Motto: You will not understand a nation without knowing its history
Why should you know the history of other nations? Because it has an important impact on their current attitudes and behaviors. Every nation has its traumas and experiences that have deeply engraved in its memory. It is worth to know about them to understand why people of this or that country behave as they do, where their fears and prejudices come from. You should also find out what success they can be proud of and which of them contributed to the common heritage of mankind.
Polish history is rich in positive examples, but also in defeats and humiliations. In the political map of the world Poland appeared only in the late 10th century, but within a few centuries has become one of the largest countries in Europe. In this time it gave the example of religious tolerance, in the Union of Lublin from 1569 some can find a certain analogy with today’s European Union. It is also worth noting that the Polish noble democracy was the most democratic regime in Europe, which was then dominated by absolute monarchies. But this powerful state was unable to overcome the negative effects of its political mechanisms, which has created by itself, like the principle “liberum veto” paralyzing the parliament debates. At a time when neighboring Prussia and Russia were strengthening their military power, Poland fell into anarchy and demoralization, and when awoke to repair and preserve independence, it was too late.
The state paid for it a very high price – had been broken for 123 years and seized by Austria, Russia and Prussia, and erased from the political map of the world. All manifestations of patriotism were persecuted and many patriots lost their lives. But Poles didn’t give up! In 1918, after Worl War I, fully exploited political situation and having formed their own army, succesfully restored the state and began the tedious process of merging post-partition areas. And then World War II broke out, bringing as a consequence another partition, arranged in 1939 by Germany and Russia. And when Poland again returned, in 1945, to the map (this time not being allowed to have their own word in this matter), it was a very different country – with a completely new territorial shape, with the unprecedented global migrations, non-sovereign and cut off from developing Europe by the “iron curtain”. It is worth to compare the two moments – the one from 1918 and that of 1945!
These and other factors (partitions, Nazi crimes, the mass murder of Polish officers at Katyn, the lost of eastern territories, the negative impact of the communist system) meant that many Poles still feel the fear and prejudice in relation to its neighbors, although today, like no one time ever, they can feel safe within its borders. It is worth to know it all, because you can’t understand nations not knowing their past.
The history presented below is written in a very “compact” way, showing facts in a nutshell and simplified way. Those who wish to learn more about Polish past may benefit from the English-language publications of Professor Norman Davies, such as “God’s Playground. A History of Poland Vol 1: The Origins to 1795, Vol 2: 1795 to the Present”, “Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present”, “Rising ’44. The Battle for Warsaw ” and many more.
Professor Norman Davies on the Polish history: