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Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom by Brian Porter-Sz̋cs

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4

THE AMBIVALENCE OF DEMOCRACY AND AUTHORITY, 1922–39

Poland was back, 123 years after the partitions had destroyed it. This wasn’t really a return, however, because the Second Polish Republic of the interwar years bore only a limited resemblance to the old Polish–Lithuanian Republic. Most obviously, its borders were different, with a large swath to the east now part of the USSR, an independent Lithuania to the northeast, and the “free city” of Danzig/Gdańsk at the mouth of the Vistula. An even more profound change, however, was concealed by a superficial similarity: both states were called republics, but their politics were vastly different. The common label is justified insofar as both were constitutional states in which the law was placed above the will of the ruler (at least in theory), and in which an elected assembly was responsible for legislation. But whereas in the First Republic the power of the monarch had been constrained in order to secure the dominance of the nobility over an enserfed population, the new state was a modern parliamentary democracy founded in large part by socialists and agrarians. This had many consequences, but perhaps the most important was that the “will of the people” was sovereign in a way it never had been before. Once the people (lud – a singular noun in Polish) gained this vital symbolic role, the diversity of the actual people (ludzie – a plural noun) came to the fore. In the old Republic the concept of ethnicity had not even existed, and ...

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