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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » November 25, 2011
Britain in Poland
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Queen Elizabeth II—Ace of Diamonds
November 25, 2011   
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“Diamonds are forever,” so the saying goes. As Queen Elizabeth II prepares to celebrate her diamond jubilee next year, “60 Glorious Years” was how her great great grandmother Queen Victoria’s reign was described in 1897.

Poland did not exist in 1897. At that time it was subject to Russian, Prussian and Hanoverian partitioning. There is an interesting irony for modern Poland, with its close links with Great Britain, whose current queen is descended from that same royal house of Hanover.

When Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in 1952 Poland was, once again, subjected to another occupation, this time by the USSR. In 1952 Poland was bearing the brunt of post-World War II austerity and hardship that gripped the whole of Europe, including the UK, as the costs of the war were counted and economic uncertainty was never very far away. A similar economic uncertainty, for different reasons, pervades Europe again 60 years on. In 1950 the Festival of Britain was held to boost Britain’s post-war recovery and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, three years later, helped further fuel that process. Many will hope that next year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Britain will have a similar effect.

Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her late father as monarch some 18 months before the formal coronation in June 1953. My parents walked the coronation route on the eve of the actual ceremony and I was born three months later. Perhaps my royalist roots were subliminally forged whilst still womb-bound. I sense, today, in the UK , that there is a distinct lack of this kind of cultural connection that instills a pride in the past as an anchor to the future.

I have come to this view since moving to live in Poland, where the loss of freedom and domination of its lands by non-Polish people has welded a Polish patriotic passion that many other European states, including Britain, can only wish for.

When I stand amid crowds on Warsaw’s Royal Route in the capital city’s wonderfully restored Krakowskie Przedmie¶cie Street, each November on the Republic of Poland’s Independence Day, I am reminded that this Royal Route is deeply rooted in the Polish psyche. This is reaffirmed with such powerful outpouring of a very humbling Polish pride. The young Poles hoisted on parents’ shoulders to get a better view of the pageantry and parade, flanked by grandparents, and sometimes great grandparents, adding their silent memories of less happy times as poignant coordinates to way-mark their descendants’ future route—a route that once saw kings and queens of Poland process from the Royal Castle to the Royal Palace at Wilanów.

In Britain such genuine patriotic display is a much rarer occurrence. Some would say only once in 30 years, when heirs to the throne get married, as in 1981 with Prince Charles to Diana and again in 2011, with Prince William to Katherine. Of course, patriotic flag waving does happen every two years, for some, when England, for it seems it is always only England, makes the finals of the football world cup and European cup championships and prompts a brash brandishing of St. George’s Cross flags across the land. The English football fan is not Britain’s best export. They have a penchant for too much beer and hijack the British national anthem, chanting “God save our gracious team” rather than “queen.” Watch out Cracow. Don’t say you have not been warned when the English football camp sets up court in the shadow of Wawel Castle next June.

I would like to think that some of these European championships English fans will also have stood thousands deep in central London, or joined street parties up and down the UK next June, to join together in thanks and respect for a grand lady whose life has seen exemplary service to her nation and Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is the only monarch that every Brit below the age of 60 has ever known.

Here in Warsaw on June 4, 2012, the British School will suspend its lessons for the day in order to experience that most British of institutions: the street party. Almost 2,000 students, teachers, parents and friends will sit down to one of the largest British street parties every held outside Britain. The traditional trestle tables, gallons of tea and juice will be served up along with curled up cucumber sandwiches and stodgy sausage rolls. Bunting will fly above the celebrations and this very British event will have guests from Poland and over 50 further nationalities that make up the British School’s international student community coming together for this wonderful Diamond Jubilee jamboree!

When the feasting is over, the big screen will show ceremonial events live from London. The post-prandial fun will take the form of a mini Olympic Games and a mock Euro football tournament mirroring these two sporting events that also share the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year and coincidentally unite Poles and Brits alike in the global fellowship of sport.

When the British School’s street party is over, when all the Olympic medals have been won, when all the Euro goals have been scored and the winning team crowned champions of Europe 2012, one 86-year-old British lady will wear her diamond crown buoyed up by her British nation’s pride and encouraged, I’d like to think, a little by the example set by Poland’s highly enviable stoic national pride. Our British Queen of Diamonds will live long in many of our hearts—thank you, Ma’am.

Nigel Archdale, Principal, The British School, Warsaw
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