• Do not let independence go to waste!

    Edward Raczyński



  • After a joint invasion from the hands of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939, the ‪Polish Government crossed the Romanian border and continued its activity abroad. Reconstructed first in ‪Paris, and from 1940 residing in ‪‎London, it led the Polish ‪war effort throughout ‪World War II.


    After 1945, a 500,000-strong community of Polish exiles in all corners of the free world could not come back to ‪Poland dominated by communists. Abroad, they recreated the Poland they knew from before the war, with all her political institutions, school system, and even cultural life. They created the Republic in Exile - Poland outside Poland.


    On 22 December 1990, the last of the Presidents of the Republic of Poland residing in London – Ryszard Kaczorowski – travelled to Warsaw to hand over the insignia of his office to the first democratically elected president of post-war Poland – Lech Wałęsa. The Government-in-Exile fulfilled its mission by providing that institutional and symbolic link between the Second and the Third Polish Republic.



    The corner stone of the continued legal existence of the Polish President and Government in exile during the Second World War and subsequently, until 1990, was article 24 of the Polish Constitution, promulgated on 23 April 1935. It read:


    „In the event of war the period of office of the President of the Polish Republic is extended for three months following the signing of a peace treaty; The President of the Republic in a separate document, published in the official government press, will designate his successor in the event of the [presidential] office being vacated before the signing of a peace agreement”.


    As no peace agreement was signed following the Second World War, article 24 remained in force right up to the handing over of the symbols of presidential legality to the newly, freely elected Lech Wałęsa to the office of President of the Polish Republic.


    Between the end of September 1939 and December 1990 the seat of the Polish President was in Paris, Angers and as of June 1940 in London.


    Until the end of the Second World War the Polish President and Government was recognised by all the allied powers (by the USSR from 1941-1943) and all neutral countries. The decisions of the Big Three at Teheran and Yalta effectively handed Poland over to the Soviet sphere of control. From June 1945 onwards successive governments in the free world began to withdraw their recognition of the Polish Government in London in favour of the Soviet controlled puppet government in Warsaw. However, there were a few countries which continued to recognise the legal Polish Government in London, among them; Ireland, Spain and the Holy See. Despite this situation the Polish Government in London continued to carry out its functions adjusting to the changing circumstances of their existence. The struggle to regain independence for Poland was far from over. The most important ministry was that of Foreign Affairs. The Government in Exile with its delegates in many countries of the world, received from them regular reports. Their task was to monitor events in those countries – especially the situation of Polish exiles living there and to lobby the governments of those countries to support Polish independence.


    During the Second World War and after, the Government was made up of the four main parties: National Democrats, Polish Socialist Party, Agrarian Party and Labour Party. These were joined by those set up in exile such as the League for the Independence of Poland and the Independent Social Group. Leaders of these parties were consulted over the nominee to succeed the incumbent president. Apart from the Government with all the necessary ministries, there was a consultative body, the National Council, which was made up of representatives of the main parties, nominees of the President and representatives of the leading welfare and educational organisations. Elections to the Council were held every so often, the electorate being the exiled Polish community.


    The Government in exile published an official gazette from 1939-1990 (a continuation of the pre war gazette). It included presidential decrees, all nominations and changes in public posts (both organisational and of personnel), as well as major speeches and declarations on state occasions, national anniversaries and at times of crises in Poland.


    There was a period between 1954 and 1972 when there was a duality in the state authorities in exile. Apart from the grouping around President A.Zaleski and the official government, there was also the Council of Three (initial members were: Gen.W.Anders, Edward Raczyński and Tomasz Arciszewski) which acted as head of state. The National Executive acted as a government and the advisory Council of National Unity. In 1972, an agreement was reached by which unity in the state authorities was restored and president Zaleski nominated S.Ostrowski as his successor in accordance with the constitution and in consultation with the Council of Three.


    During the 2 World War the Polish Government’s main task was to secure a just future for post war Poland, securing its borders both in the west and the east and rebuilding all aspects of national life following the terrible destruction and losses suffered during the war. As a result of the Yalta Agreements and inevitable exile, the tasks of the Polish state authorities in exile were manifold. These included keeping the free world informed of the realities of Soviet –communist rule in Poland, maintaining second generation Poles born in exile true to their heritage and providing support for the development and contribution of a free, uncensored cultural and academic life among the exiles. Where possible, influence and pressure was brought to bear on western politicians to gain support for amongst others, the recognition of Poland’s western frontier whilst at the same time defending Poland’s right to her eastern border of 1939.


    During the 1980s direct contacts between the Government in London and opposition leaders in Poland became possible and ever more frequent.


    In brief, the Polish state authorities in exile uniformly continued to see their aim as fighting for Poland’s full independence and sovereignty and its rightful place among the European community.


    The long awaited and fought for aim came about as a result of the changes during 1989-1990 initiated a decade earlier by the Solidarity Movement. With the election of Lech Wałęsa in a free democratic vote, the legal Polish President and Government in London concluded that their mission had come to an end. On 22 December 1990 in a ceremony at the Royal Castle in Warsaw President R.Kaczorowski handed over the symbols of office including the original of the April 1935 Constitution, to the newly elected President L.Wałęsa. In his valedictory address President Kaczorowski paid tribute to his predecessors and above all to Poland’s soldiers, seamen and airmen who had fought in the Polish 1939 Campaign, in the Polish Armed Forces and the resistance Home Army.


    The final act took place on 8th December 1991 when the National Council in Exile disbanded itself, following universal and free parliamentary elections in Poland.


    The extraordinary phenomenon of the Polish Republic in Exile, which had lasted over half a century, had finally come to an end with a free and sovereign Poland.


    Dr Andrzej Suchcitz, The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum 

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