Minute of history: how Poland celebrates Constitution Day

President Andrzej Duda and other high-ranking officials were to attend the ceremony as Poland celebrated Constitution day on Thursday.

Celebrations were scheduled to begin with a religious service at St. John’s Basilica in Warsaw, with the head of state and his wife among those taking part.

Later in the day, Duda was expected to make a speech during state ceremonies at the Polish capital’s Castle Square.

May 3 is a public holiday in Poland that celebrates a historic constitution the country’s legislators adopted on May 3, 1791.

Poles proudly point out that the progressive document was the first modern constitution in Europe and the second worldwide, after the American Constitution, which was created in 1787.

The pioneering Polish constitution is described by historians as one of the proudest achievements in Polish history, with many saying that the constitution’s provisions – if put into practice – would have changed the course of the nation’s history.

But reforms and liberties proposed in the document – including religious tolerance and the separation of powers — were viewed with suspicion in neighbouring countries, especially in light of the French Revolution raging at the time.

The Polish reforms were seen as a threat to the European status quo by Russia, Austria and Prussia, historians say, and the adoption of the constitution hastened the dismemberment of Poland by these countries.

After a series of partitions, Poland in 1795 lost its sovereignty for 123 years. It re-emerged as an independent state on November 11, 1918, the day World War I ended.

Poland marks Constitution Day on May 3, while November 11 is Independence Day, commemorating the anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty.

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