Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935)

When Poland regained independence following World War II, after more than a century of being partitioned by other European powers, Marshall Pilsudski preserved its independence and its constitutional democracy against invasion by Soviet Russia. In the "Miracle on the Vistula," Pilsudski pushed back the Russian forces, nearly halfway to Moscow. Although Pilsudski was in spirit something of a liberal democrat, as economic and political conditions in post-War Poland deteriorated, Pilsudski staged a coup d'etat in 1926, leading a governing regime that grew increasingly authoritarian. The 1921 Constitution was amended to authorize President Pilsudski to issue decrees when parliament was not in session. Finally, in 1935 the 1921 constitution was replaced by an entirely new constitution, which declared that "the one and undivided power of the state was concentrated in the person of the President of the Republic," and all other political institutions of the state were "subordinate to him." Ironically, Pilsudski died just three weeks after the new constitution - tailor-made for him - was enacted. But he was the only man in Poland who was popular and charismatic enough to have any legitimacy as president. In his place sat a collection of colonels, who ruled Poland by martial committee. Their infighting and lack of popular legitimacy left the Polish state and economy adrift in the final years before Poland was partitioned yet again, this time by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Historians disagree about Pilsudski's place in Poland's political history, but he is undeniably among the greatest figures in Polish political and military history, and he led  Poland's Second Republic during an increasingly difficult period of economic instability and existential threats.

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