CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Today, demographers and political scientists amply recognize the role of statistics in state-building. And yet in a Central Europe divided among a handful of empires and featuring a complex constellation of ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities, relations between the statistical apparatus and the organization of the state were neither simple nor linear. This book by Morgane Labbé offers a detailed analysis of the production and uses of nationality statistics in this context. Based on remarkable archival research, it highlights how different actors at various levels constructed, appropriated, and mobilized numbers to serve their political projects. At the top were two opposing political models: one, in Prussia and then Germany, aimed at unification and homogenization, measuring diversity to better protect against it; the other, in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires, consecrated the multiplicity of nationalities and minorities. Yet in both cases, rulers and ruled alike used the same tools, maps, and statistics to assert, see, and count themselves, ‘providing both states and populations with resources to give form to their conquests or their liberation’ (p. 17).

2The tormented history of a Poland divided between the three great empires serves as a narrative thread uniting the work and as raw material for the analysis of the foundations and uses of nationality statistics. The book’s starting point, the revolutionary events of 1848, was a pivotal moment in the definition of nationality, between the birth of a patriotic imaginary and the cartography of national languages. Its endpoint, the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, was a moment when the categories and statistical measures developed in the meantime were put to the test—the first time an international conference was based on the work of experts. Through a comparison of the functioning of two expert committees, French and American, Labbé shows the different uses of statistical evidence and how it was taken up by diplomats themselves in service of divergent political arguments. The author then shows ‘how diplomatic agreements on the borders of Poland inextricably blended scholarly conventions and political trade-offs’ (p. 265).

3The period between these two points saw the slow maturation of rival statistical apparatuses, which nonetheless faced the same questions on the ambiguities and difficulties of defining and measuring minorities. The unification of the German Reich marked a turning point in the use of statistics and their relationship to otherness: the distinction of certain groups (by language and confession) served a project of Germanization and unification of the empire and of constructing the other (principally Poles and Jews) as different and foreign. But it was really during the First World War, following the conquests in the east, that German military forces had the opportunity to implement policies of Germanization and population displacement. In doing so, they relied on the work of statisticians and pressed for new censuses and statistics.

4Importantly, the book shows how a Polish statistical apparatus—or rather three, in a time when no Polish state existed—was gradually established. All three of the empires that divided Poland amongst themselves developed measurements and observations of Polish populations. While these statistics were most often directed at oppressive aims, they were nevertheless used by Polish activists to create a sort of ‘Polish statistics’. Scholars and specialists in Polish universities succeeded in mobilizing the statistics produced by the empires to develop the embryo of a state apparatus, as shown for example by the creation of statistical yearbooks. The war finally represented the occasion to affirm their science, putting their accumulated knowledge at the service of a future Polish state.

5This rich volume is essential not only for anyone interested in population policies in Central Europe but for all those who want to understand how ‘quantitative data on the ethno-national components of the population’ (p. 171) are constructed and used.

Uploaded on on 06/01/2022
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