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Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Culture, History

Witam! Just wanted to say Cześć and briefly introduce myself. I’m Katarzyna (Kasia works too), a Cleveland-raised Polish American. Both of my parents were fresh off the boat (okay, they flew over, but most people go with the boat explanation). Polish was my first language, and I really didn’t learn English until I started kindergarten. I’m a college grad (will tell you where I went via a future post – shameless plugs for my alma mater will be common to my posts), and I am employed as the Director of Internet Marketing for my company. I’m a mother of two boys, who I am completely enamored with and consider myself blessed to be their mom. I am completely addicted to Disco Polo. Oh yeah, I admitted it. And, can I say, after years of trying to be more American, I have embraced my Polish roots and am very excited to be sharing all my Pollack love with the world! I hope my posts are feeds you look forward to reading, are bits of knowledge you can use and something you can laugh at if all else fails.

For my first post, I am thinking back to one of my first history lessons. It’s something my Father told me, and, at the time, I can honestly say I thought he was pulling my leg. In fact, I remember telling him he was a liar. I was convinced that there was no way Poland, of all countries, was the second nation to ever collect and formally write up governing laws. This wasn’t so much lack of faith in Poland, but more the fact that I was trying to be less Polish and more American. Needless to say, with age comes wisdom. And now I can fully admit that I was wrong and my Father, in fact, was right. Poland was the second nation in the world to write and adopt a constitution, and it was the first European nation to do so.

This weekend, in Poland, and everywhere proud Pollacks reside, we celebrate the Constitution of May 3, 1791. It was established on that day as the Ustawa rządowa, or a government act, by the Polish Parliament, also known as the sejm. The document established that the nobility and the commoners were equal, and peasants, who were treated like slaves at the time, were no longer owned and under government protection.

The holiday was short-lived initially because the constitution lasted only a year, eliminated by the events of the Russian-Polish War of 1792. The date was not celebrated again until 1919, when Poland was regarded as the Polish People’s Republic. Poland existed as this republic between World War I and World War II. The celebration of the holiday again was short-lived, because during the second World War, with the Nazi occupation of Poland, the holiday was banned. The celebration of Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja was not regarded as a holiday again until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when the Communist occupation of Poland ended. In fact, during the Communist occupation, the date was used as a day of protest and rebellion, not a holiday. The following year, in 1990, the Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja was celebrated as a holiday once again in Poland.

So now that we have a brief history lesson out of the way, how does a Pole celebrate Constitution Day? Well, this year, here in Cleveland, we had dueling parades. Traditionally, Slavic Village hosted the festivities, with a parade that highlighted all things Polish. However, this year, Parma, a southern suburb, threw its own parade into the mix of celebrations. And with the choices available, it left Cleveland Poles with the dilemma of having to choose. But there is nothing wrong with choices!

In addition to the parades, there was a ball, crowning a young woman as the Queen of the Parade in Parma. There were several restaurants serving up their Polish best, from gołąbki (stuffed cabbage rolls) to pierogi (stuffed dumplings) to kapusta z kielbasą (sauerkraut and ielbasa). And I can say with a degree of certainty that libations flowed freely, and people sampled beers from Poland. These included the popular import Okocim, from southeastern Poland, and another beer, a favorite of mine, ŻywiecŻywiec is brewed and exported from the border town of the same name in south central Poland. Celebrations like these make other rare imports, like a Lech or a Harnas available, and the festival goers made sure that the rarer imports were appreciated.

Here are some photos from this year’s parade in Parma, OH:

Do następnego czytania…

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  1. Leslie:

    I see you’re in Cleveland- Basia Trzetrzelewska is performing there on June 6th at Nighttown, speaking of cool Polish cultural events in Ohio. It’s pretty rare that she gets to come over to the US!

  2. kuba:

    Witam !, nice to have you on the blog. I too spoke Polish until grade school then nothing but English. So my Polish is rough. Grammar another story. Grew up in Denver, St. Joseph’s Polish grade school and church.

  3. Wanda Mercier:

    Welcome-hope to continue to learn, as in previous columns. Is it really necessary to use the (incorrectly spelled)term Pollack?? I have spent my entire life discouraging people (including Poles) from using that derogatory term. Although I’m American born, was brought up very Polish, with a keen awareness and respect for the history and culture of nasza ojczyzna. If we don’t respect ourselves, neither will anyone else.

  4. Adam Blomberg:

    Hi Kasia, good to see a new face and a new perspective on the Polish blog. Have you also lived in Poland, for some periods of time, after kindergarten age?

    Thanks for sharing some facts about the life of people of Cleveland, Ohio who have links to Poland.

