Napoleon and Polish Identity

Poland is the only country in the world to invoke Napoleon in its national anthem. Andrzej Nieuwazny explains how Bonaparte has retained a hold over Polish imagination throughout the last two centuries.

Edouard Driault, the great historian of the Napoleonic period, used to say that Poland `is more Napoleonic than France'. Although this remark may seem to be exaggerated, the durability and the strength of the legend of Napoleon in Poland cannot be doubted. The Poles are the only people in the world to sing about Bonaparte in their national anthem.

Napoleon's rule in France lasted for only fifteen years, but it continued to shape the institutions and society of the country for almost two centuries. In Poland, or rather in the part known as the Duchy of Warsaw, the Napoleonic era lasted only from 1807 until 1815, and after 1813 the country was under Russian occupation. It is a short period of time, even if we treat the Kingdom of Poland created by Tsar Alexander I (sometimes called Congress Poland and which maintained a distinct identity until the suppression of the Polish rising in 1830), as a continuation of it. From 1874 (when, after another uprising in 1863, the residual Kingdom was fully absorbed into the Russian Empire) until 1918, the Polish people were again partitioned among Russia, Prussia and Austria and did not have their own state, even as a satellite of another power.

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