The New Era

ID: 115
The so-called New Era policy was an attempt at a Polish-Ukrainian compromise in Galicia in 1890-1894, which temporarily placed Lviv in the center of geopolitical combinations. It was the result of the efforts by Galician politicians, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria-Hungary, Gustav Kálnoky, and representatives of the Hromada society from Kyiv. Even with initial successes and significant achievements, mutual distrust and inflated expectations led to the failure of the compromise policy.


The idea of the need for Polish-Ukrainian mutual understanding in Galicia appeared simultaneously with the beginning of the competition between these national movements during the Spring of Nations in 1848-1849. The first attempt took place at the Slavic Congress in Prague in June 1848. The need for understanding became no less urgent under the conditions of Polish domination during the period of autonomy. However, the idea of such a compromise was tricky due to its general unpopularity, which caused significant political risks.

The New Era was made possible by the change in the geopolitical situation in Central-Eastern Europe and the beginning of the confrontation between Russia and Austria-Hungary due to which Lviv and Galicia found themselves in the focus of the action of important foreign factors. Important participants were Ukrainian figures from Dnieper Ukraine and influential circles in Vienna, primarily the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headed by Gustav Kálnoky.


Motivation of the parties and actors

The impossibility of the Ukrainian movement’s legal activity in the Russian Empire after the Ems Ukaz (decree) forced the Hromada society in Kyiv to look for alternative options. Their eyes turned to Galicia, where the Austrian constitution provided far better opportunities than Russian absolutism. So some Ukrainian figures from Dnieper Ukraine, first of all Volodymyr Antonovych and Oleksandr Konysky, intensified contacts with the Galician Ukrainians in order to turn Galicia into the main center of the national movement, a kind of "Ukrainian Piedmont." For this, it was necessary to first reach a Polish-Ukrainian compromise.

The attention of Vienna, first of all the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Lviv and Galicia was drawn by the worsening of Russian-Austrian relations after the Berlin Congress of 1878. Taking into account a potential conflict with the Russian Empire, the Habsburgs were interested in the absence of inter-ethnic confrontation in the province, which affected the strength of the empire and often led to the emergence of pro-Russian sympathies. The weakening of the Russophiles was to be achieved both by direct pressure (the trial of Olha Hrabar in 1882) and by confronting them with an alternative force, the Ukrainophile populists.

The movement, which arose as a group of young people cultivating the idea of the unity of the Ukrainian people on both sides of the Russian-Austrian border, drew ideological inspiration from the work of Taras Shevchenko and the activities of the Ruthenian Triad and the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, for the first time managed to equal its influence with the Russophiles in the 1880s. Despite significant differences in views on the national identity of the Galician Ukrainians (Ruthenians), they acted together against common opponents, the Poles, in practical politics at that time. However, part of the populists began to realize that such a partnership restrained their own development. In addition, the union with the Russophiles against whom suspicion of disloyalty was growing on the part of the provincial authorities and Vienna cast a shadow over the populists as well. This prompted the search for alternative political paths, which required caution. Therefore, the initiators of the agreement from this environment, first of all Oleksandr Barvinsky and Kost Telishevsky, acted like a secret circle, because any leakage of information about the negotiations would cause a strong public resonance and would disrupt them.

One of the key motivations that prompted some Polish politicians to join the New Era was Vienna's position. However, some of them, primarily Krakow conservatives (so-called stańczycy) were also aware of the potential benefits of an agreement with the populists. They were also alarmed by the popularity of Russophilism. At the same time, as conservatives, they aspired to evolutionary transformations, not revolutionary changes, which ignoring the growing Ukrainian movement could lead to. There were also geopolitical considerations, in particular the usefulness of the agreement for putting pressure on Russia, and therefore for the benefit of the Polish cause in general. Therefore, it is not surprising that the governor of Galicia, Kazimierz Badeni, a stańczyk himself, despite his initially unfavourable attitude to the "Ruthenian cause", energetically set about implementing the idea of an agreement. However, its key co-creators should also include Prince Adam Sapieha, who was not connected to any specific political forces, and Antoniy Khamets, an old friend of Volodymyr Antonovych.



As a result of secret and behind-the-scenes negotiations, a quadrangle "Galician Poles – Galician Ukrainians – Vienna – Ukrainian figures from Dnieper Ukraine" was formed, which made the New Era possible. Lviv became its center, temporarily gaining unparalleled geopolitical importance. It is worth emphasizing that in the case of the first two parties, the agreement was made by small groups of insiders in order to avoid publicity and a potential disruption of the process. Therefore, the compromise of 1890 was never based on the support of all political groups in Galicia.

