Polak, Węgier — dwa bratanki: a proverbial history

In an age in which nations’ best way to express brotherhood seems to award each other ‘twelve points’ and most international folklore consists of stereotypical jokes like ‘a Dutchman, a Belgian and a German…’ a Polish-Hungarian proverb existing in either language allegedly proves the historical friendship of two nations in Central-Europe.

Polak, Węgier — dwa bratanki,
i do szabli, i do szklanki,
oba zuchy, oba żwawi,
niech im Pan Bóg błogosławi.

Thus sounds the Polish version of the proverb. It translates roughly as:
‘Pole, Hungarian, two cousins
good for the sabre, good for the glass
both courageous, both vivid
let God bless them.’

The explanation put forward by most historians, which indeed seems most logical, is that Poland and Hungary share a common memory of historical experiences. These shared events have throughout time seen the countries be ruled by the same leaders, fight side-by-side on the battlefield or have common enemies in other ways. I’ll try to make a small comparison.

For starters, Poland’s and Hungary’s genesis are somehow alike. Both were wandering nations who entered the central and Eastern parts of Europe roughly a century before the turn of the first millennium. They were both separately granted their own part of Central-Europe when the noble elites converted to Christianity, but only after some dreadful battles had been fought with the Frankish Germans from the West. Henceforth, both nations have expanded and shrunk – but the concept of a ‘thousand years-old hisory’ is firmly established in their respective national identities. The Polish and Hungarian royal dynasties (Piast and Árpád resp.) intermarried even before the creation of the first Hungarian state.  Bolesław Chrobry married Judith of Hungary in 985, whose brother Vajk was crowned first King of Hungary as Stephen I in 1000 AD.

By the late Middle Ages the countries’ political affairs had become intertwined in a way that led Louis I of Hungary, who had been king since 1342 (Ludwik Węgierski) to become King of Poland from 1370 until death in 1382, bundling the countries in personal union.
Roughly houndred years later a Polish monarch ascended to the Hungarian throne, when Władysław Warneńczyk became King of Hungary in 1440. After this, Władysław never went back to Poland again, but the young king died aged 20 in the Battle of Varna, in which Hungarian and Polish armies fought side-by-side against the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Empire was however not the only empire that meddled in Central-Europe. In the modern age the Austrian (Hasburg) and later Russian empires was among the main powers in the region, up till the First World War. The period was accompanied among others by loss of territory and independence, but also multi-ethnicism as well as the rise of nationalism.

The saying is said to have emerged at in the late eighteenth century, when Polish noblemen of the Bar Confederation, which sought to defend the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from a Russian attack, found refuge in Hungary after the czarist victory resulted in the First Partition of Poland. Poland was partitioned twice again, eventually complete vanishing from the European map as it was split between Prussia, Austria and Russia in the seventeenth century. Hungary was able to gain relative independence when it formed a dual-monarchy wth Austria in 1867, but only after years of anti-Habsburg resistance, which culminated in the 1848 uprising.

During this revolt, Polish general Józef Bem was dominantly involved in the military of Hungary, winning numerous unlike battles in the early stages of the war, but eventually defeated by the Austro-Russian coalition in the Battles of Segesvár and Temesvár, accomplishment for which he is still honoured as a national hero in Hungary.

In more recent history, both countries have lived through periods of fascist and communist occupation and rule. As of today, but in those times as well, some Poles and Hungarians have tended to be nostalgic about the past. Others like to victimize their country, as is illustrated by some lyrics of their national anthems.

Perhaps these are some factors which have forced Poles and Hungarians into a historical-cultural brotherhood. Even today politics in the countries is similar. Both the Polish and Hungarian parliaments adopted a ‘Day of the Polish-Hungarian friendship’.





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