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Poland to award Reagan highest distinction

Poland to award Reagan highest distinction

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will award late U.S. president Ronald Reagan one of its highest distinctions to recognize his role in the downfall of communism in Europe, the president's office has just announced.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski will present the Order of the White Eagle to Nancy Reagan, the former president's widow, during a visit to the United States next week.

"The president noted the award should recognize Reagan's 8-year presidency and his contribution to the downfall of communism in this part of Europe," said Lena Dabkowska-Cichocka, sub-secretary in the president's office.

Many Poles credit Reagan, who took office in 1981, with helping the anti-communist movement in eastern Europe.

He was known for portraying the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and supporting Poland's Solidarity movement which pushed the Eastern European country to become the first in the region to shake off communism in 1989.

Re: Poland to award Reagan highest distinction


Romantic legends shroud the origins of Poland’s most illustrious Order. Folklore traces the Order to the sixth century whilst popular histories claim the Order was established by King Wladyslaw I on 28 June 1325, in celebration of the marriage of Wladyslaw’s son, Casimir (“The Great”), to Anna, daughter of Gedymin of Lithuania. Although it is plausible that the Order, or an earlier incarnation, was established as early as 1325, lack of evidence negates any attempt to definitively cite this year as the Order’s date of creation. As the Polish nobility was generally suspicious of aristocratic titles and honours of distinction, regarding them as an affront to the theoretical equality of all members of the noble class, it is possible that the modern-founded Order was deliberately associated with a more ancient Order; thereby endowing it with sufficient authority and symbolism to satisfy, or at least silence, its critics.

Legends notwithstanding, as currently constituted the Order of the White Eagle is an eighteenth century creation; however the precise date of its modern foundation is also uncertain. Some sources suggest that the Order was established by King Augustus II (“The Strong”) in 1709 to mark his second accession to the throne; however most historians prefer to date the Order’s institution to a meeting between Tsar Peter I (“The Great”) and King Augustus II in Tykocin on 1 November 1705. On that occasion the Polish king presented to his most loyal and high-born supporters, as well as the attending Russian generals, a gold medal inscribed “Pro Fide Rege et Lege” (“For Faith, King and Law”). 1 King Augustus was most probably motivated in part by a desire to emulate the Orders found in kingdoms across Europe; however, given his unstable political position, the foundation of the Order was likely part of a plan of self-preservation. Supported by Augustus’ foes, a rival by the name of Stanislaw Leszczynski had recently been crowned King of Poland and it is therefore not implausible that Augustus saw an Order as a tool he could use to obtain support and loyalty from members of the nobility.

The initial badge of the Order differed considerably from those awarded in later years. Suspended from a pale-blue ribbon, the badge took the form of a gold oval medal, enamelled red, bearing, on the obverse, a crowned eagle displayed (spread eagle), enamelled white; the eagle’s chest bore an escutcheon featuring a white cross and crossed swords. The medal’s reverse bore the King’s monogram (“A.R.”) surmounted by a crown and, below all, a pair of crossed palm leaves.

The badge remained unchanged until 1709—a dramatic year in Polish history and one which saw the fortunes of Poland’s rival kings change significantly. In that year Russia’s Peter the Great routed the Swedish army of Charles XII at Poltava. This event had profound political repercussions in Poland; for the Swedish King had supported Stanislaw I Leszczynski’s claim to the throne whilst the Russian Tsar had supported the claim of Augustus II. Deprived of Swedish support, an impotent Stanislaw I was forced into exile in France thereby enabling Augustus II to again ascend the throne.

