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230th Anniversary of the May 3rd Constitution

03.05.2021

When on May 3, 1791, the Four-Year Sejm, also called the Great Sejm, adopted The Government Act of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, later known as the May 3rd Constitution, the Polish-Lithuanian state became Europe’s first and the world’s second that passed the basic law. For its time, it was a progressive and bold legal act that initiated a number of reforms. It constituted a crowning achievement of the centuries-old ties between Poland and Lithuania.

Konstytucja

Today as we celebrate the 230th anniversary of adopting the May 3rd Constitution by the last King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Stanisław August Poniatowski, it is worth mentioning that it is the May Constitution that introduced, among other things, the principle of the tripartite separation of power, and reformed the existing political system ensuring more equal treatment of all nationalities within the Commonwealth. The Constitution also expressed the nation’s will to defend Poland’s independence following its first partition by Austria, Prussia and Russia in 1772.

The May 3rd Constitution along with its complementary Reciprocal Guarantee of Two Nations adopted by the Great Sejm on October 20, 1791, also confirmed a closer union between the Polish and Lithuanian nations. The act ensured, among other things, equal 1 to 1 representation at the Commonwealth’s shared state bodies for Poles and Lithuanians. We can proudly say that the leaders of the two nations and states, despite all differences, were able to work together effectively at a crucial moment for their existence. Such example has been inspiring cooperation and friendship between Warsaw and Vilnius to date.

Unfortunately, the ambitious reform plans which had meant to be implemented based on the new constitution were shattered by the Russians’ armed intervention in 1792. As a legal act, the May 3rd Constitution formally ceased to be in force in November 1793 by virtue of the resolution by the Sejm that was summoned under the dictate of Russia and Prussia in Grodno. In the same year, the two states partitioned Poland for the second time.

Finally, the Polish-Lithuanian state disappeared from Europe’s map for over 120 years after the 3rd Partition in 1795 conducted by Austria, Prussia and Russia. This act, violating all principles of international law, was erased only after the World War I, when Poland and Lithuania regained independence as two sovereign states.

When Poland regained its independence, the anniversary of adopting the May 3rd Constitution was celebrated as a national holiday since 1919. Under German and Soviet occupation as well as under the rule of communist authorities in Poland, when the May 3rd holiday was banned, most Poles continued to observe it. In a sovereign Republic of Poland we have been celebrating the May 3rd National Holiday again since 1990.

The Constitution of May 3rd and the Reciprocal Guarantee of Two Nations of October 20, 1791, are one of crucial elements of Polish-Lithuanian heritage. Their adoption was fundamental for today’s cooperation of our countries within the EU and NATO.

Apart from their common history, nowadays Poland and Lithuania work together to carry out numerous energy and transport projects which serve the entire Europe. The two countries also join efforts to strengthen global security, particularly in the region.

Recollecting their common heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, our two countries support their neighbours: Ukraine that attempts to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression and occupation, and the people of Belarus who deserve freedom and democracy in an independent state.

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