European Culture

100 years of Polish independence

2018/12/12 / 400

Poland is celebrating  100 years of independence with a whole variety of events in 2018. The Elbphilharmonie takes the opportunitiy to place Poland in the spotlight: for three months, the NDR ensembles and a variety of Polish artists and groups present the many different facets of Polish music.

Poland can look back on over a thousand years of history, but the year 1918 stands out as particularly memorable: this was the year when the country freed itself from the foreign yoke and made a new start as an independent republic. However, it wasn't long before the dream of freedom was shattered again, and the Polish people had to wait until 1989 for renewed independence.

Before 1918- A nation without state: In the three Partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire divided the territory of Poland up amongst themselves. After the third Partition, nothing was left of Poland: the country had vanished from the map. A humiliation and a trauma with lasting effect.

1918- Rebirth: »An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations…« – in January 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson outlined his proposals for a postwar peace settlement in Europe with a 14-point plan, of which this was the 13th point. On 11 November 1918, the future Polish head of state Józef Piłsudski took military control of German-occupied Warsaw and proclaimed the Republic of Poland. But the borders of the new, independent state were not clearly defined, which resulted in repeated conflicts with neighbouring countries in the following years.

The Second World War: As a result of the pact that Hitler and Stalin entered into in 1939, Poland once again found itself in between the millstones of the two major powers of the Soviet Union and the German Reich. After Germany invaded it in 1939, Poland disappeared from the map once more, and an era of prolonged suffering began for the Polish people.

After the war: A total of 5 million inhabitants of Poland lost their lives during the Second World War, with many of them, such as the Jewish community and the country's elites, being deliberately executed. The capital city, Warsaw, lay in ruins in 1945. After the war, Poland's borders once again shifted, and some two million people were resettled. Although Poland was on the side of the victors at the end of World War Two, the country fell under the influence of the Soviet Union, and communism was established as the political system.

Up to 1989- THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF POLAND: The rebuilding of Poland after the Second World War took place under difficult conditions: the political and cultural isolation, an anti-democratic leadership and an inefficient economic system meant that reconstruction took longer than in other European countries. Agriculture was collectivised, political freedom and the media subjected to restrictions, the economy stagnated, and everyday products and foodstuffs were frequently in short supply. Social unrest and resultant protests regularly affected the People's Republic.

 1989 – Today: After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Poland once again became a democratic republic. Far-reaching reforms were introduced without delay, replacing the one-party system with political pluralism and the state-controlled economy with a free market. Dependency on the East was followed by an opening-up to the West. Lech Walesa became Poland's first democratically elected president in 1990. Poland became a member of NATO in 1999, and joined the European Union in 2004. At the 2015 parliamentary election, the right-wing conservative party PiS (Law & Justice) won an absolute majority, and has since been governing alone.