The 230th anniversary of the adoption of the Third of May Constitution
Address by the President
on the occasion of state celebrations marking
the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the Third of May Constitution
Your Excellency Madam President of Estonia!
Excellencies Presidents of Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania!
Honourable Madam Speaker of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland!
Honourable Madam Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania!
Honourable Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland!
Honourable Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
Honourable Members of Parliament!
Honourable Members of Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania!
Excellencies! Dear Guests! Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am honoured to welcome you to the celebration of the 230th anniversary of a truly epoch-making event, marking a turning point in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - a state that was the common home of many different nationalities, languages, cultures and religious denominations, their safe haven and oasis of freedom.
On 3 May 1791, at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the Parliament of Poland and Lithuania, bound in a union, adopted the world's second and Europe's first national Constitution.
It defined not only a new political system, but also laid down axiological foundations on which the modern Commonwealth was meant to be based. Three great ideas stood out among these fundamental principles: the will of the people as a source of legitimacy of power, the rule of law, and respect for the centuries-old cultural identity of the political nation formed by all its citizens.
For the Members of Parliament who enacted this Constitution, the primacy of the will of the people over the aspirations of the monarch – or, indeed, any other authority - was nothing new. The tradition of nobles’ democracy, with its broad guarantees of civil rights and freedoms, dates back in our lands to the 14th century. Here, a bloody revolution against monarch’s absolutism had no raison d'être. However, in the world of that time, great significance was attached to the solemn confirmation that in the Commonwealth – as it previously was the case in the United States of America and in France - all power is derived from the will of the people.
The provisions of the May Constitution, geared to ensure the smooth functioning of the state, also invoked the concept of the rule of law, important as it was to the drafters. The fathers of the Constitution equally rejected the tyranny of the individual, i.e. the monarch, the absolute dictate of the majority, and the inertia and anarchy fostered by the unanimity rule applied in the voting in the Chamber of Deputies. The division of powers between state institutions and bodies had a practical, but also an ideological dimension. It prevented such an accumulation of power which could possibly jeopardise the nation's subjectivity.
The Third of May Constitution, albeit expressing the ideas of the Enlightenment, did not constitute a radical break-off with the Christian heritage of Poland and Europe. All its far-reaching institutional changes notwithstanding, the Constitution was a testimony to a common-sense, to evolutionary, to some extent organic, approach to culture, religion, tradition and customs that had shaped the identity of the Commonwealth and its inhabitants. In our historical experience, this style of thinking about the state and society has borne ample fruit. I am convinced that it can also be successfully applied in the contemporary realities of a uniting Europe.
The Constitution of 1791 was meant to invigorate, strengthen and reform the Commonwealth and to defend it against the hostile actions of absolute monarchies in the neighbourhood. The authors of this act accurately diagnosed the problems that needed to be remedied in their state. Unfortunately, the remedy, albeit appropriately chosen in the form of a comprehensive political reform, was applied too late to fend off the influence of foreign powers and enemies of freedom. Russia, Austria and Prussia annexed the territories of the Commonwealth. Tsarist autocracy descended on most of our lands. The inhabitants of these regions were henceforth meant to serve the endless conquests of the Russian Empire – supporting them with the labour of their hand, property and bloodshed.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
The universal significance of the Government Act of 3 May, as well as the dramatic geopolitical changes triggered off by its adoption, have been recalled here not without reason. These facts and great ideas belong in some way to the repository of historical experience and national thought of the nations whose high representatives are with us today.
That is why we are standing together today to testify to our commitment to these values, which have just been mentioned. Drawing conclusions from the history of our peoples, we stand shoulder to shoulder to express our will to preserve their independence, security and stable development. We reaffirm strongly that we cannot renounce our freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity and right to self-determination, nor do we wish to renounce them. To renounce our equality, democracy and the rule of law. Our brotherhood, solidarity, mutual respect and loyal, mutually beneficial cooperation. Together we recognise that only on the foundation of these ideals can we build our successful future.
