What does it mean to be a nation?

What does it mean to be a nation? How is the definition of nation affected by different cultural values and different historical experiences? Nationalism of course is a substitute for religion. The two top historians of nationalism, Carleton Hayes, a Roman Catholic, and Elie Kedourie, a Jew, agree on this point. In Poland’s case such a substitution was unnecessary because from the dawn of Polish history nation and religion were inseparable.

In some countries, it is geographical borders and unified jurisdiction that shape the national identity. Nevertheless, the definition of nation involves more than a clearly defined territory for Poland, which is located on the Great European Plain with few natural barriers, like mountains, or rivers. This makes Poland’s territory difficult to defend against aggression. For example, the armed resistance led by Kosciuszko against Poland’s predatory neighbors, which partitioned the Polish Res Publica in the late 18th century thereby erasing our kin country from the map of Europe, obliged the outnumbered Polish armies to fight in the open field against far more numerous foes.

Poland’s national identity began with the Christianization of Poland in 966 through the Baptism of Poland’s then ruler, Mieszko I, which made the Polish state part of Western Latin Christian Civilization, or Christendom.

This link proved to be of great importance for the future because Poland’s predatory neighbors partitioned her out-of-existence for 123 years after the Third and final partition in 1795. There was no “true” Polish land that Poles could officially call their own, so those residing in the territory had to define themselves as a culturally-similar group through a unified, undying language and creative expression through songs and works of art (e.g. icons and iconography). 

Partitioned Poland was a nation in a spiritual sense and connected deeply with the influences of the centuries-old Roman Catholic faith, rather than a nation that could be defined by then-non-existent borders. In contrast with the prevailing American view of e pluribus unum (out-of-many one), Poland was one culture without a State. This cultural Polonism helped Poland to regain Statehood after all three of the autocratic partitioning powers were swept away by war and revolution during World War I.

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