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Poland Observes Its Independence Day in Seoul
Amb. Derlatka's Article Explains on Nov. 11, 1918
Special Contribution
By Polish Embassy in Seoul
Polish Ambassador to Seoul Andrzej Konrad Derlatka

Polish Ambassador to Seoul Andrzej Konrad Derlatka has contributed a special lengthy article on its national day — Independence Day (Nov. 11, 1918) to The Seoul Times.

The top Polish envoy will observe its Independence Day by holding a recption at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul on Nov. 11, 2005.

The reception will be held at Hyatt's Regency Room at 6:30 p.m. on the day and a number of both local and international people are invited to the standing buffet.

Here is the Amb. Derlatka's story on The 11th of November, 1918.

The 11th of November is a special day for Poles, celebrated as the Independence Day meaning the return to the map of sovereign European states after 123 years of foreign rule.

Naturally, regaining independence is not an event that could be discussed in terms of one specific date in calendar but rather a long and complex process.

This special date, however, marks a series of important events that gave the day a symbolic meaning: the Compiegne armistice is signed, ending long and bloody World War I. Most of German troops deployed in Warsaw since August 5, 1915, have been disarmed; Jozef Pi³sudski, the architect and leader of Legions, the most esteemed politician at that time, holds talks on taking over power and re-creating the Polish state 'from the scrap.'

The Polish State was wiped out of Europe's map after the Third Partition in 1795. The Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795) divided the Polish Kingdom among its three powerful neighbours, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The opportunities for regaining independence emerged only in the end of the World War I when the three conquerors were defeated.

The first to collapse was Russia, unprepared to conducting a prolonged war. The abdication of Emperor Nicholas II in February 1917 and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in November of the same year lead to the ultimate disintegration of that country's war-machine followed by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) with Germany.

Also the second conqueror, Austria, turned out to be incapable of carrying on the war and, with defeats becoming increasingly severe, its former satellite countries started to get independence. The third neighbour, Germany, fought longest.

When independence finally came in 1918, it was not only the result of external circumstances, i.e. dissolution of the Russian, German, and Austrian empires at the end of World War I. An equally important factor was an independence movement both within the divided country and abroad. The dominant political figure in this movement became Jozef Pilsudski.

On August 6, 1914, several days after breakout of the World War I, his legionnaires set out from Krakow and crossed the Austrian-Russian border. Pilsudski planned to incite an uprising in the Russian sector of Poland. The plan drew from the traditions of the 1863 January Uprising. Unfortunately, the realities of 1914 were different and the plan was a failure. However, Pilsudski's effort was not completely in vain since the company became the core of Legions (initially allied with Austria), a foundation of the future Polish Armed Forces.

Since the Polish leaders of that time were divided over the means to employ to regain independence, an alternative to Pilsudski's approach was a pro-Russian and anti-German orientation. The most notable representative of the political right was Roman Dmowski who headed the National Democracy movement that initiated establishment of a National Committee (1914) with an aim of forming — in alliance with Russia — an army capable of defeating Germans.

However, because of the hatred felt by Poles to Russia, caused by repressions that followed the 1830, 1863, and 1905 uprisings, Dmowski's plans failed. He and other leaders of the National Democracy migrated to Russia and then to Lausanne where in August 1917 they established the Polish National Committee.

Amb. Derlatka attends a diplomatic event with Mrs. Derlatka.

Soon, the organisation moved to Paris. The Polish National Committee had the ambitions to form a provisional Polish government, it represented Poland to the Allies, formed the Polish Armed Forces in France under command of General Jozef Haller, offered assistance to Poles residing in the Western countries and contributed to advancing the Polish case in the West.

Since the very beginning of the World War I, the three Poland's conquerors tried to buy a sanction for their case from Poles. On August 7 and 8, 1914, Germans distributed brochures with a proclamation addressed to Poles, assuring them of 'German friendship' and calling for joint action against Russia. On August 9, Austrians issued similar declaration.

On August 14, the Russian commander-in-chief, Prince Nicholas Nicholaevich issued a manifesto promising unification of Poland under the rule of the Russian emperor. All these declarations were basically aimed at one goal: recruiting soldiers while the political offers were very dim, being rather promises with no real meaning. The Polish case drew international attention again in 1916 when the Allied states started to gain advantage on the Central Powers.

