“Hospitality and Openness” – Reflections on 3 May Constitution

3 May commemorations in Poznań. Jakub Kaczmarczyk/PAP

The 3 May Constitution of 1791 is known as being Europe’s first modern constitution, following on from the United States two years before. At the time, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a multi-ethnic state, comprising Poles, Lithuanians, Ruthenians, Jews, Germans, Armenians and other ethnicities.

The document was revolutionary in that it established a new voting system across the country, increased the rights of the peasantry, upkept religious tolerance and abolished the liberum veto, where one vote against could bring down any legislation being debated in the Sejm. 

Scouts and other members of the Polish diaspora prepare for a ceremony commemorating the 3 May Constitution of 1791 at the Rasos Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania.Valdemar Doveiko/PAP

While the effects of the new system were only in effect for under two years until the Grodno Sejm in 1793 (and ahead of the Kościuszko Uprising and the Second Partition), it is seen as progressive, a reflection of the Enlightenment ideals of the time.

John Beauchamp is in Krasnogruda on the Polish-Lithuanian border where he meets Krzysztof Czyżewski from the Borderland Foundation to talk about the 3 May Constitution and how patriotism can be given new wind thanks to a look back to the ideals of the Commonwealth: hospitality and openness.

Wojtek Jargiło/PAP

The name of the high-school student mentioned by Krzysztof in the interview is Patryk Jankowski, who comes from a mixed-heritage Polish-Lithuanian family and who recently won the seventh edition of the Jagiellonian University’s Polish Department annual essay competition for a paper on modern-day patriotism.

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