the North Pole, right next to Thailand, somewhere within Russia…
These are only some of the most wicked imaginations of many Western
European laymen I’ve heard in my short but still colourful life.
short text I was asked to mix the history, culture and tourist
information. Being only an imperfect human being I must admit this
task places the bar too high for me. Being a history freak, however,
I decided to tell you shortly the history of the cave I stem from.
To put the art bit in as well, I will picture the story with small
reproductions of Jan Matejko’s (1838-1893) paintings which
illustrate the historic stuff I shall mention. By the way you lot
will believe Poles do paint nice pieces. Here’s the guy:
did I write about my life being colourful? It’s worth mentioning
that in fact I am (being born 1986) a representative of the very
first really free and happy generation of Polish youth who enjoyed a
brand new, still not quite perfect, but free Poland. The moderately
violent transition from the truly artificial and collapsing regime
(found somewhere on the socialist-communistic boundary) of the
People’s Republic of Poland has theoretically finished in the early
1990s, although some still argue (and it is in fact hard not to
agree with them) that the complex process of restructuring and
cleaning the country off the communist scum has not ended yet.
Anyway, the product of these complex socio-political processes
resulted in returning the righteous crown back on top of White
Eagle’s head and bringing to life of a nice, shiny and, most
importantly, democratic Republic of Poland.
often said that today Poles live in their Third Republic. This is
because of the turbulent history of the brave nation who had the
courage to reside on the lands enclosed by the Baltic Sea from the
North and the Carpathians from the south; by Germans from the West
and by Russians from the East. To make a living in such a location
one needs to start early. The Polish Prince, Mieszko I, had the same
view on the matter. Not really wanting to wait for a likely
(W)Hol(l)y German crusade, he ‘picked and chose’ himself a lovely
Czech princess and Christianised Poland (finally uniting it under
single rule) in 966 AD.
princess was a really pretty one, Prince Mieszko did not hesitate
long and started a strong dynasty which has ruled Poland over the
next 404 years. Acquiring the title of a King did not take them
long. After a couple of minor wars a period of peace came, during
which the Pope and the Holy German Emperor Otton III granted the
crown to Mieszko’s son, Bolesław I the Brave. He was crowned in the
Bolesław’s death in 1025 other kings came and went, leaving better
or worse memories of themselves. For some period of time Poland has
been divided between rivalling Princes, but quite soon became united
under the single Crown again. The horror came in 1370, when the last
king of the Piast dynasty, Kazimierz III the Great has joined the
angels in heaven. The only living successor of Piast blood, the king
of Hungary Ludwik I, has taken over the rule. He has persuaded the
nobles to grant the crown to his daughter, teenage Princess Jadwiga.
As a return, he has limited the power of the Crown by granting a
‘Privilege’ to the nobles. This has given birth to the first
democratic system of state governance in Europe, which was known as
“Nobles’ Democracy”. Soon, Poland has united with Lithuania under
the rule of Jagiello dynasty in 1385, creating an enormous empire of
over 1M square kilometres known as the "Two Nations' Republic" or
survived in such a state for nearly 400 years. The rule of the
Jagiello dynasty was a good time for Poland. The country was
becoming stronger, richer and more democratic. It succeeded in
stopping the ambitions of the Teutonic Knights, whose ever-growing
power threatened the already shaky stability in the region and the
interests of Poland itself. The marvellous and complete military
triumph in July 1410 under Grunwald…
used fully to crash the political power of the Knights. Poland
dominated the Teutonic Knights after the 1519-1521 invasion. The
last Grand Master of the Knights, Albrecht Hohenzollern, decided to
secularise the country and paid a tribute to Polish king, Zygmunt I.