I say this with deep conviction prompted by the lesson drawn from the history of our part of Europe.
One hundred years ago Poles, Latvians and Ukrainians fought together against the Bolshevik invasion "for our freedom and yours". In 1981 the Polish Solidarity movement sent out a message to working people of Central and Eastern Europe and all the nations of the Soviet Union. ‘We deeply feel the community of our fates’, wrote my compatriots, hinting then - what everyone understood perfectly well - at Soviet tyranny and exploitation.
This sense of community also accompanied us when, thirty years ago, communism was about to collapse. On the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, two million people joined together in a 'live chain' in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It was a magnificent manifestation of the solidarity of the Baltic nations - one with which we, Poles, also shared complete solidarity. Guided by it, I went to the Estonian capital on my first foreign visit after assuming the office of President of the Republic of Poland - in order to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, to participate on 23 August 2015 in the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes.
This memory continues to be very much alive among us. That is why, after the collapse of the Soviet 'prison of nations', as the countries of Central and Eastern Europe regained their independent existence, a voice from our part of the world calls out in defence of a just international order. An order based on the force of law and not on the law of force.
I would like to recall at this point two significant events of symbolic - but not only symbolic - dimension.
The first one was the speech President Lech Kaczyński made on 12 August 2008 in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi. Expressing his position and that of the presidents of Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine, who accompanied him, as well as the prime minister of Latvia, he asserted the right of the Georgian people to freedom and independence.
The second memorable event was the reburial - this time a dignified, soldierly, state funeral - of the mortal remains of twenty participants in the armed uprising against the Russian occupiers that took place in the lands of the Commonwealth in 1863. The ceremony took place in Vilnius on 22 November 2019. Together with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, the Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus and official representatives of Ukraine and Latvia we were guests of the President of Lithuania there. I recall with emotion those solemn moments immersed in a sea of Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian and Latvian flags, among which there were also flags of the uprising. It was a poignant sign of the times, a sign
of our unity rediscovered.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am convinced that the 230 years of history that separate us from the adoption of the Third of May Constitution have taught us extremely important lessons. We, the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe, the Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Estonians present here, remember that our fates are inextricably linked. We realise that we can only be free together, that can we live in our own sovereign homelands only concurrently, enjoying freedoms characteristic of the countries of modern, democratic Europe. Moreover, we do believe that this great desire is shared by our friends from Belarus. We are united in recognising their right to transform their freedom and European aspirations into reality as soon as possible.
Nowadays, relations between the countries of our region feature a spirit of equality, respect and partnership. We build good neighbourly relations and support each other. And for this reason we do not give our consent to any manifestations of the imperial policy of domination and pursuit of spheres of influence. We want to act the same way also on a broader supra-regional scale, in the great family of free nations of Europe. Our deep attachment to freedom and mutual solidarity, which stood the test in times of hardship, are our shared proud heritage. On this foundation we wish to secure further development and prosperity of our societies. Guided by its spirit we forge our mutual relations within the international European and transatlantic structures, persuaded, as we are, that these structures should remain open to new member states.
Distinguished Guests Assembled here!
I would like to thank Madam President of Estonia and the Presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine for their willingness to participate in today's celebrations. This is a sign of the friendly and lasting ties that bind us together. These ties are rooted in our common history and traditions, but above all they are enhanced by our current political, military, economic, social and cultural
Distinguished Guests! Dear Compatriots!
Soon after the adoption of Europe's first national constitution, a poem entitled the Polonaise of the Third of May was written. Its last stanza contained the words: Long live the Sejm and the whole nation! (...) May all the estates cheer aloud (...). Recalling the enthusiasm and high hopes cherished by our ancestors over two centuries ago, I would like to end with the words:
Long live our friendship! Long live the free nations and democratic states of our region - Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and Poland! Long live freedom and solidarity!