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Poland

Rzeczpospolita Polska

Last modified: 2011-03-18 by andrew weeks
Keywords: poland | eagle | crown |
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[Poland] image by António Martins
adopted 1 Aug 1919

See also

Polish Flag: Colors

The national colors are white and red in two horizontal parallel strips of equal width and length, the upper strip being white and the lower red. Both strips linked together make up the national flag whose length-to-width ratio is 8:3.
The Polish flag dates back to the mediaeval pennants. At first it was all red with a white eagle. Such a flag, or rather a banner, was at the side of King Wladyslaw Jagiello during the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. The red and white colors appeared together as late as the 17th century. The banner of Zygmunt III Vasa (d. 1632) consisted of three strips: the upper and the bottom ones being red, and the one in the middle - white. The banners of Wladyslaw IV (d. 1648) and Jan Casimir (d. 1668) were made up of four strips - the upper and the third from top being red and the second from top and the bottom one being white. The banners bore the official crest of the State.

During the reign of August II (d. 1706), white ribbons were introduced in the army (according to the Saxon pattern) as the signs of prime national color. They were attached to the left side of the headgear with ornamental pins. During the Four-Year Sejm (1788-1792) first red-and-white ribbons appeared.

The Sejm formally introduces Polish national colors during the November Uprising, on February 7, 1831. The colors were white and red, and were used in the national uprisings of the 19th century is the form of white-and-red ribbons. They were officially recognized as state colours in 1919 after Poland had regained her independence.
Source: Polish World website.
Dov Gutterman, 21 Feb 1999

I thought that Polish flag ratio is 5:8 (or 8:5 according to above definition of the ratio)?
Željko Heimer, 24 Feb 1999

"The Polish national flag is built up from 2 horizontal belts: red (amarant) below and white above. These colors are connected with the color of the White Eagle used on the red crest. The upper belt is the color of the Eagle, and the lower - the color of crest. The right proportions of the flag are 5:8 (height:width). The process whereby those colors became the national flag was quite complicated and gradual. For example, some medieval rule said, that if the White Eagle is put on the red crest, then the colors of flag are optional. Nevertheless, red-white colors occurred on the national flags from XVII-XIX cent. very often, but the location of colors was unstable. Sometimes it was red above and white below. This situation was resolved on 1 August 1919. Since that time the flag has been not changed except for the White Eagle. The communists took off the crown from the Eagle. It returned in 1989."
Source: "Encyclopaedia of Poland" by Wydawnictwo Kluszczynski, Krakow, 1996 (my translation)
Mariusz Kedzierski, 24 May 2000

The white over red derives from heraldics: Argent and Gules are the respective colours of the Polish eagle and of its the field.
Pierre Gay, 13 Oct 1998

Yes, it is. Moreover, there are some (unnecessary) non-heraldic explanations: traditionally, a white eagle flying over red (rising?) sun, or, during the communist era, white would have stood for peace while red for socialism. But, in general, a flag derived from COA according to heraldic rules needs no further 'explanation'.
Jan Zrzavy, 13 Oct 1998


Polish Law on National Symbols

Poland's national symbols are defined by the "Coat of arms, colors and anthem Act of 31th January 1980" ("Ustawa z dnia 31 stycznia 1980 r. o godle, barwach i hymnie Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej").
According to the Article 2 of the Act, "The coat of arms of the Republic of Poland is the image of a white eagle with a gold crown on his head turned right, with unfolded wings and gold beak and claws, on a red field."
Article 4 of the Act stipulates that: "(1) The colors of the Republic of Poland are white and red, in two horizontal, parallel bends of equal breadth, upper white and lower red. (2) If the colours of the Republic of Poland are placed vertically, white should be on the left side of the surface, looking from the front."
Art. 6: "(1) The state flag of the Republic of Poland is a rectangular piece of cloth with the colours of Republic of Poland, placed on a mast. (2) A flag defined in section (1) with the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland placed in the centre of the white bend is also a state flag."
Then the Act goes on to stipulate that the state flag is to be hoisted by the Sejm and Senat (lower and upper houses of the Parliament), the President, the Government and the Prime Minister, by local authorities (during legislative sessions) and by other governmental bodies (during national holidays). It is also hoisted by river and lake ships.
The flag with the coat of arms is to be hoisted by diplomatic, consular and other official establishments abroad, by civilian airports and airfields, by civilian airplanes while abroad and by the port authorities.
Polish sea-going ships use the flag with coat of arms as their merchant ensign.
Bartek Kachniarz, 21 Aug 2000

I think 1990 or 1989, but not 1980. Polish eagle with crown in 1980, in times of communists ... Hmmm, very doubtful.
Victor Lomantsov, 21 Aug 2000

Wasn't the crown returned to the COA only in early 1990's? Is this a typo or is it indeed the change made so early?
Željko Heimer, 21 Aug 2000

The act can be as of the year 1980, but have been changed since then. This is normal legal procedure in many countries, including, I suppose, Poland. You don't issue a totally new act of law because of all small corrections you may want to adopt each year. Flag laws are not usually changed very often.
Elias Granqvist, 21 Aug 2000

The act itself comes from 1980. The crown however is added by an Act changing the Coat of Arms, Colours and Anthem Act. The changing Act was enacted February 9th 1990 and is effective since February 22nd 1990.
The Coat of Arms... Act was changed a few times in later years but the changes did not affect the insignia whatsoever.
An interesting detail for those involved in heraldry: During Communist era the crown was not the only change. If you look closer at the Polish eagle, you notice that he has a silver star on each wing. Before World War II the stars had three points and were called 'the threeleaf' (trojlisc). The Communists changed it to silver 5-pointed stars. In 1990 there was a big debate about it.
Finally, they found a middle ground. The star has 3 big arms and 2 smaller ones.
Bartek Kachniarz, 22 Aug 2000

I spotted an error in the notes on FOTW Polish pages regarding the date of restoration of the crown on eagle's head. It happened much earlier,in August 1989, when after the creation of the first non-communist government in the post-WWII era, the crown was restored and General Jaruzelski was 'promoted' from Chairman of the Council of State of Polish Peopleś Republic to President of Polish Republic.
Chris Kretowicz, 19 Sep 2001


Flagdays

Since 2004, there is an official Polish Flag Day observed on 2 May. May Day and Constitution Day continue to be public holidays and flag-flying days, so in practice, the white and red Polish flag is flown continuously for the first three days of May each year.
Karol Palion, 4 Apr 2006

* May 1 - May 1st National Holiday (formerly Labor Day),
* May 2 - Republic of Poland Flag Day,
* May 3 - May 3rd National Holiday (commonly known as Constitution Day),
* November 11 - National Independence Day
The proper flag to be flown by citizens is the white and red flag and *not* the variant with the coat of arms. The flag with the coat of arms is reserved for maritime and diplomatic usage, among other things. This is a common mistake made in Poland, as people find the latter version "more pretty".
Łukasz Garczewski, 1 May 2010


Nickname

I'd like to add the info on the Polish flag. Its nickname is "bialo-czerwona" ("biało-czerwona"), which means "white-red".
Jakub Danilewicz, 23 Mar 2007