To Kill a Spy: Radical Nationalism in fin-de-siècle Europe
My current book project focuses on a political murder from 1910 that shows how mass politicization in the early 20th century came with some surprising consequences.
In August 1910, a nationalist named Stanisław Trudnowski killed another man in broad daylight in the center of Cracow, then located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The sound of gunfire attracted a crowd who subdued the fleeing assassin, and amidst blows to his body, Trudnowski yelled out: “Don’t grab me! I killed a Russian spy and saved the Polish nation!” Cracow lay at the crossroads of three empires, close to the borders with Russia and Germany. Polish-speaking people were spread out among these different entities in the imperial borderlands of Europe. The victim, Rybak, was a Russian subject and the murderer a German subject, though both had recently moved to Cracow from Russia. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Trudnowski became involved in a Polish nationalist workers’ party, where he was indoctrinated and radicalized. Five years later that same political party ordered him to kill a man and he obeyed. He committed the crime shamelessly and claimed that he had done a great service “to Poland” (though no such country existed) and to the Polish nation by eliminating a traitor from their midst. Discussions of the trial across the political spectrum were sympathetic to this nationalist justification. The people of Cracow – and the wider Polish-literate public – sided with Trudnowski’s worldview, and a jury acquitted him of all charges. Trudnowski walked free. Thus the nature of the crime and the acquittal did not just reflect Trudnowski’s views of who the victim was, but the whole society accepted this defensive, exclusivist nationalist politics, couched in an active struggle against the nation’s enemies.
Economic History in East-Central Europe
History of Economic Thought