After a series of meetings of the governor with Barvinsky and Telishevsky, the main conditions for a compromise were worked out. The populists had to break all ties with the Russophiles and to abandon the usual opposition tactics in the Galician Diet and the State Council in Vienna. In return, the governor promised the Ukrainians a number of concessions: the creation of a department of Ukrainian history at the University of Lviv, the opening of a new Ukrainian gymnasium, the so-called “Utraquization” (introduction of bilingualism) in all teachers' seminaries, the practical implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of the Ukrainian language with Polish and German, the return of Ukrainian officials and teachers from Western Galicia to Eastern Galicia, etc. The agreement was of an exclusively verbal nature, which later contributed to speculation.

At the meeting of the Diet on November 25, 1890, Yulian Romanchuk offered in his speech an understanding to the Poles. The governor unequivocally made it clear that it all was happening with his knowledge. This became a signal for the Polish side. At the next meeting, Romanchuk announced the populists’ programmatic principles, which symbolized the beginning of a New Era (this was the name the agreement received in the press immediately after the first speech of the populist leader): 1) the Ukrainians (Ruthenians) as a separate nation; 2) loyalty to the Greek Catholic rite; 3) loyalty to the House of Habsburg; 4) liberalism; 5) improvement of the peasantry situation. With the exception of the last point, these theses had a clear anti-Russophile orientation, as the Poles and Vienna sought. This programme was openly supported by the Greek Catholic Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratovych.


Perception in society

In the late 1880s, the idea of a compromise was in the air in Galicia. In 1890, enthusiasm was added by the conclusion of a German-Czech agreement (the so-called "punctuations"), which seemed to solve the main national problem in the Austrian part of the Habsburg monarchy (Cisleithania). Nevertheless, since the New Era had been prepared secretly, its announcement caused an explosion in the social and political life of Galicia.

Although caught by surprise, like everyone else, the populists as a whole at first perceived the promised "system change" in Galicia in favour of the Ukrainians positively. On the other hand, the Russophiles, in view of the New Era’s clear direction against them, took an uncompromisingly hostile position towards the agreement. The newly formed Ruthenian-Ukrainian Radical Party joined the Russophiles. According to its members, the agreement did not meet the primary socio-economic needs of the Galician Ukrainians and diverted society to secondary national aspects.

From the Polish side, the New Era was opposed by Eastern Galician conservatives, the so-called podolacy. This highlighted one of the fundamental differences between two Polish conservative environments in Galicia. While the stańczycy with their characteristic pragmatism looked for ways to settle the "Ruthenian" issue and generally supported Badeni's "negotiated course", the podolacy were traditionally against any concessions to the Ukrainian movement, their conservative worldview being based primarily on land ownership, Polish "islands" scattered among the Ukrainian peasant "sea." The fear of changes and loss of land determined the attitude of the podolacy towards the Ukrainian movement until the First World War. In the case of the New Era, their possibilities for countermeasures turned out to be limited by Vienna's support for the agreement and the need to maintain, at least outwardly, the usual solidarity of the Polish forces. In general, the New Era was positively viewed by Polish democrats, who during the 1880s often insisted on the need for a compromise with the Ukrainians.



The New Era led to significant (although subsequently often underestimated) gains for the Ukrainian movement. Among the key ones, it is worth highlighting the appointment of Mykhailo Hrushevsky as a professor of the Department of Ukrainian History (its official name was "the second department of world history with special attention to the history of Eastern Europe") in 1894. Hrushevsky's further scientific activity was decisive for the idea of transforming Galicia into a "Ukrainian Piedmont", as the Ukrainians from Dnieper Ukraine aspired to do. The official introduction of phonetic spelling instead of etymological spelling in 1892-1893 was also of great importance. This not only made education easier for the common people but also played a key role in establishing the idea of the unity of the Ukrainian people in Galicia.

A number of other promised "concessions" were also implemented: the so-called “Utraquization” (introduction of bilingualism) was carried out in teachers' seminaries, a number of Ukrainian officials were returned from Western Galicia, a Ukrainian gymnasium was created in Kolomyia, etc. Without the New Era, the trouble-free transformation of the Shevchenko Literary Society into a Scientific Society, the transfer of profitable textbook printing orders to it, and the agreement of the Polish majority in the Diet to provide annual subventions would not have been possible. In the context of this agreement, the creation of the first Ukrainian insurance company Dnister took place. In order to weaken the Russophiles, there were also changes in church politics, although formally it had no relation to the New Era.

The main achievement of the New Era should be considered the demonstration of a compromise policy possibilities for both the Ukrainians and Poles. The latter, especially the Krakow conservatives, thanks to the agreement appeared before Vienna in a favourable light as a factor capable of settling national contradictions in the province. It can be assumed that the New Era played a key role in the career of Kazimierz Badeni, who became the Minister-President of Cisleithania in 1895. Another goal of the Polish elites was achieved, i.e. weakening the Russophiles.



Regardless of the gains, it was far from the full potential of the compromise that was actually used. Kost Levytsky's attempt to head the Ukrainian-language law department at Lviv University ended in failure, primarily due to the tactless behaviour of the applicant himself. Despite the insistence of Badeni and Barvinsky, the university administration sabotaged the appointment of Mykhailo Zobkiv to this position too. The hopes that the populists had for the New Era in terms of taking over control of the People's House from the Russophiles did not come true either. These failures did not contribute to a positive perception of the "deal" policy and brought its end closer.


