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Meanders of European History

Prepared by Danuta Goc│awska from TTC in Radom

The Hornby Summer School 2004 at Gniezno had participants from 9 European countries -Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania Slovenia, Poland and Romania and one from as far as Brazil. Looking at my colleagues I was thinking about the moments in history when the fate of Poland criss-crossed with that of other nations represented at the course.

From Czech came Dobrava (ca. 940-977), our first historical Prince, Mieszko I's wife. She was a Czech princess, daughter of the Czech King Boleslaus I. She was to become the mother of the Polish first King, Boleslaw the Brave and grandmother to Canut (Knut) the Great, the Danish King. Also our first martyr, St. Adalbert, better known in our native language as Voytech, came from a rich Czech family. Later, we also had two kings from the Bohemian Premyslid dynasty.

Polish links with Lithuania are known to any child in Poland. We all read at school about the Lithuanian Duke Jagiello who was offered the Polish throne and thus became the founder of the new dynasty of Jagiellons, about his brother Witold who fought bravely against the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald, the Union sealed between two countries which gave rise to the Commonwealth of Two Nations and which was to be shattered by the partition of Poland in the 18th century and later broken by World War II.

One of our elected Kings in the 16th century was Stephen Bathory from Transylvania, the territory the right to which is claimed today by both Hungary and Romania. Actually he was not the first king imported by Poland from this area. Louis de Anjou (Lajos the Great) and his daughter Jadwiga (1374-1399) were two earlier imports from Hungary. While Jadwiga is commonly recognised as the benefactor of the Jagiellonian University, Bathory has a reputation of a strong ruler who fought bravely against Muscovites and expanded the country further to the east by annexing the territories of today's Latvia and Estonia (the Livonian Wars of the late 16th century).

At first glance Croatia and Slovenia seem to have little connection with my native country, but a more penetrating look discloses some affinity between our countries. In the early 19th century our countries were a part of Napoleon's Empire, Poland in the form of the small Duchy of Warsaw and Slovenia and Croatia as Illyrian Provinces of the same Empire. Then another empire devoured our countries, that of the Hapsburg family. In more recent years we played the roles of the Soviet Empire humble satellites. It seems our countries have always been the prey of some mighty predators.

With so much heritage in common, shared meanders of history, years of peaceful co-existence and numerous aggressive confrontations, can we still have doubts about being one family?

Produced in Poland by British Council ę 2004. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.