The General Confederation of Warsaw at 450: A Call Still Valid
On the 450th anniversary of the General Confederation of Warsaw – a historic act of religious tolerance – a commemorative event organized by the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (lower chamber of the parliament), the Polish Ecumenical Council, the Polish Coalition Parliamentary Caucus, and American Jewish Committee Central Europe took place in Oświęcim (Auschwitz) and Warsaw on January 27 and 28. A debate titled “Towards What We Share, With Respect for What Makes Us Different” was hosted in the Oświęcim synagogue (the seat of the Oshpitzin Jewish Museum). It featured chairman of the Supreme Council of the Muslim League in Poland, mufti Youssef Chadid, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, Bishop Jerzy Samiec, chief rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, and deputy speaker of the Sejm, Piotr Zgorzelski. Dr. Ewa Jóźwiak, a protestant theologian and editor-in-chief of the “Jednota” quarterly published by the Evangelical-Reformed Church moderated the discussion. The event was attended by the ambassadors of Argentina, Estonia, Israel, Rwanda and the United Kingdom, as well as the Consul General of the Republic of Austria and the Consul General of Hungary in Krakow.
In his opening speech, Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne said that January 27 is the day when “we remember the victims of the Holocaust, but we also remember the innocent victims of all other mass crimes. Let’s do everything we can to prevent such crimes from happening again.” Chief rabbi Michael Schudrich, alluding to the spirit of the Confederation, mentioned the unique autonomy of the Jewish community in Poland, which “since 1580, for almost 200 years, had its parliament in the Republic of Poland – the Sejm of Four Lands.” Bishop Samiec emphasized that “one must and can be open, and that can only benefit Polishness. Many, whether they were Jews, or Muslims, or belonged to various Christian denominations, with different surnames and different origins, these people became Poles, were and are Poles.” Mufti Yousef Chadid pointed out that it is important to develop an attitude of respect for everyone, regardless of their approach to religion: “Religion is one way of defining identity. When I say <<Pole>> I do not have on mind Catholic or Christian Orthodox Poles exclusively, but also those who are followers of Judaism, Muslims, and atheists, too.” Following the debate, a statement of the Community of Conscience – A Coalition of Mutual Respect on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the Warsaw Confederation was read out.
On the second day, addressing those gathered in the Column Hall of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, deputy speaker Piotr Zgorzelski noted that “the Republic has become a country without stakes. The act called the General Confederation of Warsaw for the first time in history introduced certain criteria into the state system, which today we would call human rights. Deputy speaker Zgorzelski added that “the General Confederation of Warsaw is a manifestation of an attitude that can be called courageous Polishness.” Speaker of the Senate prof. Tomasz Grodzki noted in his speech that “the General Confederation of Warsaw should be the basis of our modern state’s attitude towards all minorities – not only denominational and religious minorities, but also national, ethnic and sexual ones.” Prof. Grodzki emphasized that the spirit of the Confederation guided Poles who have taken in millions of refugees from Ukraine. “For about 100 years – in the second half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century – Polish politics was governed by the principle of political compromise, symbolized by the General Confederation of Warsaw. Letting go of this principle was one of the causes for the collapse of the Republic of Poland” – noted prof. Wojciech Kriegseisen who presented an introductory lecture to the debate at the Sejm.
During a panel discussion titled “The General Confederation of Warsaw: Then and Now” was moderated by dr. Anna Materska-Sosnowska and featured Rev. Halina Radacz, MP Urszula Pasławska and MP Eugeniusz Czykwin who drew attention to the challenge that the Confederation constitutes today for Polish society in the context of assistance provided to refugees. It was emphasized that Poland passed the test of humanity by supporting Ukrainians, but at the same time, a different approach was seen towards refugees on the border with Belarus, where a wall has been erected. Dr. Hanna Węgrzynek mentioned the need to constantly remind ourselves about the multiculturalism that used to characterize the Republic of Poland and what has been achieved thanks to it. Rev. dr. Sławomir Pawłowski emphasized that tolerance is only a first step on the way to mutual acceptance.
During an ecumenical service at the Lutheran Holy Trinity Church bishop Jerzy Samiec drew attention to the tasks faced by Churches and other religious associations today: “Together, we should fight to make ensure there is room in our Republic for all those who are in minority or are persecuted for their views, beliefs, faith, origin, or lack of faith, or declared atheism.” He emphasized that the spirit of the Confederation results in “openness to others – openness to thinking differently, believing differently.” At the end of the ecumenical service, Bishop Andrzej Malicki, president of the Polish Ecumenical Council, noted that: “Seeking justice, seeking unity and reconciliation was at the heart of the Republic of Poland of yesteryear. I would like this to be the foundation of today’s Republic of Poland. This call is still valid.”
Dr. Sebastian Rejak, director of American Jewish Committee Central Europe, during a press conference in the Sejm and the ecumenical service, mentioned the tasks that are incumbent on the government, both in Warsaw and at the local government level: “In particular, emphasis should be placed on education – this is a responsibility of government institutions to create an atmosphere in which people belonging to different groups – majority and minority groups – will be guided by respect for each other. […] Unity is polyphonic, beautifully diverse. We all have a responsibility to transform wishes for peace into action of peace. The Talmud makes it clear that this is our duty: if not me, if not us, then who? And if not now, when?”
Photo and video by: Krzysztof Niedziela, AJC CE, Evangelical-Augsburg Holy Trinity Parish in Warsaw.