Silesia: simultaneously present and absent

One of the less known regions with which the Tandem project is concerned is Silesian. This Central European region with a volatile past, marks an area where Bohemian, Moravian, German, and Polish spheres of influence converge, both historically and contemporaneously. Despite the aspirations of some, Silesia has never managed to become a state in its own right, leaving it vulnerable to the territorial ambitions of the states in which it has existed. Throughout most of the last millennium, Silesia has been a constitutive part of the Czech Kingdom and the Habsburg Empire and in the eighteenth century, after the Silesian Wars, it was divided between Austria-Hungary and Prussia. Prussia expanded significantly as a result of its conquest of seven-eighths of Silesian territory in the 1740s, later called Prussian Silesia. From the total area of Silesia of 40,625 sq. km, Prussia gained 35,786 sq. km. The Prussian military’s conquest of Silesia entailed a dramatic increase in the territory of the Prussian state by a little less than fifty percent, and the Prussian population of 2,240,000 was also increased by the addition of 1,160,000 Silesians, who thus constituted nearly a third of Prussia’s population following the conflict. Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, was left with only a narrow south-eastern strip of Silesia, consequently named ‘Austrian Silesia’, and constituting only one-eighth of the former Silesian Land.

Writing about Silesia is a challenging task for a number of reasons. For example, having disappeared from the present-day map, where is Silesia? It clearly exists in the minds of its inhabitants, as well as those of the relevant nation-state authorities. How, then, should one deal with a missing land that never really went away? One possible solution would be to go ‘back in time’ and use the geographical traces of the past to reconstruct the borders of Silesian land. The result could be a map, such as the one below, showing the borders of Austria Silesia and Prussia Silesia superimposed on the modern-day Central European states.

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