11th of November, Polish Independence Day, marks one of the most important holidays in the Polish calendar. It reflects on Poland’s struggle for independence before and after WW2, oppression during the soviet-backed government as well as Poland’s newly found democratic ways in recent history.
In recent years, Polish Independence Day was overshadowed by gatherings of far right groups and riots between demonstrators and police (mainly in Warsaw), but let’s look at what Polish Independence Day is really all about.
The origins of Polish Independence go back to 1918, the year of Poland’s assumption of independent statehood, after 123 years of partitions by Russia, Prussia and Austria. 1918 marked the end of WW1 and amid the confusion of revolution in Russia, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany’s defeat, Poland used its chance to re-claim its independence.
Rome wasn’t build in a day and neither was Poland. The process of independence was a lengthy and difficult one. A month ahead of Germany’s WW1 surrender, in October 1918, the Regency Council (Rada Regencyjna Królestwa Polskiego) dissolved the Council of State (German governmental body) and announced that it intends to restore Polish independence. The move for independence was supported by most political parties with the exception of the SDKPiL (Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania). Two weeks later, the Regency Council appointed a new government under Józef Świeżyński and conscription into the Polish Army commenced.
The 11th of November was not chosen randomly as Polish Independent Day. On 11th November 1918, in Warsaw, Józef Piłsudski was appointed Commander in Chief of Polish forces by the Regency Council and asked to create a national government for the newly independent country. He only returned to Warsaw the day before from a 16 month stretch at a German prison in Magdeburg. On the 11th of November 1918, Piłsudski proclaimed an independent Republic of Poland.
Italy was the first country to recognize Poland’s independence in 1918, however, following several struggles and conflicts in various parts of the country, Independence was only constituted in 1937, however, celebrated since the 1920’s.
The newly created holiday however was a short-lived entry in the annual Polish holiday calendar. The holiday was removed with the Nazi occupation from 1939 – 1945 and only re-instated as a national holiday after the collapse of the soviet-backed regime in 1989. In the meantime, from 1945 and as part of the PKWN Manifesto, the holiday was replaced with the “Day of Rebirth of Poland” which was celebrated on the 22nd of July.
These days, following several occupations, revolutions and soviet-backed regimes, Poland and it’s people celebrate Independence Day with strong connections to the times of the “Second Polish Republic” when military parades where held across the country. The main event takes place at Piłsudski Square and is attended by high ranking state officials. A change of guards also occurs at midday near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Polish capital.
Other events include the Warsaw Independence Run which is set to attract several thousand runners. Special masses will be held in churches across the country and cities and towns will entertain with special open air programs and shows. Many houses and public transport vehicles will display Polish flags on Independence Day.
As Independence Day is a public holiday, most shops, malls and restaurants will remain closed for the entire day.