The Poles are big on flags. Almost all buildings, public and private, have numerous neat little sprockets mounted in the exterior walls for holding flags. And they’re used often. This time of year, from the first to the third of May, is perhaps the peak period for displaying the national flag. The red and whites start to go up on residential buildings a few days before the first, and by the second most buildings are festooned with them.
A fine display of Polish flags outside the offices of the President of Krakow on Constitution Day.
It’s kind of confusing for non-Poles because there are actually three events crammed into the very beginning of May. The first of May is the well-known May Day or International Workers’ Day holiday. This was vigorously celebrated in Poland and throughout the rest of the Eastern Bloc during the period of Soviet domination. By sheer coincidence the third of May is an historically important date for the Poles because it is the anniversary of the day in 1791 when Poland adopted it’s first modern constitution (incidentally the first proper codified constitution in Europe). The Soviets were not so keen to have this commemorated, especially since the 1791 constitution was overthrown within a year by invading Russian armies. During the communist era Poles would sometimes ‘forget’ to take their flags down after May Day and ‘accidentally’ leave them up until the third as tribute to 1791.
With the collapse of communism the situation became slightly confusing for a while. Flags were required to be flown from public buildings on then first, as before, but now also on the third. It was a hassle having to take them down on the second just to put them up again the next day so, in 2004, the second was designated Flag Day giving three clear days of uninterrupted flag waving. At least that’s my version of events.
On private buildings the flags go up randomly some time during the week and come down again when the building’s administrator gets around to it. Throughout the week the streets are alive with comedic scenes as portly balding gentleman with fags hanging from the corners of their mouths struggle with stepladders or hang precariously out of windows holding each other by the legs. The death and injury toll is probably horrendous.