Poles have lost their independence twice in their history. They lost it for the first time in stages, having to hand over the border areas to their neighbors three times (I partition of Poland - 1772, II - 1793, III - 1795). After the defeat of the Kościuszko Uprising and the last partition, the name of Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe and the world for 123 years.
Each subsequent generation contributed to regaining independence. Successively, the reform of the political and economic system was planned so that the undertaken armed struggle could be successful (November Uprising 1830, Spring of Nations 1848, January Uprising 1863). Thanks to the efforts of patriots in the country, and activities of outstanding representatives of Polish emigration on the international arena, it was possible to turn the defeat of the partitioning powers in World War I into independence.
The date of the holiday commemorating the regaining of independence was a matter of debate in the Second Polish Republic. Disputes were held about which of the events of 1918 should be considered the symbolic moment when Poland regained independence. Most facts spoke for November 11. On that day, Germany signed a ceasefire in Compiègne in France, ending World War I, and in Poland, on November 11, the Regency Council transferred power and supreme command over the army to Józef Piłsudski, who had returned from the Magdeburg fortress.
The first celebration of the Independence Day, November 11, 1919, took place in difficult conditions, as there were ongoing fights for the shape of the borders of the reborn Poland. A year later, in connection with the second anniversary of regaining independence, Józef Piłsudski received the Marshal's mace.
November 11 was officially recognized as the date of Poland's regaining independence only in 1926. On November 8, 1926, the President of the Council of Ministers, Józef Piłsudski, made public in a circular:
On November 11, the Polish state will celebrate the 8th anniversary of shedding the yoke of slavery and gaining full, effective independence. The above date should remain in the permanent memory of society and be imprinted in the minds of the young generation, which at the dawn of their lives should feel the importance and solemnity of this memorable day.
On the 10th anniversary — November 11, 1928 — the Saski Square in the capital was called the Marshal Józef Piłsudski Square. Two years after the Marshal's death, on April 23, 1937, the Seym (the Polish parliament) passed an act which stated:
November 11, as the anniversary of Polish state regaining its independent existence and as a day forever associated with the great name of Józef Piłsudski, the victorious Commander-in-Chief in the fight for the freedom of the Homeland, is a solemn Independence Day.
In the years 1939-1944, it was impossible to officially or openly celebrate Independence Day. It was banned by the German and Soviet occupation authorities. In 1945, the communist authorities of the People's Republic of Poland made 22 July, the anniversary of the announcement of the PKWN (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego, the Communist puppet regime - ed.) Manifesto, a public holiday.
During the Polish People's Republic, Independence Day was banned, and repressions were threatened for attempts to cultivate it. Nevertheless, patriotic demonstrations took place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which were dispersed by the police. Such a demonstration was dispersed for the last time in 1988, on the 70th anniversary of independence.
Independence Day on November 11 was reinstated by the parliamentary act in 1989. Contemporary independence day celebrations had a different, sometimes controversial or strange character from the very beginning. Not everyone in the interwar period supported the rule of Józef Piłsudski and the Sanacja. Joining independence only with his merits and with his name seems to be detrimental to the entire army of émigré activists, including Jan I. Paderewski, Roman Dmowski, Józef Haller, Jan Smulski, Teofil Starzyński and many others who organized a patriotic information campaign, the entire financial, diplomatic and military base, without which the shape of Polish borders and the Polish economy would have a completely different dimension. They differed from Piłsudski's political concepts, but for all Poles, Poland was the most important.
Since 2009, the March of Independence has been part of the Polish tradition, which evokes a lot of emotions and contains many contradictory opinions. The number of people taking part in the Independence Marches is constantly growing. In 2009, only a few hundred people participated in it, in 2011 as many as 20,000, in 2012, 50,000, in 2016, 75,000 according to police estimates, and even 100,000 according to the organizers.
The presidents of Warsaw (Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz and the present Rafał Trzaskowski) definitely do not like the Independence March and try by all means to block it, referring to the incidents that occur during its progress and the fact that fascists, nationalists, xenophobess and anti-Semites are involved. There are, sometimes fewer, sometimes more frequent incidents and extreme right-wing slogans present within the March, but one needs to truly answer the question, who causes such incidents? Who develops banners with nationalist slogans? How many banners are planned and how many appear "by chance"?
Entire families with young children come to the Independence Marches, outstanding artists and scientists come to demonstrate their patriotism and nothing else. The opinions about the March, for example from 2016, by some liberal-left-wing magazines (such as the British "The Independent" or the Polish "Gazeta Wyborcza"), which wrote about the "march of 60,000 fascists" are false, biased, and unfair. Any prohibitions to demonstrate attachment to tradition, to the values on which our Polish national identity has been shaped, arouse counter-reactions and unnecessarily conflict the society. Patriotism is not nationalism, and the road to fascism is completely different. Poles, so painfully experienced by the absence of their homeland for 123 years, by the terrors of the German and Soviet occupations, want to enjoy the fact of regaining independence and make it known to the world.
In a few days November 11 comes. The Mayor of Warsaw did not grant permission for the Independence March, the March Organizing Committee announced that the March would take place. At the roundabout named after Roman Dmowski, where participants usually gather and which is the beginning of the March route, a fairly extensive renovation is underway. The paving stones are arranged in small piles, the area is excavated, and other marches are announced, not necessarily of a patriotic nature. The slogan of this year's march is "Independence Not for Sale". Let's hope that by the Independence Day, the renovation on the roundabout will be completed, the area will be tidied up and all demonstrations will be spontaneous, so that we can enjoy the regaining of independence and keep our freedom for many years and centuries.
Translation from Polish: Andrew Woźniewicz.