Landownership between Nationalization and De-Liberalization: Changes in Prussian Property Regimes, 1886–1914

  • Benedikt Stienen


This article deals with different forms of land ownership in the eastern provinces of Prussia in the three decades before the outbreak of World War One. Research in recent years has assigned a central role in the national conflicts of East Central Europe to the question of land ownership. In the Prussian case, it has focused on the “Royal Prussian Settlement Commission in the Provinces West Prussia and Posenˮ and reached the verdict that the state’s policy of acquisition and settlement failed. This article examines the various measures used by the Prussian government and administration to restrict the liberal market for land ownership. For this purpose, three forms of ownership are distinguished (private, state and hybrid), which the state promoted in order to increase the share of German land ownership and prevent its sale to Poland. In addition, the quantitative significance of these measures is compared. The results show that, on the eve of World War One, almost one third of the area of both provinces was excluded from acquisition by potential Polish buyers. Prussian minority policy thus contributed to a considerable de-liberalization of the land market by aligning the right of ownership with ethno-national classification criteria. The end result is a complex picture of state measures, in which the settlement policy of the “Settlement Commission” is only one of several building blocks within a more comprehensive land policy and appears to have been much more successful than previously assumed.
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