generated enough momentum to ensure a constant pressure for the Ruthenian cause - reflected also in academic affairs. As mentioned before, the minister of the central government in Vienna dealing with Galicia was always a Pole and so was the Statthalter (governor).

By the "Fin de Siecle", Lviv had come a thoroughly Polish town and the university a Polish institutions. Out of 160,000 residents, 120,000 were Polish, 15,000 German / Austrian, only 15,000 Ruthenian (9.5 percent - about a third of them soldiers in service at Lviv′s army base). The situation at the University of Lviv was similarly unfriendly for the Ruthenians: By 1857, 33 percent of the students were Polish and 47.7 percent were Ruthenian (controversially determined by mother tongue). By 1923, the University of Lviv reached its biggest dimension under Habsburg rule with a total of 5,186 students of which 62 percent were Polish and a mere 24 percent Ruthenian.

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Further Reading

Studentenverbindung: Fraternities and Burschenschaft

Wikipedia on the Habsburg Empire (Habsburg Monarchy)

Wikipedia on Nationalism

Sources for 19th century History (key to nationalism)