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15 February 2013

Wojciech Jóźwiak

Intermarium
Our Place in the World

Category: Travels and Regions
Topics/tags: historiaMiędzymorze

The term “Intermarium” translates the Polish word “Międzymorze” into Latin and can be used in English as well. It means “that lies between seas” or “a land lying between seas”. So its meaning is similar to the term isthmus. However, used as a geographical name, Intermarium refers to the region of Europe that lies between three seas: the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea.

From a historical point of view, Intermarium embraces European nations between Germany and Russia.


Intermarium after the Congress of Vienna, 1815

As we go back to the beginning of the XIX century, we notice that the entire region was divided between four empires: Prussia, Austria, Russia and Turkey. The situation here was in contrast to that of Western Europe where (with little exceptions) nation states – monarchies or republics – had been formed; and to that of the European “middle belt” of Italy and part of Germany, where nations were dispersed into plenty of post-feudal micro-states. At the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna there was no independent political or political-national center in Intermarium. The entire political power was focused outside: in Berlin, Vienna, Petersburg and Istanbul. This lets us speak about this part of Europe as being subjected to colonialism. Intermarium was colonized Europe.

During the XIX century and the years after the World War I the nations of Intermarium were gradually gaining independence: first Serbia in 1816 from Turkey, then Greece 1830, Bulgaria in 1878 and so on. In the XX century the region was dominated again, by outside powers, first by the German Third Reich, and after their defeat, by the USSR. In Yugoslavia and Albania, which stayed outside of the Soviet Zone, communists also ruled but they were “one’s folks” here, not imported from Moscow. Only Finland avoided the totalitarian experiment. (Greeks had their oppresive military junta, 1967-1974.)

More frequently than Intermarium, only its southern part is separated as a specific geographical and historical region, namely the Balkans. The dividing line between the Balkans and the rest of Intermarium follows the northern border of the Roman Empire or, also, the similarly running border of former Turkey – both lines along the Danube with some “bays” in the area of present Romania. The line of the Danube is the oldest historical “fault line” in the region.

The western edge of Intermarium, approximately concurrent to the European waist by the line form Szczecin to Trieste, appeared for the first time as the eastern border of the Frankish Kingdom in the VIII century. It was restored at the end of the Renaissance to form a line between capitalistic, urban and developing West and rural, semi-slave and backward East: the line of the Elbe river. In the XX century approximately the same line became the Iron Curtain.

The eastern brink of Intermarium, the newest of the three, was formed in the XIV century when the Lithuanian duke Gediminas united the western areas of Rus' under his rule laying the basis for future Belarus and Ukraine as the nations separate from (the future) Russia. His grandson Jogaila or (in Polish) Jagiełło became the first monarch of the united Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. The present eastern border of Intermarium can be identified with the borders of Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine. For a long time this line was similar to the borders between Polish-Lithuanian and Swedish domains at the West and Muscovite or Russian at the East. Inside of the Russian Empire, the same line served as the eastern border of provinces where Jews had their right to reside. The line was renewed at the end of the World War I when Germans occupied the territories of revolutionized Russia; with a strange coincidence they came to quite the same line which was the eastern brink of Poland-Lithuania more than two centuries earlier. Some years later this “Jagiellonian” line was restored once again as the border between Soviet Russia and its “sister republics” of Belarus and Ukraine.

The following states belong to Intermarium without doubt: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania.

Greece was free from communism, so it does not meet the main requirement of Intermarium in its historical sense.

An individual case is Austria, being a part of historical Germany, speaking German and having produced a huge part of German culture, and also playing its role as one of the outside powers ruling over other regions and people of Intermarium, and as being free of communism – it cannot be accepted as an Intermarean country. However, on the other hand, geographically Austria evidently belongs to Intermarium and its capital – Vienna – that lies in a node point of the area, can be even considered for a “natural center” of the entire region!

One can also find many similarities between the strict Intermarium and the eastern lands of Germany, which also were occupied by the Soviet communists and the Soviet army, and in an earlier epoch belonged to the “backward rural Europe east of the Elbe” - nevertheless the capital of Prussia and later of German Empire, namely Berlin, has been situated just here.

Besides states in a full sense, there are some other territories here, i.e. Transnistria (separatist quasi-state out of Moldova), Kosovo (mainly ethnic Albanian, “partially recognized independent republic” as Wikipedia defines it) and Kaliningrad Oblast being a Russian exclave since 1946.

The listed states occupy the area of 2,216,000 km2 and have a population of about 190 million people.

The largest language group of this region are Slavs: about 140 million people live in countries with an official Slavic language and most of them speak native Slavic. Corresponding number for the Romance languages is 26 mln, for Ugro-Finnic 10 mln, for Albanian about 6 and Baltic 5. None of these languages is of trans-national significance.


Countries ruled by Jagiellons about 1500
(with those associated with Poland and Lithuania earlier or later)

The most important attempt of uniting Intermarium from the inside was performed by the Jagiellon dynasty in the XV and XVI centuries. Vladislaus II became the king of Bohemia in 1471 and also the king of Hungary in 1490, and ruled in the two united monarchies until his death in 1516, when his son Louis II succeeded. Louis II was killed at the age of 20 in the unfortunate Battle of Mohács, 1526, as a result of which the Turks of Ottoman Empire dominated the Danube area. At the same time the father of Vladislaus, Casimir IV was the great duke of Lithuania and the king of Poland (1440 - 1492), then ruled his sons: John I Albert, Alexander and Sigismund I (until 1548). In this epoch – in Poland remembered as the “Golden Age” of the nation - a great part of Intermarium was a condominium of the two branches of one ruling family.

The Jagiellonian dynasty or Gediminas' descendants originated in Lithuania, which since its very beginning was a multi-ethnical country embracing some languages and even at least five religions – orthodox, catholic, pagan, Jewish and Muslim – so they were skilled in joining the opposites in cultures, religions, traditions and local customs and interests. Their “experiment” of joining the states of Lithuania, Poland, Bohemia (with Silesia) and Hungary (with Croatia and Transylvania) lasted for two generations – but before and after, in Poland and Lithuania, even for four centuries!

After the Battle of Mohács (1526)  the Habsburgs became the rulers and the political “engine” of the Elbe-Danube region (fighting Ottomans), but they were essentially not an “Intermarean” empire, because their main fields of interests and material resources were in the West. Only after they were driven out of the West, finally as the result of the Napoleonic Wars (1815), and liberation of Italy (1866), the Habsburg Empire transformed into Austria-Hungary, a “soft-power” which followed, in some aspects, the Jagiellonian style of ruling. During the next half of the century Austria-Hungary can be referred to as the second attempt of forming a kind of Intermarean commonwealth – but embracing only some 30% of the entire region, not 80% as Jagiellons did earlier.

jagiello.jpg
King Vladislaus Jagiello at a present Polish bill; portreted after his tomb effigy

Maybe all the disasters which met the states and people of Intermarium during the XX century resulted from the lack of an own, Intermarean, integrating political system which would protect the nations of Intermarium against the external imperial powers and their attempts. And this lack of political integration of the region follows the lack of awareness of the common – Intermarean – identity. The community of historical destiny and the fact of belonging to the one historical region has not produced, so far, solidarity of Intermarium. Promoting the awareness of the community and the solidarity of the region let be one of the objectives of our humble website.

Wojciech Jóźwiak

With assistance of Julia Ptaszyńska


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