    It might be interesting to add, that the Constitution of Third May granted rights not only to Polish peasants, but to literally everyone who set foot on Polish soil. Therefore it didn’t matter if someone was Jewish, black or whatever, the sole fact that they were in Poland, gave them protection of the Polish monarch. This was one of the most progressive laws of the western world of that time.
    However the constitution also included some concessions towards the Catholic Church.

    Also the context of the constitution might be worth to mention. Poland evolved in seperate direction to Western Europe from 16th century. Monarchies of the states were replaced by absolute monarchies with centralised powers. Nobility, cities were losing privilidges. In Poland things went opposite way: monarch (and the state) was becoming weaker and the nobility was becoming stronger and stronger. Together with the church, which had the same interests as the aristicracy.
    Whereas in Western Europe gains (that the nobility had) from farming were used to accumulate capital, in Poland they were used for consuption. This lead to strenghtening serfdom (imporant to know the difference between serf and slave). Constitution did not abolish serfdom. Which will have its serious implications in the future (Sejm of the 2nd republic will fail to pass any decent farming reporm, which will lead to communism gaining popularity in the countryside after the ww2).

    “Communist occupation of Poland” is not entirely justified phrase. Although it is commonly used by a fraction of Polish people, especially members of Polonia, there were many Polish people in Poland who supported Communism. Occupation is a term used mainly for time when a country is overtaken by foreign military, and Polish communism is more complicated to just take it down to that phrase. Poland did develop under communism (or: socialism), millions of People enjoyed happy lives, order, stable emplyment, universal healthcare, easy access to housing, free state education, state sponsorship for culture and sports and other aspects of life. Compared with today, people also enjoyed the fact that the social gap between those better off and worse off was tiny. Poland was an authoritarian state with lack of political freedoms, and some fundamental rights were often denied to people, however the phrase “occupation” might just go too far.

    “Nazi occupation of Poland” is a phrase that isn’t used in Poland in that context. In 99% cases people say simply German occupation, which doesn;t lift the resposibility from the German people.
    Nazi occupation would refer only to the western Part of Poland, the eastern part was under the Soviet occupation.

  5. Michael Szymczak:

    Well, I think your first blog is very good. Keep them coming. BTW, my grandparents, on both sides, did come over on boats. Very long trips. Not sure about the Polish grandparents but my German grandparents had to ride below deck the whole time. I’ll have to check but believe it was 2 weeks. Then had to pass through the lines at Ellis Island to legally enter. I’m not sure if all immigrants of that era had their names inscribed there, but my German grandparents did. Unlike the Mexican population who thinks it’s their right to sneak into this country and never become citizens. Sorry, just need to mention that because I get so angry with that situation. This applies to all nationalities that feel they have the right to live here without learning our history and study to take the test to become a citizen. Again, good job on this your first writing.

  6. Adam Blomberg:

    Ooops, 2nd part of my comment got lost somewhere.

    What is worth to stress is that the Constitution of 3rd may was a consitutution written by nobility and clergy for the nobility and clergy.

    It gave equal rights to all… noblemen. Others enjoyed monarch’s protection. Protection of serfs (peasants) was for instance pictured in that the monarch would guarantee to control the obligations… noblemen put on themselves in their own contracts with serfs and villages. So they had as many rights as local aristocrat would agree to give them.

    The judgement if this constitution was such a splendid invention that deserves celebrations today is something that I would leave to our readers:)

  7. Beata:

    Nice post, Kasiu (although the video will not open – the message says it’s “private”).

    It might be just me, but the term “Pollack” makes me cringe…I prefer to refer to the Polish people as Poles.

  8. Katarzyna:

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Adam, you made a lot of good points. With it being my first blog, I tried to keep it light all around just to gauge if anyone is reading 🙂 And you are, which makes me happy! The Polish people are actually quite torn about the holiday themselves, wondering if the holiday truly represents patriotism in this day in age. And that Constitution, though written in 1791, was really not adhered to already a year after it was written. I think the holiday represents an ideal.

    My cousin Agnieszka visited the blog and reviewed the photos. Her comments, verbatim, were “Fajne zdjęcia, lepiej świętujecie niż w Polsce;)” This translates to – Great pictures, you celebrate better than in Poland.

    Regarding the occupation posts, I tried to stay very politically vague on that. The Polish people historically have been put thru a gamut of invasions and occupations. I think this blog, and more so the comments, will be a wonderful way to explore a lot of the opinions on Poland’s history and politics. So keep your opinions coming, and be ready for counter thoughts!

    Beata, thank you! I will hold back on the Pollack. It too bothered me for a long time, but a lot of Polish people still refer to themselves as Polaki, where Pollack is the closest translation. But as not to offend anyone, I will refer to all as Poles going forward.

