Friday, November 25, 2011

11.11.11 was Independence Day

11.11.11- what a date! And very special in Poland. What other countries celebrate as Veteran's Day or Armistice day is our Independence Day. In 1918, after 123 years of partitions by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia, Poland returned to the map as an independent country: the Second Polish Republic.

Where's Poland? :(
You see, though our country did not officially exist for so many years, its dispersed former leaders and elite did not sit idle. In Italy, Napoleon Bonaparte helped exiled general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski form a military group called the Polish Legions, some seven thousand strong, which initially fought alongside the French, but was ultimately destined to fight for the reinstatement of Poland. This is why our national anthem pays heed to Bonaparte, and talks about coming home from Italy and joining with our nation.

In fact, the anthem we sing to this day was written by one of the creators of the Legions, to the tune of a cheerful military march, and began with the hopeful verse:

Poland has not yet died,

So long as we still live.

What the alien power has seized from us,

We shall recapture with a sabre.

Poland has not yet died. This motto returns again and again in our history. And in 1918, with the conclusion of World War One, she was reborn again.

November 11th was chosen as the commemorative date 19 years later. We only got to celebrate it twice before WW2 broke out.

After that war, Independence Day did not return. We had become the People's Republic, a satellite of the USSR, and our communist government took the holiday out of the calendars as its celebration stirred up too many patriotic feelings which were not 'appropriate' in a country so tightly linked to Soviet Russia. In fact, attempts to honour the date were often brutally punished by the Military Police, and the participants risked arrest and investigation by the Security Service.

In 1989 when we once again regained full independence, the holiday was reinstated, amplifying its significance as a day when we celebrate our country's freedom, as it now also symbolised the triumph over communism and its brutal propaganda.

315/365: Independence Day
Scouts join the parade. Scouts are awesome!

That was twenty two years ago. Today, the traditional and government-organised celebration is a wonderful thing to see. It starts every year at noon at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, where government officials, the military, and renowned citizens pay their respects at the symbolic tomb.

Then begins a military parade, which is in greater part a presentation of historical reconstruction groups. You will get a chance to see all sorts of military formations from many historical periods, such as various instances of the famous Uhlan cavalry.

Independence Day Parade, Warsaw
The song goes, uhlans, uhlans, pretty painted boys, many a girl will run after you.

Piebald horse
...and your pretty, pretty horses.

The parade traditionally walks through the city to the Polish Army Museum, where it concludes with a historical picnic and many interesting exhibitions.

Tactical bicycles
Tactical bicycles...
Tactical bicycle with rifle mount
...with rifle mounts. 
Young soldiers from the 1944 Uprising- yet another fight for independence.

Unfortunately it just so happened that I was traveling this Independence Day, and wasn't able to make the celebrations in Warsaw, so the best I can offer you are these photos from 2009. It was a very rainy day, but that didn't keep the crowds from showing up.

A policeman and children watching the Independence Day Military Parade.

N.B. You may or may not have heard that there were riots in Warsaw this Independence Day. This bothered me so much that I did not post this on the date. It took me this long to decide whether I wanted to post it at all- I was so disappointed and upset by what happened. Independence Day should not be celebrated with violence. 

I didn't write about the two clashing marches this year, or about the shameful and misguided conduct we saw on the 11th, because that is NOT awesome. Also, this blog is not supposed to be about my political views, and I would not be able to avoid expressing them in such a post. But if you're interested in what I think about it all, or would like to know more about what prompted the fighting, shoot me an email.

Meta info:
The Polish Army Museum:

Map of partitions taken from Wikipedia CC file:

Wikipedia page for Polish Independence Day:

Wikipedia page for the Polish Anthem:

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