Polish president marks May 3 Constitution Day

Mateusz Marek/PAP

Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, on Tuesday, paid tribute to Poland's Constitution of 3 May 1791, one of the most progressive supreme laws in Europe at the time.

The constitution was passed on May 3, 1791, by the Great Sejm (grand parliament) of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and was Europe's first document of its kind, predating the famous French Constitution and following the American one by only four years.

"It is an anniversary of an attempt to save the Republic of Poland, which was made against all odds by people who were steadfast patriots," Duda said at an official ceremony held at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

The constitution, however, was short lived as, only one year later, Austria, Prussia and Russia annexed parts of Polish territories in what has been called the first partition of the country. The two subsequent partitions, carried out in 1793 and 1795, removed Poland from the map of Europe for more than a century.

Duda said that, 231 years earlier, Poland was "a republic of many nations" which "enjoyed years of great power thanks the commonwealth of these nations."

"The Republic of Poland of that time was a European superpower thanks to this commonwealth, thanks to this community and unity of nations that were able to stand against the biggest powers, the Teutonic one, the Moscow one and others."

Recalling his meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine at the Royal Castle on last year's Constitution Day, Duda said that a declaration they had signed then was of particular importance considering the current Russian aggression against Ukraine.

"The presidents were standing at the Royal Castle as they adopted a joint declaration and spoke about the brotherhood of their nations, freedom, the right to self-determination and existence of our nations and states, and they expressed their opposition to imperialism, to limiting our rights, to interfering with sovereign interests of our states and nations, opposing the Russian occupation of Crimea, Donbas and Luhansk," Duda said.

"How meaningful it was when they spoke again about a commonwealth of nations in our part of Europe," the president added.

Duda also called for continuation of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine despite the costs that it involved for the West.

"In the face of what is happening in Ukraine, we must pursue a policy with an aim to force Russia to stop the aggression," Duda said. "So a policy of sanctions, including economic ones, which is costly."

Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister, wrote on Facebook that "the systemic document proved to be unacceptable for our anti-democratic neighbours, our future partitioning powers: Prussia, Russia and Austria."

"Moreover, the Polish Constitution was even more far-reaching than the one from the other side of the (Atlantic) ocean, since it ruled out slavery," Morawiecki added.

Gitanas Nauseda, the Lithuanian president, said at the Lithuanian Constitutional Tribunal on Tuesday: "The May 3 Constitution is a special document which, as the second in the world and the first in Europe, established the division of power, outlined the rules of modern law-making and was perhaps a forerunner of the processes that were just starting in Europe."

"We have a number of reasons to be proud and we're marking this day together with the Republic of Poland," Nauseda said.

Among its provisions, the new constitution introduced a hereditary constitutional monarchy (in place of the free election of kings), religious tolerance and the division of power into the legislative, executive and judicial branches.