Have a look, it’s a damn nice view :)
(due to the demise of Jagiello dynasty) the kings of Poland were
democratically elected. The first choice – a Frenchman – was, not to
use any explicit language, a mistake. At least the election was a
success, strengthening the democratic foundations of the Polish
system of governance.
choice… well, yes, the choice of 1575 was a good one. Stefan Batory,
since 1571 was the Prince of Transylvania. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Well, nobles already knew we needed some good fighter with a good
title to protect ourselves from the Tsar Ivan the Terrible. To give
you the impression, here’s the coronation title of Stefan Batory:
“Stefan I, by the grace of God King of Poland and Grand Duke of
Lithuania, Duke of Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Kiev Land,
Volhynia, Podlachia and Livonia, as well as Prince of Transylvania”.
Although he had no opportunity to crash the Tsarist armies on the
open field, he managed to win the Russo-Polish Livonian War by the
skilful and determined Siege of Pskov.
only recovered all the lands acquired by the Tsar but also imposed a
good political treaty. Ivan was no longer so Terrible. Batory was
the last king of Poland before the Swedish Royal House of Vasa (not
to confuse with the healthy, dietary bread) took over. No matter
what you read further, believe me, they were brilliant and devoted
rulers and the period they were bound to play the very first fiddle
in Poland was, in my opinion, one of the toughest moments in Polish
dozens of offensive and defensive wars thought especially in 17th
Century, Poland has suffered a severe crisis, strengthened by
internal political tensions. The first wars with Sweden over
South-East Baltic areas (1600-1629) were followed by the Cossack
uprisings (1648), two Polish successful offensives on Russia
(1609-1619), Russian unsuccessful invasion ten years later, further
wars with Swedish branch of Vasa dynasty, culminated in the Gustav
Adolf’s invasion of Poland on unprecedented scale, where Poland was
hit so badly it controlled only a few cities, a Jasna Góra
monastery in Częstochowa being the most important resistance point.
During “The Deluge”, Commonwealth lost an estimated 1/3 of its
population (relatively higher losses than during World War II), and
its status as a great power. After driving the Swedish out, Poland
was able to end the wars with Cossacks, Tatars and Russia to finally
resist a further war with Turkey in the second half of the century.
Although being a wreck, Poland decided to support Austria in its war
against Turkey. The new king, Jan III Sobieski, led the army which
saved the besieged Vienna. This was the last great triumph of Polish
army till stopping USSR in August 1920.
internal problems caused by the wars, combined with inefficient and
not loyal monarchs such as Wettin dynasty or SA Poniatowski,
resulted in Poland being divided between three other European
powers: Prussia, Russia and Austria-Hungary between 1772 and 1795.
This was done with a surprising ease as country was literarily torn
apart politically and ruined economically. The very last success of
the domestic affairs of the First Republic was passing of the 1791
Constitution. It was a second such statute in the world, following
the US Constitution of 1787. But it was not enough to save the
country. The only state which has not recognized the
‘stab-in-the-back’ defeat of Poland was the Turkish Empire.
Fortunately semi-independent Poland already from 1807 was always
either too strong or too politically important to be fully
incorporated by any other country. This allowed the spirit and
culture to survive the hard times.
independent Poland emerged to the maps of Europe in 1918, after 123
years of disappearance. It has started a period of brilliant
economical development, though not without internal political
tensions. It was reborn just to defeat the Communist USSR in
defensive war of early 1920s and demise under the Nazi Germany and
Stalinist USSR’s aggression of 1939. While the First Republic
existed for roughly 800 years, the Second Republic lasted only 20
years and 11 months.
has seen the emergence of Communist controlled People’s Republic of
Poland, a country desired by Stalin and hated by Poles themselves.
This period had the most impact on how Poland looks like today and
unfortunately on its position in today’s world. The incapacitation
of the economy, permanent exploitation by USSR, balancing
international politics on the verge of war either with the western
Europe or Russia itself and attempts to crash Polish culture and
nationality have turned many parts of the country to misery.
Today’s Poland? In the light of all that was
said already it seems a hard question. Recently joined in the EU,
great ties to tradition, the biggest Central European economy
developing now on a magnificent scale. Modern and old, tradition and
liberalism. Conflict? No, thanks, rather a time of difficult but
successful changes. An important time and a good time to come and
visit this magical country. To witness the new coming in, before the
old disappears. Yup, proud to be Polish :)