Of all the 195 countries in the world, every one of them has their own flag. The one of Poland and polish coat of arms have a long tradition, and they represent both Poland and its diaspora, Polonia.
The flag of Poland has a simple design and is very easy to remember, yet it is very rich in its symbolic. It is divided into two horizontal parts, the upper of white color, and the lower or the color red. Every flag represents its country and what it stands for, and the same goes for this one. The white is to represent the scarring of the Poland nation due to the many wars and misfortunes it’s been through, and the red represents blood of people that gave their lives for it, as is mentioned in the well-known children’s rhyme ‘’Polak Maly’’ (‘’Little Pole’’), that all children and adults know by heart.
There is also a variant of the flag with the national coat of arms in the middle of the white part. This type of the polish flag is often used for official purposes.
But let’s look back at the early history of the Polish flag. Almost from the earliest signs of human civilisation, people used flags or vexilloids (flag-like objects), especially in warfare and when sailing, to mark who the nation, the country or belief they belonged to. The first Polish vexilloids probably looked like a cloth attached to a wooden pole or to a spear, and were used as early as the 10th Century AD. In 996, when Poland became a Christian state, it began to bare Christian symbols all through the Middle Ages. The first flag that looks anything like the one we know today dates to the reign of the King Vladislau the Elbow-High (Lokietek) who ruled the kingdom of Poland in the beginning of the 14th Century. A red cloth with the White Eagle of the arms of Poland.
From 1569 to 1795, Poland was known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and its flag combined the symbols of the both countries: it was first plain white with two red stripes, and with the arms of the Commonwealth (a White Eagle and a Pursuer).
As the world moved on, in 18th Century, European countries began using cockades, which were ornaments or ribbons pinned to the uniform, to mark the nationality of the military or the officials. Although there was no official rule then yet, the Polish wore cockades in the colors of their flag, at times even as plain white and sometimes adding blue color to the red and white combination, as it symbolizes Virgin Mary.
As 3rd May marks one of the most important events of the Polish country, the adoption of the Constitution of 1791 (and is still celebrated as a national holiday), during its first anniversary white and red were introduced as the official national colors of Poland. The political left wore cockades in red, white and blue instead. Then, in 1812, the General Confederation of the Kingdom of Poland adopted the red and blue cockades, which symbolized the unity of Poland and Lithuania (blue here being the color of Lithuania). In 1831, the national cockade of Poland became exclusively white and red.
In the time that followed, the flag itself was often used by people mixing the order of the white and red color, until the parliament introduced a white and red national flag post World War I, in 1919. Still, the flag itself doesn’t divide the colors equally, but by a 5:8 ratio, although today the colors divide the flag equally. The variant with the coat of arms changed during times, and the eagle on the flag was portrayed without the crown during the communist rule after the World War II, from 1944 to 1990. Poland was one of the few countries of the communistic regime not to bare any communist symbolism on its flag.
The Polish coat of arms dates back as long as its flag, sometime in the 13th Century. It represents a white eagle on a red shield, with a golden beak and a crown, because of Gniezno, the first capital of Poland before Warsaw, and its legend how it came to be. According to the story, three brothers were looking for a place to settle, until finally they saw a hill with an old oak and a white eagle on the top. One of the brothers saw the eagle and decided to make his settlement there, calling the city Gniezno as an homage to the word ‘’gniazdo’’, meaning a bird’s nest. This is how the Polish eagle came to hold an important place in the history of the country, and the way the flag looks today.
There are certain rules on who and when can use the national flag with the coat of arms, in practice it is often used not only for official and international purposes, but also by the Polonia, how many Polish people or diaspora outside of Poland is called, using the name of the country in the Latin language.
So if you are Polish living in or out of Poland, be proud of your white and red striped flag!
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