Tim Buchen, Antisemitismus in Galizien. Agitation, Gewalt und Politik gegen Juden in der Habsburgermonarchie um 1900. (Studien zum Antisemitismus in Europa, Vol. 3.) Berlin: Metropol Verlag 2012. 384 pp., ISBN 978 3 86331 082 0, € 24.


In this remarkable and often fascinating study, Tim Buchen provides a comprehensive interpretation of the wave of anti-Jewish violence that convulsed the largest Crown Land in the Habsburg Monarchy in the summer of 1898. The first section of Buchen’s introduction, nearly 50 pages long, explores the creation of Galicia-Lodomeria, analyzing the partitions of Poland, the social and political relations between the rural Polish and Ruthenian (Ukrainian) populations, the landowning nobility (szlachta), Jewish traders and merchants and the provincial and central governments in the Monarchy.[i] The growing marketization of economic relations, which accelerated after the peasants’ revolt of 1846 and the revolution in 1848, had a lasting impact on social relations in largely rural Galicia. One consequence was the increasing role played by nationalist discourses, both among Poles and among Ukrainians in the eastern area of the province. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the 1867 Constitution increased the autonomy enjoyed by the various provinces in the Habsburg Monarchy, thus expanding the available political room for maneuvre at the provincial and national level. Great energy was now poured into the electoral struggle for seats in Parliament. In Buchen’s view, political agitation led to a significant intensification of social, religious and cultural antagonisms. The granting of equal rights to the Jews and the impression that ‘the Jews’ were benefiting more than others from the processes transforming the countryside—for example by acquiring ever more land and property—contributed to a mounting perception that the relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish population was shifting, to the marked and continued disadvantage of the non-Jews. This motif, the end of what Rosa Lehmann has described as the ‘ambivalent symbiosis’ which had evolved over the course of centuries, is of central importance for Buchen‘s study.

The second half of the introduction presents the crucial points of his view on the development of antisemitism in Galicia. He rejects the notion that inter-ethnic violence around 1900 can be adequately explained by changes in ideology: ‘A newly emergent modern ideology played no role in these conflicts. The analytical concept of antisemitism [...] cannot be applied when it comes to Galicia’ (pp. 50 f.). He also takes the view that there is little value in assuming the existence of ‘antisemitic social substrata’ underlying the outbreak of anti-Jewish violence. Rather, he proposes writing a ‘praxeological history’ of antisemitism by means of a ‘thick reconstruction’ of the violence and the discursive acts, spoken and written, that preceded it. Such a perspective does not conceive of antisemitism as an ideological formation, a mental attitude or mindset, a religious prejudice or composite of all of these. Rather, using a praxeological and conceptual prism, it is viewed as a process in which three elements are dominant: agitation, violence and politics. Buchen seeks to separate out analytically and then describe in depth the highly diverse and complex relationship between the discourses articulated by a highly differentiated group of actors varied groups of actors—to which a multitude of factors contributed, among them rumours (here analyzed brilliantly), newspaper articles, pamphlets, reports, court proceedings, speeches in Parliament and parliamentary petitions—and concrete actions, including direct violence on the other. This theoretical section (pp. 53-91) stresses the need to identify and interpret the close nexus between discourse and action: ‘The phenomenon of antisemitism should not be viewed as an actor but rather as a social process in which discourse and action interact, mutually imbuing each other with meaning’ (p. 54). This reads like a reference to the theory of the construction of power as developed, for example, by Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality

Central to Buchen’s first chapter ‘Agitation’ is his reconstruction of the debates  about Jewish emancipation in Galicia and their role in the formation of the different political camps here. In his view, both Christian and secular agrarian parties rooted in the rural Polish and Ukrainian communities now attempted to mobilize ever broader strata of the electorate. They abandoned the Liberal-Conservative constitutional consensus and, increasingly, oprated with conceptions of exclusion encoded in Christian or nationalist terms. As Buchen notes: ‘Polarization through election meetings marked by violence was the performance of the dissolution of the old order and the loss of agrarian unity and strength…At the same time, “the Jew” and “Jewishness” became more diffuse, in a sense a code word for everything inimical as such, the enemy’ (pp. 141-2). This process of radicalization peaked in the crafting of the notion of ‘asemitism’ which articulated the goal of the far-reaching exclusion of anything Jewish from the life of the non-Jewish world, so all-embracing that it was no longer necessary even to struggle against it (pp.156-166).

The next chapter, ‘Violence,’ examines the actual violent events on the basis of official reports and contemporary press coverage. This violence was marked by a substantial number of attacks on Jewish-owned taverns and shops; yet personal injuries were comparatively few (as was also the case in the anti-Jewish violence in the Tsarist Empire in 1881/82). In this chapter, Buchen proceeds to put into practice his principal goal of providing, through the lens of ‘thick description’,  a clear and understandable picture of the background circumstances, actors and dynamics of anti-Jewish violence. Political mobilization linked with by-elections to the Austrian Parliament created a ‘pogrom system’ (Paul Brass), a condition of tense expectation for the violent restoration of a social balance now thought lost. That restoration through violence was deemed legitimate and perceived to be long overdue. It was mingled with the hope of looting a pub or ransacking a general store. This analysis is similar to the model of  ‘competitive ethnicity’ developed by Senechal de la Roche.[ii] Illustrative of this is Buchen’s extended analysis of an attack on a tavern owned by the Salomon Diamand family in the village of Lutcza in southeastern Poland, some 30 km south of Rzeszów (pp.195-212). The innkeeper’s wife. Feiga Diamand, initially sought to defy the pogromists, stepping outside and shouting at the growing mob of some two hundred people: ‘What do you people want, is this an attack?!’ – In the course of the attack, Feiga Diamand, who was uninjured, repeatedly tried to light up the darkened premises of the tavern with a candle, while the pogromists s endeavoured to foil her efforts by blowing out her candle. Buchen comments: ‘Maybe there was an element of shame at play here, the shame of being observed during the act of destruction, perhaps a form of cowardice, which was at odds with the smashing of glasses with axes and the use of brutal language’ (p.197). Indeed, one characteristic of anti-Jewish violence in Galicia in the summer of 1898 was that there existed, at least, some glimmer of a possibility of a return to the ambivalent symbiosis (p. 324).

