Poland & Lithuania: The End of the Romance

It’s official! The golden couple of Central and Eastern Europe are breaking up! It had been a while coming, but sources close to the couple claim they have reached the stage where ‘irreconcilable differences’ cannot be repaired. The relationship had looked increasingly fraught in recent times, with Lithuania announcing recently that, in their opinion “the golden era in the relationship was over”.

Poland and Lithuania have long been seen as the standard bearers when it comes to happy relationships, with most recognising that “if anyone can make it last, they can”. However, as the years passed, the pair grew apart. Here’s a quick review of the relationship, and later we’ll look at where do they go from here.

An Eternal Union – or is it…?

The Beginning

The couple started going out in 1385. Initially, it was an awkward coupling, as the pair did not seem to have much in common. Over time though, as they felt each other out, compromises were made as the two adjusted to each other. Lithuania agreed to convert to Christianity, while Poland returned lands previously claimed under wars and battles won and lost.

In the beginning, the dominant partner in the relationship seemed to be Lithuania, with Jogaila being introduced to Jadwiga by friends and most of the early dates taking place on Lithuanian soil. However, it would soon become obvious that Poland would gain the upper hand in the relationship. Cousins and friends of Lithuania pushed for more commitment by arranging the Union of Vilnius and Radom.

An early picture of the couple in happier days

Engagement and Marriage

After surviving the early phase of ‘getting-to-know-you’, the couple settled into a comfortable routine. Love blossomed, and they became the ‘It Couple’ of Central and Eastern Europe with the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the Ottoman Empire, the Prussians and the Habsburgs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire all casting envious glances their way. With a few subtle hints from parents and babcias, the big question was popped as the couple decided to get married and their engagement was announced with much joy. Much planning was then required to prepare for the wedding. The lingering feelings of Lithuanian resentment at growing Polish power in the relationship were put aside for the big day.

Jan Matejko’s take on the 1569 joining

There were much negotiations over the dowry and other requirements, but once the wedding day came around in 1569, the happiness was evident, and everyone looked to the future with much optimism.

The Later Years and Clashes

Outwardly, Poland and Lithuania were delighted together and onlookers began asking the question of when children could be expected. However, not all was as it appeared. Cracks in the relationship appeared, as it became clear that being part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth meant being Polish over being Lithuanian. Catholicism, the Polish language and even the złoty were adopted as the norms in both Poland and Lithuania, as Poland asserted its dominance.

The first major falling out came in 1791, as Poland looked to strike out on its own, and make its own rules, by setting up a Constitution by itself. After a big fight, the couple looked for a trial separation. Initially, it seemed to be an amicable split with the possibility of re-engagement remaining an option. However, over time other suitors began to make a move on the couple, trying to make the most of the separation.

The Constitution in Polish (above) and Lithuanian (below)

The Breakup and the Future

As noted earlier, the couple recently realised that it was highly unlikely that they would recommit to each other, with the breakup seeming inevitable. Poland had been seen flirting with some of the neighbours in recent times, with Germany and France becoming friendly, while Russia was seen wrapping arms around Poland at a recent family funeral. Lithuania seems to have retreated into hiding, only seen catching up with old friends Latvia and Estonia from time to time to drown their sorrows.

They’ve had a long intertwined history, but who can say what the future will hold for Poland and Lithuania…

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21 thoughts on “Poland & Lithuania: The End of the Romance

  1. Conflict over Wilno/Vilnius in the 1920s? Conflict over recognition of Polish spelling of names of Lithuania’s Polish minority? There’s much bad feeling below the surface…

  2. I’m sorry, but the misuse of “it’s” has ruined this otherwise fine article for me. Editor?

  3. Decoy says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve made necessary corrections.

  4. scatts says:

    I blame Mickiewicz.

    “Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jestes jak zdrowie…”

  5. Wiktor says:

    “The first major falling out came in 1791, as Poland looked to strike out on its own, and make its own rules, by setting up a Constitution by itself. After a big fight, the couple looked for a trial separation. Initially, it seemed to be an amicable split with the possibility of re-engagement remaining an option.”

