Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Gaining back independence by Poland is celebrated on the 11th of November and is a bank Holiday and one of the most important national celebrations In Poland.
As Poland was partitioned at the end of 18th century, and divided between 3 countries: Austria, Prussia and Russia, it vanished from the map of Europe. The greatness of the nation, that used to be one of the biggest and powerful countries on the continent, started to weaken before the three acts of partition took place. The first (1772) and second (1793)partition decreased the territory of Poland, while the third one (1795) made the Poles become citizens of foreign countries.
Throughout 123 years the Poles struggled to keep their identity. Their conditions of life and rights differed based on the country they now lived in. In Austria (so called Galicia region) they lived in deep poverty but had more freedom than in Russian part, in which the Poles were not even allowed to speak Polish.
When the World War I broke out, the Poles fought with the hope to gain independence and freedom for their country. The process was long and gradual so the choice of 11th of November was rather symbolic as independence of Poland is closely connected with the end of the World War I. This was the day when Germany capitulated on Western front.
The act that guaranteed forming the country was released in November 1916. The boundaries, however, were still not agreed on. The Independence of Poland was officially announced on the 7th of November 1918. Military force was then granted to Jozef Pilsudski. On the same day German troops started to withdraw from the territory of Poland. At night German garrison, that was stationed in Warsaw, was disarmed. It took, however, still some time for the borders of new country to be established.
11th of November was announced Independence Day almost 20 years after the fact – on the 23rd of April 1937. It was celebrated twice (in 1937 and 1938) before the World War II broke out and expression of Polish identity was banned anew. In 1945 Communist Government announced 22nd of July as national holiday (when so called July Manifest was signed by Stalin in 1944), calling it National Holiday of Poland’s Rebirth. Celebration of 11th of November was brought back in 1989 and its full name from then on is National Independence Day.
Independence Day in Poland is celebrated much differently than Independence Day in the USA for example. It is not a joyful day with fireworks and people celebrating it their own way. The day is celebrated mostly by officials. Houses, buildings, buses and trams are embellished with Polish flags. The radio plays mostly Polish music and television is full of films connected with Polish history. Poetry, patriotic music and remembrance – that is what the Poles are mostly focused on when 11th of November comes. Apart from this all patriotic monuments are decorated with flowers. It is hard to call Polish National Independence Day a happy day, it is time of contemplation and remembrance over the past.