By Joseph Batory, Daily Times Guest Columnist
(Reprinted with permission of the Delaware County Daily Times—Published May 5, 2016)
On May 3, 1791, a startling new constitution was adopted by the parliament in Poland. This document was unique and wonderfully different for Europe, an unprecedented landmark model for freedom.
Similar to the newly adopted United States Constitution of 1787, this Polish Constitution of 1791 stated that government does not exist to benefit aristocratic rulers or monarchs or the wealthy classes, but rather, government exists to enhance the lives of all people. Civil liberties were extended to all citizens of Poland regardless of social class or ethnic origin. Three branches of government were established, legislative, executive and judicial. Townspeople were given an unprecedented right to own land and invited to participate in government. Freedom of religion was guaranteed to all.
These basic ideas of this Polish Constitution—freedom for all, shared power, representative government and religious tolerance—shook the 18th century world in Europe.
The messages of the Polish Constitution — of equality and liberty and justice — so aggravated the monarchies and aristocracies of Prussia, Russia and Austria that armies from these three nations soon invaded and devastated Poland and divided the Polish nation among themselves.
This outrage of Poland’s neighboring countries had the goal of crushing the Polish national identity as well as its aspirations for liberty and freedom.
However, the human spirit of the Polish people could never be extinguished despite this tyranny. Even without its sovereignty and despite 123 years of subjugation by foreign powers, the egalitarian dreams and spirit of the Polish people lived on, and Poland was finally restored as a nation in the early 20th century.
Unfortunately, more tragedy for Poland followed at the Poles fought the Nazi invasion at the start of World War II. The occupation of Poland by the Nazis for four years was brutal but could not stamp out the spirit of the Poles.
Subsequently, Poland, which by percentage had more deaths than any other nation in World War II, was incredibly handed over to the Soviets who tried (but failed) to crush the Polish culture and language and religious beliefs for the next 40 years.
Incredibly, despite all of the atrocities perpetrated on Poland by different invaders over the years, the ideals of freedom, justice, equality inspired by the Polish Constitution of 1791 live on today in Poland.
The Polish Constitution of 1791 is a testament to the inherent spirit and courage of the Polish people. But it is also symbolizes the inherent quest for freedom in the hearts of good people everywhere.
Joseph Batory is proud of his Polish-American heritage.