Famines in Galicia were a common occurrence, particularly in the mid to late 19th century, as Galicia became heavily overpopulated. Triggered primarily by natural disasters such as floods and blights, famines, compounded by overpopulation, led to starvation, widespread malnutrition, epidemics, poverty, an average of 50,000 deaths a year, and from the 1870s to the beginning of World War I, emigration.
1844 saw the destruction of much of the grain and potato crop due to severe rains and resulting flooding. Skowronek notes that the resulting famine affected the next for years, up to 1848. 1845 saw potato blight according to Grodziski, although Kieniewicz writes that that year saw more flooding, with the blight in 1846. The famine of 1847 was partially caused by the unrest of the previous year (see Kraków Uprising, Galician slaughter).
Significant famines would affect towns as well, as did the famine of 1847. The 1847 famine is estimated to have affected about 90% of the Galician population, and resulted in at least 227,000 deaths.[a] 1848 saw continued famine, with about 140,000 deaths. There have been reports of cannibalism that year, through they have also been reported in other years of most severe famines.
A large famine has affected many Eastern European territories, including Galicia, as late as 1913.
Causes, contributing factors and results
The direct reasons for famines are often given as bad weather and blights (in particular potato blight); however there are also major social factors which caused famines in Galicia to be more likely, and to have more serious consequences than in many other parts of Europe.
In the 19th century, most of Galicia was part of the Austrian Empire (later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire), which acquired it through the partitions of Poland, and was its poorest province. Neither the mostly Polish large landowners, nor the Austrian imperial government, showed much interest in reform, such as industrialization, which would upset the system in which Galicia was a provider of agricultural products for the rest of the Empire, and a market for inferior industrial goods, a situation profitable for both the governments and the landowners. The Austrian government treated Galicia as a colony that could be treated to another country, and overtaxed it rather than invested in it.
Agricultural productivity of Galician peasants was one of the lowest in Europe, due to the use of primitive agricultural techniques, many little different from those used in the Middle Ages. The situation was compounded by the lack of good land and growing population, resulting in the steadily diminishing size of an individual peasant's plot. Over 70% of Galicia population lived off the land. In the second half of the 19th century, with only a marginal increase of arable land (about 7%), the population of peasants doubled. In 1899, 80% of the plots had less than 5 acres, and many were not able to grow enough food on their plots to support their families. Overpopulation in Galicia has been so severe that it has been described as the most overpopulated place in Europe, and compared to India and China.
As a result, Galician peasants have been too malnourished to work properly, and had little immunity to diseases such as cholera, typhus, smallpox and syphilis. Stauter-Halsted describes a vicious cycle in which Galician peasants worked "lethargically because [they were] inadequately nourished and [not living] better because [they] work too little." Frank quotes Szepanowski: "every resident of Galicia does one-quarter of a man's work and eats one-half of a man's food." Norman Davies concurs, noting that the situation in Galicia was likely more desperate than in Ireland, and that Galicia was likely "the poorest province in Europe". The near constant famines in Galicia, resulting in 50,000 deaths a year, have been described as endemic. Responding to the poverty and lack of reform, many peasants chose to emigrate, to other parts of Austria, Europe, and the United States.
a ^ Although as shown by the analysis of late 1840s deaths in Zadoks, many death estimates sum those from hunger and disease. For example, Bodnar attributes the deaths to "typhus following the potato famine".
- Maria Skowronek (1987). Losy Polaków w XIX-XX w: studia ofiarowane prof. Stefanowi Kieniewiczowi w osiemdziesiątą rocznicę Jego urodzin. Państwowe Wydawn. Nauk. p. 61. ISBN 978-83-01-06985-8. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- Keely Stauter-Halsted (28 February 2005). The Nation In The Village: The Genesis Of Peasant National Identity In Austrian Poland, 1848-1914. Cornell University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8014-8996-9. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- Stefan Kieniewicz (1951). Ruch chłopski w Galicji w 1846 roku. Zakład Narodowy imienia Ossolińskich. p. 328. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
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- Alison Fleig Frank (2005). Oil empire. Harvard University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-674-03718-2. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
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- Keely Stauter-Halsted (28 February 2005). The Nation In The Village: The Genesis Of Peasant National Identity In Austrian Poland, 1848-1914. Cornell University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-8014-8996-9. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- Alison Fleig Frank (2005). Oil empire. Harvard University Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-674-03718-2. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- John E. Bodnar (1973). The ethnic experience in Pennsylvania. Bucknell University Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-8387-1155-2. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
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