In the years of communist rule, July 22 was celebrated by the authorities as the day that a “People’s Poland” began. In reality, it marked another stage in the evolving occupation by the USSR.
July 22, 1944, was the day of the formation of the “Polish Committee of National Liberation” (PKWN) in Lublin. It was set up by the Polish communists and sponsored by the Soviet Union. It was a provisional entity set up in opposition to the Polish government in exile which was functioning since 1939 in London, following Poland being occupied by Nazi Germany.
The new authority was also created to begin to undermine the authority of the Polish Underground state which was a network of organisations loyal to the Polish government in exile. It was to be the beginning of the period of communist rule in Poland that lasted until 1989.
The PKWN presented itself as a broad leftist and democratic coalition, but it did not include the major Polish political parties which had operated before the war. In its manifesto the PKWN promised radical agrarian reform, the expansion of Polish territory to the west at the expense of Germany and a return to the 1921 constitution, as it considered the 1935 constitution as “fascist”.
Support for the communists in Polish society was marginal and the new regime was from day one totally dependent on Moscow. This was reflected in the early decrees issued by the PKWN which handed control over most territory to the Soviet NKVD for security reasons.
Its early strategy was a mix of repression and attempts and co-option. Its main selling point with the population was a long-overdue land reform. From day one it had an army based on the Polish military which had fought the Germans on the eastern front. But which was effectively controlled by the Soviets.
At the end of December 1944, the PKWN was reconstituted as a provisional government which the Soviets recognised in early 1945. The western allies for a while maintained recognition for the Polish government in exile in London, but in reality, accepted the new government as part of the new European territorial settlement that had evolved out of the Tehran and Yalta conferences.
Officially July 22, was a day of national celebration. It became a public holiday and the authorities tried hard for Poles to get to like it. But the naming and nationalisation of Poland’s most popular chocolate producer, “Wedel” as “July 22” simply made people quip that July 22 was “Wedel day”.
The years that followed were sufficiently dark and difficult to make it hard for people to celebrate July 22. Both a national referendum and a general election was rigged and a new constitution later gave full powers to the Communist party and its satellites. The country became part of the Warsaw Pact and the communist economic bloc (COMECON) and no free elections were held until 1989.
Once communism and Soviet domination collapsed in 1989 both the communist party and the July 22 celebrations disappeared without a trace. Poland reverted to celebrating May 3 Constitution Day and November 11 independence day as its major state forming anniversary days.
Today, July 22, is just one of those dates in Polish history that is a source of sorrow rather than shame, and certainly not of any joy.