    Pardon me if I should err, but the metaphor seems to have gotten out of hand. Or at least I fail to comprehend the metaphor – could the author (or anyone who understands it) restate it in plain terms and historical events. What is this falling out that is being referred to? What is the trial separation? Pray tell, I am curious about these hitherto unknown chapters of my history.

  6. Sylwia says:

    The May 3 Constitution… In the Lithuanian nationalist version of history, the May 3 Constitution was an attempt by the Poles to deprive the Lithuanians of their independence. The view was largely promoted by the Communist regime as a major reason to “protect” Lithuanians from the land-greedy Poles by keeping them well hidden within the borders of the Soviet Union.

    The view is no longer held by serious historians, and several years ago May 3 became the national holiday in Lithuania. Nowadays it’s a joint celebration of Poles and Lithuanians, just as the Constitution was. In fact, back in 1791, there were even more Lithuanians supporting the Constitution than Poles. The document had to be accepted by the sejmiks all over the Commonwealth, and the results of that poll are known.

    I do wonder though, where Decoy has learnt his history. ;) I’d suggest reading Timothy Snyder’s “The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999” for some guidance through the muddled paths of Central European nationalisms.

    To address some other points:

    “Catholicism, the Polish language and even the złoty were adopted as the norms in both Poland and Lithuania, as Poland asserted its dominance.”

    Catholicism was adopted by Lithuania on several prior occasions. It’s just that the Teutonic Knights wouldn’t accept it, and Lithuania needed Poland to convince them. Still, the vast majority of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania remained Orthodox.

    Poles didn’t force Lithuanians to speak Polish. In fact, the vast majority of Lithuanians were already ruski speakers. They have long abandoned Lithuanian of their own will, and then those who spoke ruski (Ruthenian, Belarusian) adopted Polish.

    The first złoty was coined in the late 17th century. Over a century after Poles and Lithuanians united. So it wasn’t Polish, it was Commonwealthian. Otherwise, Poles, just like other Europeans, used ducats, talars etc. You think that the medieval Lithuanians used litas? LOL

    Finally, being Polish didn’t mean not being Lithuanian. Just as being British doesn’t mean not being Welsh. People back then weren’t familiar with our modern ideas of nationality, and I strongly suspect they’d think them crap if they were. Why would they bring on themselves so many ethnic/national conflicts if they were fine the way they were?

    We know that Lithuanians have been greatly traumatized by the experience of Communism, and we’ve been waiting patiently for them to come to terms with it. But it’s been over 20 years now, and they’re still wrapped up in some 19th century notions. It’s time to catch up with 21st century standards of European policy on minorities. It doesn’t matter whether they like us or not. Poles don’t need to like Germans to print German language names on street signs. It’s just a matter of making all of the country’s citizens comfortable. Lithuanian politicians who claim there’s no problem on their side are just ill-disposed towards resolving any issues. Lithuanians won’t cease to be Lithuanian just because a Pole will be entitled to his or her own identity. The entire conflict is absurd, but just beneath the surface of it there are real people who suffer.

  7. Decoy says:

    I was considering a reply to Wiktor, but you’ve given a much better one than I could. I’ll admit that I’m piecing together my knowledge of Polish history as I go, so there may be some inaccuracies. Apologies.

    I’ll take a look for Snyder’s book.

  8. Wiktor says:

    To be honest, I was baiting a tad with my previous post. While not as erudite as Sylwia’s, my thinking was along more or less the same lines, really.

    That’s why I took object with the phrase “falling out” (and a few other choice bits throughout), because it felt simplistic and it felt like it was distorting our history. You know, Poles tend to be quite picky about it, don’t they. Cheers.

  9. Wiktor says:

    Oh, I forgot to add – in general, I welcome these kinds of more serious topics. Provided they are acceptably researched, that is.