    Thank you all for your feedback — I appreciate it!

  9. Paulina:

    Cześć Kasiu, życzę powodzenia w pisaniu! Zapraszam na swojego bloga.


  10. Alice:

    “But as not to offend anyone, I will refer to all as Poles going forward.”

    Please don’t. OTOH please do make the distinction between Poles and Polish-Americans because they’re not the same. Hyphenated USians have a tendency to be more Polish/Irish/Italian than the Poles/English/Italians themselves.

    Do you know how the average Pole celebrates Constitution Day? As May 1st is also a national holiday the goal is to take a couple days off around the 1st, 3rd and the weekend so as to have the longest possible holiday. Then the average Pole buggers off on some trip, preferably abroad. Nobody gives a damn about the official celebrations, if there even are any.

  11. Adam Blomberg:

    Hahaha – I think your friend was quite right, you do celebrate it better;) Celebrations in Poland: In Poland boring politicians make boring speeches next to statues of national heros in diginied poses. Handful of pople wave flags and go home.

    1st of May – Labour Day is more exciting, as it’s at least more controversial. Parades, and protests against parades, protests againsth the protests etc. Its a total madness! 🙂

    Most of the others have gone out of town for the bank holiday weekend:)

  12. Adam Blomberg:

    BTW. What is your favourite disco polo song?:)

  13. Adam Blomberg:

    Speaking of Poles, Poland, Polacks and such
    there was another interesting distiction, I think fist made by M. Gretkowska:
    polskość and polskatość

  14. Adam Blomberg:

    Quoting the russian babe from “Desperate Housewives” I am “full of thoughts” tonight, and since I’m not yet sleeping I decided to post one comment:)

    A point to reflect on: isn’t the Thirdy May Constitution day another opportunity to celebrate a defeat? (Celebrating past defeats and mourning is what Polish patriots love best).

    Probably the only reason 3rd May Constitution it is celebrated is that
    1) Just after that Poland ceased to exist
    2) Celebrating was banned under the PRL (People’s Republic) gov. So we have to do the exact opposite.

    And I think this celebration just causes a delusion that something was actually achieved there. While the constitution reflected all the biggest problems Poland-Lithuania had at the time. It erased only the most vile form of noblemen’s anarchy, the “liberum veto”.

    (Full text of the constitution, it’s very short, three pages, everyone can read it http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_May_3,_1791)

    It represents a lost hope. But what would happen if Poland still existed after the constitution? Would nobles stop quarreling? Would they willingly give up their privilidges in order to build a modern state? And would the Church?

    I would love to see that we celebrate things that were real achievements, things that broadened democracy. Maybe the day women won themselves voting rights? Maybe the day the 1997 contitution was passed? Or maybe the day Round Table talks began? :>

  15. Katarzyna:

    Alice et al. regarding the celebration of the “holiday”; Poles do very little, and, from what I have gathered in my reading, are really looking for a better day to celebrate their patriotism. So I think we’ll have to stay tuned and see how that plays out.

    Adam, you are right about Labor Day. I just got my login credentials two days late so I had to work with the holiday at hand 🙂 Just kidding, but who knows, that may be a future post…

    Favorite Disco Polo. Wow. This is tough, to pick only one… I have three off the top of my head that I love… Magdaleno (I like the Boys version), Nie Chce Więcej (Classic) and, without a doubt, Jesteś Szalona (any band – great song)!

  16. Karola:

    Nice blog. I have learned something new. My father was Polish and my son’s father is Polish. My language is what I call baby talk Polish just words unfortunately. I love your informative blog.
    As Alice said:
    “…if I don’t make haste, I shall have to go back through the looking-glass…back into the old room-and there’d be an end of all my adventures!”
    Sending my ‘curiouser & curiouser’ happy thoughts through the looking-glass.
    ♡ Ƙarola

  17. Slawekk:

    I second the Adam’s comment on Constitution of May 3 as being written by nobility and clergy for the nobility and clergy.
    I encourage everybody interested to read the original text by themselves at


    and the English translation at


    The translation seems to be rather poor though. For example “religia panująca” is not “dominant religion”, it should be “the reigning religion”.
    In my opinion the May 3rd celebration should be replaced by October 14 – the anniversary of Commission of National Education. That was a real and amazing achievement of last years of The Republic.

  18. warmi:

    “Compared with today, people also enjoyed the fact that the social gap between those better off and worse off was tiny. “

    Yep, they made everyone equally poor … brilliantly efficient at distributing misery, that’s for sure.

  19. Hifi Jim:

    I like it very much , thanks for your post !

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