Poland celebrates its independence on 11 November, commemorating the restoration in 1918 of the sovereignty it had lost over 120 years earlier in the three Partitions of Poland between Prussia, Austria and Russia.
Before 1770 Poland (as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) had stretched over much of modern-day Latvia, Ukraine and Belarus as well as Lithuania and eastern Poland. But increasingly weak governments found themselves unable to resist demands by their Prussian, Russian and Austrian neighbours to cede territory. By 1795 Poland had been pretty much reduced to the eastern half of its modern territory; and then even that was swallowed up in the Third Partition.
Poland’s opportunity to reclaim its independence came at the end of the First World War. The Russian Empire had been overthrown by two revolutions in 1917, and was now embroiled in civil war; and the German and Austro-Hungarian Imperial regimes were discredited by military defeat. On 11 November dissident leader Jozef Pilsudski was declared Commander in Chief of Poland’s armed forces by the Regency Council; in 1937, two years after his death, the anniversary of this event was declared Poland’s National Day.
It was only celebrated twice before 1989, though. Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland between them in September 1939. During the Second World War a Communist government-in-exile in Moscow published a manifesto for the post-war government of Poland; the date of publication, 22 July 1944, was chosen as Poland’s new national day. A democratically elected government restored the November celebration in 1989.