President praises May 3 Constitution

Duda met the presidents of Lithuania, Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia at summit in Warsaw’s Royal Castle. Leszek Szymański/PAP

Poland’s president has lauded the country’s May 3 Constitution of 1791, saying it was a great reform that aimed to bolster freedom and protect Poland’s sovereignty.

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.

Speaking at a ceremonial session of both the Polish and Lithuanian parliaments, also attended by the Lithuanian president, Duda said the document is "our proud Polish and Lithuanian heritage, a great monument to history, with significance for the development of European and worldwide civilisation."

The Polish president also said that "our ancestors wanted to strengthen freedom and defend the endangered sovereignty; that's why they chose to carry out a great systemic reform."

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.

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.

Later Duda met the presidents of Lithuania, Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia at summit in Warsaw’s Royal Castle.

Referring to the wave of political repression now being carried out by the Belarusian government, the Polish president said the “citizens of Central and Eastern Europe can only be free together, and this desire is held by our friends in Belarus.

“We declare with conviction that we cannot and do not want to renounce our freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right to self-determination,” the president added.