If one were to pick a single explanation for the fall of the tsarist and Soviet empires, it might well be Russia's inability to achieve a satisfactory relationship with non-Russian nationalities. Perhaps no other region demonstrates imperial Russia's "national dilemma" better than the western provinces and Kingdom of Poland, an extensive area inhabited by a diverse group of nationalities, including Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Russians, and Lithuanians. Taking an in-depth look at this region during an era of intensifying national feeling, Weeks shows that the Russian government, even at the height of its empire, never came to terms with the question of nationality.
Drawing upon little-known Russian and Polish archives, Weeks challenges widely held assumptions about the "national policy" of late imperial Russia and provides fresh insights into ethnicity in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He demonstrates that, rather than pursuing a plan of "russification," the tsarist government reacted to situations and failed to initiate policy.
In spite of the Russians' great distrust of certain minority nationalities—especially Jews and Poles—the ruling elite was equally uncomfortable with the modern nationalism, even in its Russian form. Weeks demonstrates Russia's unwillingness (or inability) to use nationalistic policies to save the empire by examining its dilatory and contradictory actions regarding efforts to institute reforms in the western lands.