2016 Poland's 1050 Anniversary of Christianity 2016
UPCOMING POLISH HOLIDAYS
May 2: FLAG DAY
(Dzień Flagi Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej)
(established on February 20, 2004)
May 2: DAY of POLONIA and POLES ABROAD
(Dzień Polonii i Polaków za Granicą)
(established on March 20, 2002)
May 3: CONSTITUTION DAY (Święto Narodowe Trzeciego Maja)
(restored as an official holiday in April 1990)
The 225 Anniversary of the
Constitution of May 3, 1971
(Konstytucja 3 maja)
As a major triumph of the enlightened and patriotic Polish citizenry, the Constitution of May 3, 1791 was the first modern constitution in Europe (preceding the French Constitution of September 1791) and the second one in the world (following the United States Constitution created on September 17, 1787). But in contrast to the American and French constitutions - linked respectively to the American Revolutionary War and French Revolution - the Polish constitution originated in the critical but bloodless circumstances (no major war within the last two decades).
The Constitution of May 3rd was designed to avert the looming demise of the country sinking into political chaos and suffering territorial losses to its neighbors. The state was then called the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth uniting the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under a common ruler and a single legislative body (called sejm) equipped with the strong powers to elect and limit the monarch's governance. This unique political system was called the Golden Liberty or the "Nobles' Democracy" since the extensively privileged nobility (called szlachta) had a firm grip on the legislature.
The impressive strength of the early Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth started to fade in the 17th century due to foreign invasions and protracted wars, failure to stimulate the economic growth by doing away with serfdom, countless abuses of the nobles' privileges and the legislative paralysis that arose with the unanimity voting rule (liberum veto) gradually replacing the majority vote. The weakness did not escape the efficiently militarized neighbors and in 1772, Prussia, Russia and Austria annexed about 1/3 of the Commonwealth territory (the first partition of Poland).
Passing of the May 3 Constitution was the main achievement of the Great Sejm convened in 1788 and a victory for the reformists striving to purge the laws that brought the country to the brink of anarchy. The act restored the majority vote, changed the monarchy from elective to hereditary and established clear separation between the three branches of the government. In terms of social reforms, it failed to abolish serfdom but granted peasants legal protection under the national law. The act also reduced some inequalities between nobility and townspeople.
Faced with the stiff opposition from the Commonwealth's neighbors and some Polish magnates concerned with the loss of their privileges, the Constitution of May 3rd remained in effect for a little more than 18 months. It was annulled on November 23, 1793 after the lost War in Defense of the Constitution (Polish–Russian War of 1792). On that date, the second partition of Poland also took place to be soon followed by the complete annexation of the Commonwealth (known as the third partition of Poland) in 1795.
The painting by Jan Matejko (1838-1893) depicts the last Polish King Stanislaus Augustus (Stanisław II August Poniatowski;) entering the John's Cathedral together with members of the Grand Sejm and inhabitants of Warsaw entering the St John's Cathedral in Warsaw to swear in the Polish Constitution just after it had been adopted by the Grand Sejm in the Royal Castle (visible in the background). Click on the picture to see annotations..