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One hundredth anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s independence

10 May 2018

Poland celebrates Constitution Day on the 3rd of May. It was on this day in 1791 that Poland's first constitution was adopted. It was a document "based on Enlightenment values being adopted. A new, bold, moral idea. Article V of the Constitution reads: All authority in human society takes its origin in the will of the people. Instead of advancing the interests of the few, the government must put the nation first," said Ambassador of Poland, Mr Andrzej Kanthak at a reception in Pretoria to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s independence.

Photo: Polish Ambassador Andrzej Kanthak with SA Deputy Minister of Social Development,  Mrs Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu (Credit: Grażyna Koornhof)

Guests were treated to Polish words of wisdom, Polish music and authentic Polish cuisine.

Speech by Polish Ambassador Andrzej Kanthak on the occasion

Imagine! We go back in time!

To 1791. The date of an oldest surviving unopened bottle of Groot Constantia wine: a treasured artefact, belonging to the estate.

But we move north: about 10 000 km north of Constantia. And we go back exactly eleven thousand, eight hundred and forty-five (11,845) weeks.

It’s Tuesday, 3 May 1791. The Royal Castle in Warsaw. Something momentous is happening. Europe’s first full constitution based on Enlightenment values is being adopted.

A new, bold, moral idea. Article V of the Constitution reads: All authority in human society takes its origin in the will of the people. Instead of advancing the interests of the few, the government must put the nation first

It takes generations of wars and imperial rivalry before that’s accepted as Europe’s guiding principle. It takes even longer for Europe to accept that that principle applies elsewhere. To people living in territories around the world that Europe has seized as its own. Including your own country. South Africa.

* * * * *

This day, 3 May, Poland’s Constitution Day, is immediately proclaimed a public holiday.

But the 1791 celebrations don’t last long. Austria, Russia and Prussia join forces against this democratic menace! Within some 200 weeks, Poland itself has vanished! From the map of Europe. That’s how things stay for the next century. That holiday is banned.

My own parents were born in Prussia in 1906 (my father) and 1909 (mother).

They were Poles. Taught in German, in Prussian schools. My mother was fluent in Polish, the language for over hundred years officially defunct. It survived, because her ancestors, throughout all those years, were regularly going to church – the bastion of Polishness. And speaking Polish at home

They make it through the upheaval of the First World War to 1918. Poland reappears as an independent sovereign nation.

One of the first steps of the new Polish government - reinstate the Constitution Day holiday! The first official national holiday of the new Poland.

Hitler and Stalin attack and divide Poland. The Constitution Day holiday is banned again.

World War Two ends. Poland falls under communist rule. The holiday stays banned. It won’t do to allow Poles to remember and celebrate that day in 1791 when their democratic sovereignty was written into law!

Communism collapses. Poland wins back its democracy. Its independence. And in April 1990 the Constitution Day holiday is restored. So here we are today!

What conclusions can we draw from this long story?

I think just one. Try to take this holiday away from Poland and Poles? It DOESN’T WORK. Sooner or later - we WILL get it back!

* * * * *

It’s a special honour for me to represent my country here today. 2018 is one hundred years since my country re-joined the international community.

And 2018 also marks the centenary of the birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

I needn’t tell anyone here what he lived through. About his personal struggle and sacrifice. To share with his people that simple bold moral idea adopted by Poland all the way back in 1791. All authority in human society takes its origin in the will of the people.

* * * * *

So, here we are now. Poland and South Africa. Two countries proud of their distinct identity. Proud of their role in their respective regions. Proud of their independence.

Both with LOTS to do. To make up for lost time. Tackling profound legacy issues that we did not create ourselves. Justice. Memory. Responsibility

Poles, since throwing off the yoke of communism have been chasing the lost time extremely well. We have progressed more in the last 30 years than the previous 300.

We have achieved 26 years of non-stop growth, at an average rate of 3,6%. It is the longest stretch of continuous growth in the modern history. We are surpassed only by Australia by two quarters of a year, and tied with China!

In thirty years, we’ve doubled the size of our economy and joined the top 25 largest economies world-wide. And despite the deep and widespread radical economic transformation, Poland has achieved remarkable political and socioeconomic stability.

Photo: Ambassador Kari Alanko of Finland, Ambassador Marcus Cornaro of the EU, Ambassador Andrzej Kanthak of Poland and Astrid Cornaro 

Poland remains a committed EU Member State, recognising that we have benefitted enormously from our membership. Our future prosperity and well-being lies with continued membership of the EU.

South Africa is a priority partner for Poland on the African continent. Our own country has become a very popular destination for South African Investors. Their investments amounts to several billion USD – a significant contributor to Poland’s economic development and growth.

* * * * *

On occasions like this, Ambassadors like to finish with words of wisdom! And where better to find wisdom than in Polish proverbs?

I suspect almost no-one here knows that in 1972 a US TV crime series specialised in Polish proverbs. The hero, Thomas Banacek, was a Polish private investigator. He won TV fame for his enigmatic observations about the human condition:

A wolf that takes a peasant to supper probably won’t need breakfast

The truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn

For some of his proverbs, he was the only one who understood them. We sometimes thought he must have been Czech, not a Pole!

His wisdom even embraced animals from this part of the world:

Only someone with nothing to be sorry about smiles at the rear of an elephant

And, above all, this one:

The hippopotamus has no sting – but the wise man prefers to be sat upon by the bee

That’s the wise man.

And the wise Ambassador knows that at a National Day reception, the best speeches are the shortest speeches!

Thank you again for joining us on our most auspicious day.



August 2018







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