Tag Archives: Lithuania

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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Non-Polish soldiers Poles are proud of

One of the legends the Pole would hold dear in their heart is that of husaria. You know – the winged, well armed, invincible Polish cavalry everybody knows. (You do know, right? Well, you do now.)

British hussar, next of kin?

But why well-armed? But why winged? But why invincible? But why Polish?

The hussar’s scale armour wasn’t the best solution, not to mention other flaws.

The wings were probably for parades only and not used on the battlefield. Don’t believe that the sound of the vibrating feathers was to frighten enemy horses. (Pointless, it would be. Infantrymen and artillerymen are not horsemen, while any hostile cavalrymen could just put plugs in their horses’ ears, right?)

Husaria was not invincible. It’s quite ironic that many YouTubes glorifying the supposedly greatest horsepower mounted by man use Krzesmir Dębski’s tune (often started at 1:30) named Husaria ginie – “Hussars Dying”. Dying? Someone managed to kill them? Yup.

Thank you Mr Dębski, we know some great composers are Polish. Husaria of the Polish legend, however, isn’t Polish: The cavalry became a heavy formation, when a Hungarian prince of Transylvania made it such. “Our” CO in the battle of Kircholm (1605) was Ruthenian; his forces were more Lithuanian than Polish. The same Ruthenian led “us” at Chocim (1621). The commander at Kłuszyn (1610) was as Polish as his Ukrainian birth-place or his Ukrainian burial-place. And so on.

Whenever an English name for husaria is required, the terms “Polish Hussars” or “Winged Hussars” are used, both not accurate. When you take a look at a Kossak, don’t believe your eyes:

More winged, more Polish

Take some Brandt for more reality:

Less winged, more real

And the statistics are not too favourable for the Polish worshipper of husaria: had he a time machine, he’ll probably end up non-Polish. Even more probably, he would not be a nobleman. But a peasant, a townsman, a merchant, a jester. What’s wrong with jesters? Well, the company of brothers keeps dreaming of the days of the old winged glory.

Henryk Sienkiewicz, a genius, no doubt, who led the Polish mind into such twisted and lazy patriotism had to work out something for the little folk, too. Not every reader can imagine himself tall enough to jump to the hussar’s saddle. You know: “Aren’t you little short for a stormtrooper?” And so we were given Michal Wolodyjowski.

He was short. He had that French problem. He was not too good with ladies, he would fall in love quickly, platonically, not too physically. When he finally got married, he didn’t leave offspring. Though he tried hard. It’s no laughing matter, in the times of wars, it’s was an important man’s duty to produce more defenders of the state. Some offenders, too. (See PS.)

In the books, Wolodyjowski is called the First Sabre of the Republic, a most skilled duellist. Not the last one, sure. But generally, he was a raider, quick for forays, quick for retreats. He knew how to hide behind his horse when the enemy started shooting. Accidentally shot, that’d be a stupid cause of death for a fine swordsman, right? (So what it’s not chivalrous? I’d love the skill! But ask the greater Polish mind if it is ready to take pride in the ability of getting under the horse to avoid a stray bullet.)

And how did Wolodyjowski die? What were his lifetime’s dodges and tricks good for? Well. How Polish. He decided to blow himself up with the castle he didn’t manage to defend. A romantic death — so that someone else’s grandsons may revel in the biography’s unhappy ending.

By the way, Wolodyjowski didn’t pluck up all of his courage to follow the lit fuse. But there was a Scotsman beside him, fortunately, who did the boom job.)

PS: Did Poland have any other good formation? Of course! Try to learn more about these guys, mercenaries, murderers, pillagers, rapists, outlaws, adventurers, some quite usual breed of their times. And damn, they were efficient!

Stay tuned for more.

Here, I’m nice. There, I’m mature.

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