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A Centennial or a Millenium?

Prof. Andrzej Nowak

from Gosc Niedzielny 18/2017


Poland did not begin in 1918. It has been building its independence, its cultural significance and its dignified place in Europe for over 1000 years.

Next year we are going to celebrate the centennial of regaining independence. In a contemporaneity which cuts short our memory and historical imagination, this centennial may easily be mistaken with the suggestion that Poland is only 100 years old, or that it owes its existence to World War I and to the decisions of the victorious powers. The western half of Europe, meanwhile, will be marking November 11th of next year as a moment of mourning, a remembrance of the great war, from which all evils of the 20th century hail. In Central-Eastern Europe several countries will be, in turn, celebrating their birth to independent existence. Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Ukraine may recall the beginning of their struggle for independence, in the context of the anniversary of clashing with the Poles over Lwow.

How then should we, in this context, remember November 11th, 1918?

I believe we should stress that Poland did not begin its independent existence in 1918. It has been building its independence, its cultural significance and its dignified place in Europe for over 1000 years. This is why I propose to start next years’ celebrations with January. This will mark an unusually “round,” precisely millennial anniversary of a peace that ended the longest (15 year old) and, at the same time, victorious war between Poland and Germany in defense of Polish independence. The peace dictated by our king Boleslaw Chrobry, on January 30th, 1018, is worth reminding – not to emphasize the history of Polish-German quarrels, but rather to indicate the century-old millennial determination of the Polish political community to defend its independent existence and the basis of peace with our neighbors in Europe: mutual respect for independence.

Not long thereafter, another anniversary should be recalled: 600 years since the Council of Constance – the one at which Polish law professors from the Cracow University headed by Pawel Wlodkowic, introduced onto the arena of European thought, a new wonderful concept – the right of nations (even pagan ones) to independence. The Polish delegation demonstrated at this largest intellectual-political forum of late Medieval Europe, an unheard of determination in defense of the good name of the homeland. It was smeared by Teutonic hack Jan Falkenberg who described Poles together with Lithuanians as idolaters worthy of elimination. At a hearing with the Pope May 9th, 1418 , secular delegates from Poland – Zawisza Czarny and Janusz from Tuliszkowo, supported by the first Primate Mikołaj Trąba, firmly demonstrated condemnation of the writings of Falkenberg. When the Pope tried to delay the decision, our knights grabbed their swords by the blade, and stated they are ready to defend the honor of Poland “by hand and mouth” that is by sword and word! And they did defend. 577 years later, John Paul II recollected this at the United Nations forum in New York. He spoke then of the need to return to an ethical-legal reflection, which was begun at the Council of Constance, by the representatives of the Cracow University, who, “courageously defended the right of Central/Eastern European nations to existence and autonomy.“ And let us remember about this at the round 600th anniversary of the thought of Pawel Wlodkowic and the gesture of Zawisza.

We should, furthermore, bring out another great contribution of Poland to the history of European political practice: the practice of republican freedom. On October 9th, 1469 the first Polish general legislature derived from the election of manorial representatives (2 from each county) was held. And from then until 1793, so shall convene close to 300 legislatures: the longest republican self-government tradition in modern Europe, destroyed – only after the glorious work of the May 3rd Constitution – by the aggression of the partition powers. We should definitely remember 550 years of organized Polish parliamentarianism next year, so that again someone uninformed from America (like Mr. Bill Clinton) or some domestic confessor of contempt for Polishness – would not advise us on a “young and immature“ tradition of parliamentarianism and democracy in Poland, which we owe supposedly only to America and the European Union.

We have a lot to be grateful for to Europe – as participants of this civilizational community for a thousand years. In this context also, perhaps it is worth celebrating next year the round 500th anniversary of the grand Wawel marriage between King Zygmunt Stary and Bona Sforza (April 18th, 1518). It is a symbolic start of the great participation of Polish culture in European renaissance (and that at this occasion, we would recall the enrichment of our menu with cauliflower, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, or asparagus).

It is worthy to remember next year the 1000th anniversary of peace signing in Budziszyn, 6oo-years of Polish contribution to the right of nations (Council of Constance), 550 years of Polish parliamentarianism, the 500th anniversary of Polish opening to renaissance… It is worthwhile to better understand, finally, the meaning of independence regained November 11th, 1918.

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