  10. scatts says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Wiktor.


  11. anna says:

    I have found recently your website and got interested in it , at first , rather curious , what might English think and write about Poland from their perspective. At first I was sometimes amused by the tone of an article but after reading through some other articles I have developed my point of view , which I think is very sharp and objective . You , the staff of this site, are people who got frustrated by the fact that after coming in to Poland , you realised quickly that you would not become influential , rich , the only civilised people inhabiting this land and you would not make any sort of career . So your articles are sarcastic have nothing in common with just journalism to provide foreigners with solid and fair information about Poland . You are just repeat those faded stereotypes we are all fed up with. Your articles are just a waste of time , pointless , full of false information , containing myths My advice get to work , lazy , dull, insolent people . Your concerned reader

  12. anna says:

    I also wonder why Polish people treat you ( the staff) with so much seriousness as you are not very serious people at all .

  13. siudol says:

    I have to chime in here. What a stupid post Anna. It is a blog in case you haven’t noticed (not The Guardian or any other “respected daily”), written by expats about their experiences in the new country and intended to stimulate discussion. If someone wants “solid and fair information about Poland” they can read Norman Davies.

    Decoy is the first one to admit his knowledge of Polish history is limited and credit to him for wanting to learn it. Hence this article. Why don’t you help him by writing something meaningful and informative instead of that worthless drivel you’ve posted.

  14. anna says:

    My remark was about some other stuff , just put my reply here to be heard . They should write : ” some radicule Englishmen`s blog . We are just a bunch of fools to fool other people ” .

  15. Dawid says:

    SYLWIA: “Finally, being Polish didn’t mean not being Lithuanian. Just as being British doesn’t mean not being Welsh.”

    That’s a very important point. There was a Latin phrase coined sometime in the 17th century, or maybe earlier: Gente Ruthenus natione Polonus, meaning basically “ethnically Ruthenian, of Polish nationality”, that described the identity of the Commonwealth’s Ruthenians (roughly corresponding to today’s Ukrainians). “Polishness” encompassed more than one ethnic group then.

  16. […] offers “a quick review” of the Polish-Lithuanian relationship over the centuries and notes on the recent changes. […]

  17. […] offers “a quick review” of the Polish-Lithuanian relationship over the centuries and notes on the recent […]

  18. Jonathan says:

    I am an American by birth, my ancestry is 50% polish, 25%dutch, and 25% norwegian. I have been to Poland once to visit relatives and I am going back to there in a month from now. I also have polish relatives in modern day Ukraine.

    I love polish history and have been studying it extensively in the past 1-2 years. This very topic is the most baffling for me- why did the great and successful alliance of Poland-Lithuania fall apart? The authors metaphor is perfect! Its like a couple that just broke up over stupid crap. I still cant determine what the nail in the coffin was in the relationship. Mainly because the partition screws up so much of the history. One thing that does stick in my mind was right after WWII when Poland became independent again. What happened was the Ukrainians sent a huge militia army to help expel the soviets- which they did. Then when the Ukrainians asked for help to expel them out of Ukraine- Pilsudski shrugged them off and wanted to worry about Poland. The reason I brought this up is because it partially coincides with the authors point of not workign together- just like the Poland making the constitutioin without lithuanian input. I love Poland to death. But I hate how they refused to join with the Ukrainians like they did with Lithuania. Throughout history Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine (cossaks) have worked together on so many occasions- with amazing success. I pray to God (seriously) that Lithuanians and Polish can put aside their egos and join together once more for a beautiful union that would benefit their economy, culture, and military stability. Can anyone not agree they were a beautiful union?

  19. […] offers “a quick review” of the Polish-Lithuanian relationship over the centuries and notes on the recent […]

  20. Jonathan says:

    Im sorry in my previous post I meant to say after WWI not WWII.

  21. Juli says:

    When I read this I can onlt think of Hetalia and be sad because of their ‘breakup’ u.u

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