Crisis and the end

Although the list of achievements of the New Era is considerable, its rejection by both the Ukrainians and Poles was constantly increasing in 1891-1894. There was a discrepancy between the expectations of the agreement participants. The Ukrainian side expected a "change in the system unfriendly to the Ruthenians", which, regardless of all the concessions, never happened. The populists considered the concessions made to be insufficient and, taking into account the Ukrainian movement dynamics, logically sought new concessions. At the same time, even the implementation of the promised steps was often delayed. Although it was far from always the fault of the Polish side, the Ukrainians perceived it as another proof of Polish "insidiousness." On the other hand, among Polish politicians, even the stańczycy who were loyal to the New Era, not to mention the podolacy, believed that the Ukrainians should have been satisfied with the concessions made. As of early 1894, after the implementation of the main points of the agreement, the New Era actually exhausted itself. Added to this was the loss of interest on the part of the government as a result of a temporary improvement in Russian-Austrian relations.

The populists’ discontent was fueled by the strong opposition to the New Era in the province. The Russophiles and radicals, as well as, quite often, individual populists (for example, Yevhen Olesnytsky) organized numerous assemblies against the agreement and its initiators. Fearing to lose political ground, more and more populists were inclined to abandon the policy announced in 1890. As a result, they split into two camps: supporters of the "deal" line continuation (Oleksandr Barvinsky, Anatol Vakhnianyn) and supporters of the return to the opposition in alliance with the Russophiles and radicals (Yulian Romanchuk). The formal and logical end was the general assembly of the Narodna Rada society in May 1894. The absolute majority supported Romanchuk, while the minority led by Barvinsky still believed in the perspective of the compromise policy initiated by the New Era and launched a separate Christian-social political movement.



The New Era became one of the most notable events in the political life of Lviv during the "long 19th century", as the city found itself at the center of political combinations with the participation of many important "players" of Central and Eastern Europe. Over time, however, considering it a mistake became a sign of "good manners" among Ukrainian politicians. Olesnytsky believed that, as a result of the agreement, the populists became politically weaker, while the Russophiles became stronger. This point of view lacks logic, since the institutions and opportunities gained thanks to the New Era became the foundation for the further strengthening of the Ukrainian movement and, first of all, the populists themselves.

The agreement of 1890 demonstrated that compromises could be beneficial for both the Poles and Ukrainians. At the same time, its failure showed the significant flaws of the both political milieux. Polish politicians lacked a coherent vision of the "Ruthenian question." Combined with the fear of losing the so-called "state of possession" (that is, power) in Galicia, this caused the impossibility of recognizing the need for further concessions. The New Era also highlighted the political immaturity of the populists. Accustomed to being in opposition, they could not assess the potential benefits of the agreement, and above all, they lacked strategic thinking. It also turned out that in the early 1890s most of them were not ready for a complete break with the Russophiles. Therefore, the very first difficulties of the New Era began to incline them to a more familiar, and therefore comfortable, road. However, in the processes generated by the agreement, it is also worth emphasizing the positive: it gave impetus to the further differentiation of Ukrainian politics and the creation of new parties.

Despite all realized or potential benefits, the fate of the New Era was logical for its time. The agreement was a product of the Habsburg monarchy’s political climate of the 1880s. It was the era of  Minister-President Eduard Taaffe’s governance in Cisleithania (1879-1893). He managed to ensure more than a decade of stability, which largely formed the basis for the future myth of the Habsburg monarchy. Taaffe's method was to arrange compromises that neither side was completely satisfied with. The New Era and the aforementioned "punctuations" fall under this principle. They also illustrate the bankruptcy of this policy in the early 1890s, as not only the Polish-Ukrainian but also the German-Czech agreement failed. So, in a broader context, the failure of the New Era became a signal of a new era in social and political life, where compromises were increasingly giving way to radicalism, especially on a national basis.

Related Places


Vul. Universytetska, 1 – Lviv Ivan Franko National University main building

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Kazimierz Badeni (1846-1909) — a conservative politician, the governor of Galicia in 1888-1895, the minister-president of Cisleithania in 1895-1897;
Oleksandr Barvinsky (1847-1926) — a conservative politician, a teacher, a historian, the leader of the Ukrainian Christian-social movement (from the late 19th century);
Gustav Kálnoky (1832-1898) — Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria-Hungary in 1881-1895;
Yevhen Olesnytsky (1860-1917) — a politician, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian National Democratic Party, a lawyer, an activist of the cooperative movement, chairman of the Silsky Hospodar society;
Yulian Romanchuk (1842-1932) — a politician, the longtime leader of the populist movement, later one of the leaders of the Ukrainian National Democratic Party.



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Author  Roman Lekhnyuk
Editing by Vasyl Rasevych
Translation by Andriy Maslyukh