I strongly recommend Buchen’s precise observations and interpretations; this is probably the most convincing historical study of anti-Jewish violence to be published in recent years. His structuralist analysis notwithstanding, Buchen never loses sight of the concrete human protagonists and is able convincingly to describe their motives. Precisely given the penetrating precision of his approach, it seems unfortunate that Buchen has not focused more in his narrative on a specific group of actors. Following Paul Brass (who is not cited),[iii] the persons I have in mind could be termed a sub-group of ‘pogrom specialists’, namely those actors who mediated as ‘translators’ between the political framework—the various discursive registers of what could be said and written—and those on the street perpetrating the concrete acts. I have in mind here the court clerks and town hall scribes (pp.174, 177), the lawyer (p.180), the monk (p.180), the parish priest (p. 181), the teacher’s daughter (p. 192), the local policeman Mateusz Urban, who led the violent procession in Lutcza playing loudly on his trumpet (p. 202), the railroad signalman (p. 207), and the dragoon soldiers (pp. 235f.). As individuals who could read and write or by dint of their position, these persons played a role in breaching the moral boundary that under normal circumstances served to keep neighbours from attacking one another. It was not simply the ‘ringleaders’, as Buchen contends, who ‘were authorities in different spheres of village life, and whose word had weight’ (p. 207), but also these ‘translators,’ who, in a structuralist analysis, need to be treated as a separate group, and who, as Buchen shows, utilized their position in order to incite people in their environment against the Jewish population. As in the nascent anti-Jewish violence at the beginning of the 1880s in Prussia, it was only massive intervention by the police and especially the military, along with the creation of citizens’ defense leagues, that put an effective end to the violence.

The third chapter, ‘Politics,’ analyses the repercussions and utilization of antisemitic agitation and violence at the parliamentary level, examining action in parliament as a factor that served to promote such violence. Buchen concentrates here on parliamentary inquiries (‘interpellations’), which he appropriately interprets as back translations from the Galician life world into the parliament in Vienna. To the extent that interpellations were able to force local bureaucratic action,  they contributed to shaping or hardening anti-Jewish conceptions. A final section looks at the accusations of ritual murder that proliferated around 1900. Although they no longer resulted in serious court trials, they constituted an important element in antisemitic agitation. This concluding chapter shows that likewise in parliamentary and media discourse around the century’s turn, antisemitism as a political attitude had come to enjoy cultural hegemony (in a Gramscian sense).

All in all, this is an extremely successful monographic study, even if one does not always agree with its conclusions. It is difficult to concur with Buchen’s assertions that ‘antisemitism cannot be regarded as a component of nationalism and national antagonisms were not at all the cause underlying anti-Jewish hostility’ (p. 336). Certainly nationalism without antisemitism is theoretically conceivable, but these claims seem somewhat far-fetched. In the formation of nationalist discourses and movements in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the ‘construction of the nation against the Jews’[iv] was an exceedingly momentous development, as a multitude of studies in the last two decades have persuasively shown—including some which, like the volume under review here, came to fruition in the framework of the highly productive Research Seminar on Antisemitism in Europe (1871-1914) at the Berlin Center for Research on Antisemitism.[v]

The volume as a whole has been carefully edited, and its reasonable price can serve to reconcile the reader with the somewhat poor quality of the illustrations it contains (especially the maps). The text has been structured by an (excessively) large number of section subheadings, within whose bewildering hierarchy the reader can quite quickly lose his or her way, especially when these section headings are repeated verbatim (e.g. pp. 246 and 261).


François Guesnet, Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London

This review was first published on HSozKult and is reproduced with permission.

[i]See also Larry Wolff, The Idea of Galicia. History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture (Stanford, 2010).

[ii]See Werner Bergmann, ‘Pogrome’, in: Wilhelm Heitmeyer, John Hagan (eds.), Internationales Handbuch der Gewaltforschung (Wiesbaden, 2001), 441-460.

[iii]Paul Brass, ‘Introduction: Discourses of Ethnicity, Communalism, and Violence,’ in: idem (ed.),  Riots and Pogroms (Basingstoke, 1996), 1-55 (here 42 f.).

[iv]See the landmark collective volume by Peter Alter et al. (eds.), Die Konstruktion der Nation gegen die Juden (Munich, 1999).

[v]Worthy of mention here are Michal Frankl, 'Prag ist nunmehr antisemitisch': tschechischer Antisemitismus am Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts (Berlin. 2011) and Miloslav Szabó, 'Von Worten zu Taten': die slowakische Nationalbewegung und der Antisemitismus 1875-1922 (Berlin, 2014)