President: no independence without peasant leader Witos

There would have been no free, independent, sovereign Poland without Wincenty Witos, President Andrzej Duda said on Sunday at a ceremony marking Witos's 144th birthday in his birthplace Wierzchoslawice in south Poland.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of regaining independence by Poland after 123 years under partition by Russia, Germany and Austro-Hungary.

Duda recalled that Witos, leader of the inter-war Polish People's Party and three-time Polish prime minister, was one of Poland's independence fathers who played an instrumental role in the country's return to statehood. He especially stressed Witos's contribution to forming pro-independence attitudes among Poland's vast rural population.

"There would have been no free, independent, sovereign Poland without everything Witos did to influence rural Poland, to shape the rural population's attitude, and to bring out all that was best in these people," the president said.

He also mentioned Witos's successful mobilisation of Poland's rural population to defend the country during the 1919-21 Polish-Soviet War, stressing that this proved decisive for Poland's victory in the conflict.

He also mentioned Witos's influence on shaping patriotism and civil rights.

In Wierzchoslawice, Duda also attended a holy mass and laid flowers at Witos's tomb in the local cemetery. Accompanying the president was Witos's great-grandson Marek Steindel.