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Nov 9, 2005
November 11 is a special day for Poles, celebrated as the Independence Day meaning the return to the map of sovereign European states after 123 years of foreign rule. Naturally, regaining independence is not an event that could be discussed in terms of one specific date in the calendar, but rather a long and complex process. This special date, however, marks a series of important events that gave the day a symbolic meaning: the Compiegne armistice is signed, ending long and bloody World War I. Most of the German troops deployed in Warsaw since August 5, 1915, have been disarmed; Jozef Pilsudski, the architect and leader of the Legions, the most esteemed politician at that time, holds talks on taking over power and recreating the Polish state "from the scrap."
The Polish State was wiped from Europe's map after the Third Partition in 1795. The Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793 and 1795) divided the Polish Kingdom among its three powerful neighbors, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The opportunities for regaining independence emerged only in the end of the World War I, when the three conquerors were defeated. The first to collapse was Russia, unprepared for conducting a prolonged war. The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in February, 1917, and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in November of the same year lead to the ultimate disintegration of that country's war machine, followed by the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March, 1918 ) with Germany. Also, the second conqueror, Austria, turned out to be incapable of carrying on war and, with defeats becoming increasingly severe, its former satellite countries started to gain independence. The third neighbor, Germany, fought longest.
When independence finally came in 1918, it was not only the result of external circumstances, i.e., dissolution of the Russian, German and Austrian empires at the end of World War I. An equally important factor was an independence movement both within the divided country and abroad. The dominant political figure in this movement became Jozef Pilsudski. On August 6, 1914, several days after the outbreak of World War I, his legionnaires set out from Krakow and crossed the Austrian-Russian border. Pilsudski planned to incite an uprising in the Russian sector of Poland. The plan drew from the traditions of the 1863 January Uprising. Unfortunately, the realities of 1914 were different and the plan was a failure. However, Pilsudski's effort was not completely in vain, as the unit became the core of the Legions (initially allied with Austria,) a foundation of the future Polish Armed Forces.
On January 22, 1917, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson acknowledged as a matter of fact "the emergence of Poland united, independent, and sovereign."
Poland's right to independence was also acknowledged after the February revolution in Russia in the proclamation by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies and the Provisional Government. In December, 1916, the German and Austrian authorities established a Provisional Council of State. It was expected to cooperate with occupying forces in "developing further state administration facilities." However, the conquerors did not hurry with rebuilding an independent Polish state and establishing a Polish army under Polish commanders. Under these circumstances, Pilsudski banned the legionnaires from giving an oath of allegiance during recruitment to the so-called Polnische Wehrmacht [Polish Army]. For this reason he and other legionnaires were interned in Magdeburg prison on July 22, 1917.
Major support for the reborn Polish State came from Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, a peace program announced by the U.S. President before a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The entire 13th point was devoted to Poland, proposing establishment of an independent Polish state that incorporated Polish native land inhabited by an indisputably Polish population, which would enjoy free and secure access to the sea, the political and territorial integrity of which should be guaranteed under an international treaty.
On November 10, Pilsudski, the only man at that time able to take over the government, returned to Warsaw by special train. He was coming back from Magdeburg prison where he had spent 16 months. On November 11, the Regency Council bestowed military power on Pilsudski. Three days later, the Council dissolved and Pilsudski was left with all prerogatives. On November 16, the Allied States received a message signed by Pilsudski: "As the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, I wish to notify the belligerent and neutral governments and nations of the existence of an Independent Polish State incorporating all territories of the united Poland." November 11 marked the beginning of the difficult phase of reestablishing the state from the three separate pieces with their unique characteristics.
In January, 1919, elections to the Legislative Parliament were held and on February 10, the Head of State, Jozef Pilsudski, opened the first session with the words: "The Polish Parliament will again be the sole sovereign and governor in its home,"
November 11 was celebrated in interwar Poland as a national holiday. After World War II, under a communist regime, the holiday was repudiated. In line with its doctrine, the communist governments put an emphasis on the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 as the decisive factor in regaining independence by Poland. The first serious historical publications about Jozef Pilsudski and his contribution to the reemergence of the Polish state started to appear only in the 1970s. By the end of the 1980s, people opposed to the communist system started to lay flowers on the Unknown Soldier Tomb on the 11th of November. In 1989, November 11 was reestablished as the day commemorating Polish independence.
Today, Polish National Day is celebrated by all Poles living in Poland and abroad.


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Good post! Western culture owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Poles - it was they that defeated the Turks at the 2nd Siege of Vienna...

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