I know that many posts on my website is about travels, simply because I love learning about other people and cultures. That’s why I travel a lot in comparison to regular holidaymakers. And I would love to travel even more, by the way. Sometimes, though, it’s only the second-best option available – my work. Even though some people could say it is repetitive, after all I train, coach and mentor my clients how to communicate with the others, mostly British, US Americans and Polish and how to be a happy and fulfilled expat. That is true, but thankfully those using my services come from so many different cultural backgrounds that every single session is different.
Sometimes I present my work in front of a bigger audience. Recently I delivered an introduction to Poland, and I think it may be interesting for you to learn a bit about my motherland. It would also give you some insights about my job. This article is based on an hour-long presentation, most common programmes are 8 hours/whole day depending on the number of areas covered (working, living, business and/or social life, networking, dealing with culture shock, adapting, etc.); it was only a taster.
So, without further ado, here is what everyone who wants to visit, move, or make business, should know about Poland, in my opinion. To make it easily readable, the Introduction to Poland is divided in two parts, this one is about history, it would be too long otherwise.
A “brief” history
The Polish are obsessed with history, probably because we used to be grand and powerful. The truth is that we made it mostly by convincing the last pagan neighbour, Grand Duke of Lithuania (which at the time was few times bigger than Poland) to convert to Christianity, marry our 11-year-old King (no, it was not the same-sex marriage, “king” was the official ruler’s title regardless of their gender, “queen” was just reserved for king’s wife) and kill the Teutonic Knights on our behalf. In exchange, Polish let the Lithuanians feel European and pay us taxes. Sounds like perfect deal, mostly for us, so nothing unusual that it’s how one of the longest love-hate relationship between two countries has started. But we will get there in a moment.
Whatever some people say, there were no ancient Polish, unfortunately. There were Celtic and Germanic tribes first, the Slavs came later. But when they came, they never left, apart from some of us who decided to take over UK, but since that did not happen for the next 1500 years anyway, we’ll leave it out for now. Why it’s so important? Everyone knows, and who does not is simply an ignorant and it’s better if they won’t speak, EVER, that us Polish are responsible for at least two things which are the best in the world in their categories – amber and wodka (you see what I did here, it is never spelled vodka, remember it!), but because the latter is 15th century AD, we focus on the former.
Baltic amber was considered the most beautiful and precious to the point that it was found in the tomb of Egyptian pharaohs, including Tutankhamun. The Chinese have their Silk Road, the Polish have our – the Amber Road, which was already in use thousands of years ago. That’s why it is kind of sad that it’s not ours. We claim its ownership, nevertheless. Just like we claim Biskupin, a late Bronze Age/an early Iron Age fortified settlement built in the middle of the lake and once thought to be the proof of the Early Slavs living conveniently close, 30 kilometres which is less than 19 miles, to the earliest known Polish capital Gniezno. It’s not like the Greeks are the descendants of people who used to pray to Zeus, are they? Nevermind!
Moving forward to times when Polish truly existed, or at least those who gave the name to my country, we are in the 9th century AD, more or less. That was when the chieftains of one local tribe of Polans (meaning the people of the field) decided to group, definitely euphemism, other tribes speaking the same language under their leadership. The first historical ruler of Poland was Mieszko, who decided to get rid of his old wives and take a new bride from Czechia. That marriage happened in 965 and brought culture, Catholicism, enlightenment, and recognition, at least that’s the official version.
Poland started to grow rapidly since then. Mieszko’s son, Bolesław the Brave, became the “proper” pope-blessed king, introduced the first Polish monetary unit, and expanded the country, even conquering Kievan Rus and installing there his son-in-law as a puppet ruler. And it would be perfect if not one idiot, my namesake Konrad of Masovia (area around Warsaw), who quarter of a millennium later invited the Germans in disguise, officially calling themselves the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, the Teutonic Knights for short, to fight with the Prussians, the pagan Baltic tribe. They quickly replaced the Polish rule, and created an independent state with its capital in Marienburg, Polish name Malbork – by the way, the Malbork castle is not only the largest in the world by land area, it is also the largest brick structure ever built.
Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania defeated the Order (its Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen died on the battlefield) in one of the largest battles of medieval Europe – the Battle of Grunwald, or Tannenberg in German. Believe it or not, every single Polish knows the date, partially because it was the last time we won so spectacularly with the Germans, partially because 1410 is the most popular recipe for Polish moonshine (1kg of sugar, 4 litres of water, 10dkg of yeast). On the more serious note, it is the true source of national pride and a symbol of firm resistance over foreign hegemony, though the moonshine part is also true.
As you can clearly see from the map of Europe in 1444, the Polish – Lithuanian state was the biggest on the continent. And it was not even at its largest! Everything was looking great at that point and Poland entered its Golden Age. Our royal dynasty was one of the most important players in Europe. Eventually, in my hometown, Lublin, in 1569, Polish and Lithuanians nobility decided to replace the personal union between our two countries with a real union by creating a single state. Since the King was childless, it also chose the elective monarchy instead of hereditary one. And that was something very unusual at the time. By the way, Lublin, being located right in the middle between 2 capitals, Krakow and Vilnius, has become one of the most important and richest cities of the Crown; you can still see its beauty. Under Polish political system, so called Nobles’ Democracy, all nobles regardless of rank, etnicity or economical status, were considered equal. The Crown was the most decentralised, democratic, tollerant country in Europe as Polish were always opposed to the concept of an authoritarian government. The Union lasted until 1791, when a unitary state has been created, but that was a bit too late for us.
We’re getting to the end of today’s post. Why? You may ask; it’s still almost 250 years to cover, after all. True, but they were not the best years for my country and we just skip it. It was on 3rd May 1791 when Polish adopted the new constitution, which was the second in the world after the United States. It was very modern, clearly dividing the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and our neighbours didn’t really like it. They decided to join their forces and remove it by getting rid of Poland altogether. Prussia, Austria and Russia annexed large parts of my country, first in 1772, then in 1793 (this time without Austrian “help”). Finally, all three in 1795 took over the remains and Poland ceased to exist for 123 years, until the end of World War I, when on 11th Nov 1918 Polish independence has been restored in the form of a republic. But that’s for the second part.