World leaders congratulate Poland ahead of anniversary of May 3rd Constitution

Congratulatory messages from world leaders have been arriving in Poland for the 230th anniversary of the May 3rd Constitution, Polish presidential aide Krzysztof Szczerski has told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

US President Joe Biden wrote his Polish counterpart since the adoption of the May 3rd Constitution in 1791. Poland faced many challenges and through perseverance and resilience, became more robust and an inspiration all over the world.

The 46th US president also noted that Poland is "an ally, friend and partner" of the USA.

German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, underlined the role the Polish May 3rd Constitution played for Europe as a whole, calling it “a milestone in the history of Europe."

Steinmeier noted that it was the first modern constitution on the European continent and was an example of the socio-political changes taking place during the Enlightenment.

President Steinmeier emphasised that the May 3rd Constitution paved the way for European liberal-democratic values, which today form the basis of the European Union. He also wished Poland future success in a climate of peace, security and prosperity.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin also sent his congratulations and wished all Poles prosperity and growth. In his message, Chinese president Xi Jinping emphasised that China and Poland have been helping each other by fighting the coronavirus epidemic together and that bilateral relations between the two states are constantly developing.

The President of China also underlined that he personally attaches great importance to the continued strengthening of Polish-Chinese relations.

The May 3rd Constitution was adopted on May 3rd 1791 by the Great Sejm after four years of deliberations.

The constitution was designed to reform the political system of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which had been on a downward trajectory for almost a century and a half, gradually losing importance on the international stage.

The constitution included broadened participation of the townsfolk in its political life, Montesquieu's advocacy of separation and balance of powers between the three branches of government and his advocacy of a bicameral legislature, and a guarantee of tolerance and freedom to all religions.

It referred to the country's "citizens," which for the first time included townspeople and peasants. The statute also introduced a bicameral parliament consisting of Sejm (Lower House) and Senate (Higher House), in the latter, the king sat having one vote just like an ordinary senator.

The revolutionary legal document mitigated the worst abuses of serfdom and banned the parliamentary device "liberum veto," which granted any Member of Parliament the right to veto all new legislation.

The rule had been in place from the mid-17th century and was premised on the principle that since all Polish noblemen were equal, every new law would have to pass unanimously.

In reality, it made it possible for foreign actors to put a complete halt to the legislative process if they managed to win over a single MP, often with the help of corrupt practices.

As a result, the neighbouring states of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth reacted with hostility to the adoption of the Constitution.

King Frederick William II of Prussia broke off his alliance with the Commonwealth, allowing Russia to launch an invasion that entered the history books as the Polish–Russian War of 1792.

The offensive forced Poland’s King Stanisław August Poniatowski to back down. Parliament had to annul the May 3rd Constitution and agree to territorial losses.

Three years later, Prussia, Russia and Austria jointly finalised the dismemberment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, wiping it off the political map of sovereign European states for the following 123 years.