Poland has declared a new national holiday to commemorate a series of uprisings in the aftermath of World War One that saw part of the Upper Silesia region break away from Germany and join the newly independent Polish state.

The National Day of the Silesian Uprisings was proposed by President Andrzej Duda last week and approved almost unanimously by parliament yesterday, with 436 votes in favour and only four against.

“Thanks to the great military feats of the three Silesian uprisings, Poland could take possession of this land and all of the Poles, the Silesians, who fought for Poland had the great and extremely important moment of joining their homeland,” said Duda when announcing his initiative.

“The heroes of those difficult and painful times, of the uprisings of 1919-1921, deserve tribute and respect,” said Wojciech Król, an MP from Civic Coalition (KO), the largest opposition group, yesterday.

The holiday – which will not be a day off work – will be marked on 20 June. That was the date in 1922, a century ago, when part of Upper Silesia was formally annexed to Poland, ending a process that had begun in 1919 and seen three uprisings in which over 2,000 died.

In 1918, Poland had returned to the map of Europe following a period of 123 years in which it had been divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia/Germany. After 1918, however, questions remained over the precise shape of the borders between the new state and its neighbours.

One such dispute was over Upper Silesia, an industrial, coal-rich region whose eastern sections contained a majority Polish-speaking population. The postwar Versailles Treaty of 1919 had ordered a plebiscite to be held in the area to determine whether it would become part of Poland or remain in Germany.

Polish and German propaganda posters from the time of the uprisings at the Silesian Museum in Katowice (Marcin Polak/Flickr, under CC BY 2.0)

However, before that vote could take place in 1921, tensions over the future of the region – which for the time being remained under German rule – resulted in two uprisings in 1919 and 1920. Shortly after the plebiscite, a third uprising also broke out.

The uprisings involved fighting between Polish separatists and German police and paramilitary forces. In some cases, family members or close neighbours even fought on opposite sides of the conflict.

International military intervention and diplomacy helped bring about a ceasefire, with a decision on the border handed over to the League of Nations. A commission then awarded Poland an area that amounted to around one-third of Upper Silesia, but which contained half of its population and most of its industrial areas.

A train derailed by Polish insurgents near Kędzierzyn during the third uprising in 1921

The struggle is today seen by many as an important part of the re-establishment of an independent Polish state, along with another uprising against Germany in Greater Poland (which was last year also marked with a new holiday) and the successful repulsion of a Bolshevik invasion from the east.

The uprisings also play an important part in local identity and memory in Upper Silesia, a region that is today almost entirely located in Poland (with its western sections having been transferred from Germany after World War Two).

The is also still home to a significant German minority. Last year, one organisation representing that community complained about a monument to the uprisings, saying that it gave the impression that the descendants of those who fought against them, many of whom still live in the region, would no longer be welcome.

German minority in Poland oppose monument to Poles who died in separatist Silesian uprising

“I feel Polish and SIlesian,” said Michał Gramatyka, an MP from the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050) party, yesterday. He noted that those in the region have often faced repression: “persecuted by the Germans for their Polishness but called Germans by communist Poland.”

He expressed hope that “during the celebration [of the new holiday] there will be time and political will to settle a few matters that are important for Silesia”.

Politicians from the region have lobbied for greater support for their local culture, and in particular recognition of Silesian as a regional language. Last year, a campaign was launched encouraging locals to identify themselves as Silesian, rather than just Polish, on the national census.

Politicians and activists campaign for people to declare Silesian identity in census

Pin It on Pinterest

Support us!