Constructing Alliances beyond the Limits of Otherness: Warsaw and Istanbul vs. Saint Petersburg according to Piotr Potocki’s Embassy Report from 1789

By Stefan Rohdewald
Submitted to Session P6509 (Transottoman Mobilities in the Second Half of the 18th Century: Ottoman, Russian, and Polish-Lithuanian Entanglements, 2021 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Ottoman Empire as well as Poland-Lithuania considered themselves historical great powers and acted within the framework of cultural practices of their time, compensating military weakness with a grandiose political misé-en-scene adapted to the discourses of the late 18th century.
In 1789, the Polish opposition sent Piotr Potocki as an envoy to Istanbul, but initially—to the disappointment of the Ottoman side—without permission to conclude a military alliance. It was not until the Swedish-Russian peace of August 1790 that Warsaw instructed Potocki to enter into an alliance with Istanbul on the condition that Prussia would wage war against Russia and that Poland would be granted generous trade privileges. This latter demand prolonged the negotiations, while the situation for Poland continued to deteriorate. After the adoption of the Polish constitution on May 3, 1791, the fragile state of suspension from the Russian threat could not be maintained for long. The Sublime Porte concluded an armistice with Saint Petersburg three months later, which led to the Peace of Jassy in January 1792. The second and third partitions of Poland-Lithuania quickly followed.
This paper explores the detailed report on Potocki’s legation in the Transottoman context, allowing us—in its 1894 edition— a closer look at Polish-Ottoman mutual perception at that time. The report, with its meticulous description of the Ottoman court protocol, in particular the ritual of gift-giving, offers valuable insights into the material and non-material dimensions of this entanglement, such as the common luxury culture, and the constructed ‘Europeanness’ or ‘Turkicity.’ Such concepts, however, did not induce the protagonists to construct insurmountable cultural boundaries in their political negotiations and in the rules of the game of power politics. Instead, the text clearly illustrates that, in contrast, the Ottoman Empire was integrated into the political framework of the “European equilibrium,” an idea which was eventually adapted by decision makers in Istanbul itself as “Avrupa mevazinesine.” Thus, if Istanbul at that time was not necessarily a center of European power politics, the city was still an attractive political meeting point and market place of diplomatic information