Forced by the situation, seeking to attract Polish recruits, the emperors of Austria and Germany proclaimed formation of "an independent state from the Polish territories recovered from under the Russian rule, with hereditary constitutional monarchy " on November 5, 1916. However, the manifest did not make specific either the issue of borders, Polish army, or foreign policy, and did not answer the question: who would be the king? Instead, several days later, volunteers were called for joining a Polish army.

Several weeks later, on January 22, 1917, U.S. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson acknowledged as a matter of fact 'the emergence of Poland united, independent, and sovereign.'

The Poland's right to independence was also acknowledged after the February revolution in Russia in the proclamation by Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and the Provisional Government. In December 1916, the German and Austrian authorities established a Provisional Council of State. It was expected to co-operate with occupying forces in 'developing further state administration facilities.'

However, the conquerors did not hurry with rebuilding an independent Polish state and establishing a Polish army under Polish commanders. In these circumstances, Pilsudski banned the legionnaires from giving an oath of allegiance while recruitment to the so-called 'Polnische Wermaht.' For this reason he and other legionnaires were interned in Magdeburg prison on July 22, 1917.

Meanwhile, Pilsudski's fame and prestige have reached the peak. The legend surrounding Pilsudski allowed him to take over the government later in November 1918 with consent of the majority of the Polish society. Another attempt to fill the political vacuum by the occupying powers was establishing of the Regency Council on October 15, 1917, composed of Warsaw Archbishop, Aleksander Kakowski; Prince Zdzislaw Lubomirski; and landed proprietor, Jozef Ostrowski. The Regents had their office in the Warsaw Royal Castle where a Polish flag was hang up. The Council was intended as a foundation of the future Polish government.

A major support for the re-born Polish State was Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, a peace program announced by the U.S. President before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 8, 1918. The entire point 13 was devoted to Poland, proposing establishment of an independent Polish state that incorporates Polish native land inhabited by indisputably Polish population, enjoys free and secure access to the sea, the political and territorial integrity of which should be guaranteed under an international treaty.

Since Fall of 1918, the process of decay of the occupying States's administration on the Polish territories was proceeding rapidly. The Regency Council was forming Polish army and maintained the Polish Military Organisation counting approximately 20 thousand men. The occupying states were preparing to withdrawal. In such circumstances, the first centres of Polish government started to emerge in several locations, such as Polish Liquidation Commission under leadership of Colonel Boleslaw Roja in Krakow (October 28, 1918) aiming to take over the administration from Austria; the National Council of Cieszyn Duchy (October 19); or the Provisional People's Government of the Polish Republic in Lublin (November 7) led by Ignacy Daszynski as the Prime Minister. The government issued a Proclamation, a very revolutionary document, envisaging radical reforms, i.e. eight-hour work day.

On November 10, Pilsudski, the only man at that time able to take over the government, returned to Warsaw by a special train. He was coming back from Magdeburg prison where he had spent 16 months. He was welcomed at the railway station by Regent Lubomirski and the Commander of the Polish Military Organisation, Adam Koc, but he wanted to meet with representatives of political parties first to get an update of the situation. The return of the Commander made Warsaw enthusiastic; "Warsaw Courier" published a special addition; the house where Pilsudski stopped was surrounded by cheering crowds.

On the following day, the last German garrison was disarmed and the capital was free. On November 11, the Regency Council turned the military power to Pilsudski. Three days later, the Council dissolved and Pilsudski were left with all prerogatives. On November 16, the Allied states received a message signed by Pilsudski: "As the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, I wish to notify the belligerent and neutral governments and nations of the existence of an Independent Polish State incorporating all territories of the united Poland." The 11th of November marked a beginning of a difficult phase of re-establishing the state from the three separate pieces with their unique characteristics.

In January 1919, elections to the Legislative Parliament were held and on February 10, the Head of State, Jozef Pilsudski, opened the first session with the words: "The Polish Parliament will again be the sole sovereign and governor in its home."

Nov. 11 Celebration

The 11th of November was celebrated in the inter-war Poland as a national holiday. After the World War II, under communist regime, the holiday was repudiated. In line with the doctrine, the communist governments put an emphasis on the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 as the decisive factor in regaining independence by Poland. The first serious historical publications on Jozef Pilsudski and his contribution to the re-emergence of the Polish state started to appear only in the 1970-ties. In the end of the 1980-ties, people opposed to the communist system started to lay flowers on the Unknown Soldier Tomb on the 11th of November 11. In 1989, the 11th of November was re-established as the Independence Day.






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