It is Independence Day. A National holiday.
Whilst most people celebrate this day as Armistice or Remembrance – eleventh hour, eleventh day, eleventh month – for Poles it is the day they regained their independence after 123 years of not existing at all having been divided up between the three contiguous empires of Austria, Germany (Prussia), and Russia in 1795.
Flags are traditionally hung everywhere around the city. Many are put into the special flag holders that are fixed to buildings for use on such occasions. At Strangely Park we have one on the security hut but many people also improvise with their own flag displays. This year someone just planted one in the grass near Hemingway’s garage, for example.
Sadly, as the impact of the original reason to celebrate fades there are others who take advantage and central Warsaw has seen violent demonstrations today. I’m really not clear who is demonstrating about what. There are right wing nationalists and left wing extremists and the police. I’m told that some of them want Poland to fully embrace a multi-cultural European future, others want it to be a white Catholic Polish island. The police want them to go home and the football hooligans want a fight. I think they should all just “get a life”.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski also organised his own Independence Day march in the city with military veterans in an attempt to reclaim the day from what he called “extremists and hooligans”. Before the march he appealed for a less polarised society. Go Bronek!
I confess I had a lot of trouble understanding Polish Independence day at first. My naïve assumption was that independence was gained when Communism died, so sometime in 1989, but that’s not the case. Poland did not cease to exist while the communists were here, it was still here, just under different management. That’s very different to the period between 1795 and 1918 when the country of Poland simply did not exist at all. Hence the reason Independence day is the 1918 date and not 1989.
We’ve been having a lazy Sunday at Strangely Park so all this action, a mere 15 minutes away, has passed by unnoticed except on the TV screen.