With his position secure, Augustus II commissioned new and grander insignia for his fledgling Order. Drezno artisans were tasked to design and produce the Order’s new badge. The oval medal was transformed into a ball-tipped maltese cross, enamelled red with white enamelled borders. Diamond-studded rays filled the principal angles of the cross and a crowned white eagle was mounted upon its centre. The two uppermost points of the cross were joined by a gold crown through which was passed a white neck ribbon with red borders.2

The Order’s Feast Day was celebrated on the Feast Day of the Saint bearing the King’s name. Somewhat appropriately, August 2nd was the date set by King Augustus II whilst August 3rd was the date set by King Augustus III. The Order’s maximum membership was initially limited to seventy-two; however only 50 men were invested in the Order during the reign of Augustus II. The King sought to guarantee the Order’s prestige and he was therefore keen to maintain its exclusivity by restricting the number of awards and also by drawing members solely from the ranks of the Roman Catholic nobility. Numerical restrictions did not concern King Augustus III and during his reign some 335 persons received the White Eagle.

Although the Collar of the Grand Master of the Order of the White Eagle had existed during the previous reign, significant modifications were made for the coronation of Stanislaw II Augustus Poniatowski, the last King of the Polish Commonwealth. The Collar consisted of 24 links alternating between an oval and a crowned eagle displayed, enamelled white, clutching an orb and sceptre in either claw. Each oval featured alternately either the Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus, enamelled blue and pink, or the stylised monogram of the name of the Virgin Mary, “Maria”, surmounted by a cross, enamelled blue and white. 3

The inflation of the Order’s membership numbers initiated by King Augustus III continued unabated during the reign of his successor. Stanislaw Augustus, a former paramour of Russia’s Catherine the Great—and widely regarded as her puppet—invested 550 persons with the Order of the White Eagle. The greatest number of awards was made during the final years of the King’s reign and a large proportion was allocated to those who had distinguished themselves in connection with the Constitution of May 3rd 1791. Although many truly deserving Poles were invested in the Order, a large number of the awards, made to persons generally regarded as enemies and traitors to the nation, angered and insulted Polish patriots.

In 1795, Russia, Prussia and Austria divided that portion of Poland that had escaped their earlier partitions. The ancient Polish state vanished from the face of Europe and the Polish monarchy collapsed. Following King Stanislaw Augustus’ death in Russia in 1798, the Collar of the Grand Master of the Order passed to the Russian Imperial House and was soon worn by Tsarina Alexandra Teodora at Tsar Nicholas I’s coronation as King of Poland. This act notwithstanding, none of the occupying powers saw fit to incorporate the Order into their system of honours; thus awards to the Order of the White Eagle ceased and the Order fell into abeyance.

The Polish honours system was revived in 1807, upon the creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Section 85 of the Constitutional Decree of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, dated 22nd July 1807, proclaimed the restoration of Poland’s pre-existing military and civil Orders. Accordingly, the Order of the White Eagle was again established as the premier honour of the Polish nation. Two persons were invested in the Order in that year and a further nine were appointed at investitures in 1809 and 1812.4 Frederick-Augustus, King of Saxony, was initially held as Grand Master of the Polish Orders however this role was later assumed by Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

In 1815 the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was replaced by the Congress Kingdom of Poland. Although the Congress Kingdom was very much an Imperial Russian satellite, the liberal Alexander I endowed the entity with considerable autonomy. Polish honours including the Order of the White Eagle were protected under S.160 of the Congress Kingdom’s Constitution. Seventy one people received the Order during the Congress Kingdom period however, despite constitutional entrenchment, the Russians exercised influence over Polish honours from the outset.

Awards of the Order of the White Eagle were initially reserved exclusively for Poles; however by 1818 the majority of its recipients were either Russian or Austrian. This situation continued until the failed Uprising of 1830-1831 in which Poles vainly tried to break free from the Russian yoke. As part of its retribution, the Russian Government, now led by the authoritarian Tsar Nicholas I, sounded the death knell for Polish honours and incorporated the Polish Orders, including the Order of the White Eagle, into the Russian honours system. Between 1705 and 1831, 1017 persons had received Poland’s highest honour. For the next 90 years the Order was to be taken out of Polish hands altogether.

In the Russian Order of Precedence the Order of the White Eagle was placed directly after the Order of Alexander Nevsky and the Order of St. Wladimir. As Russian Orders were traditionally placed under the patronage of a saint, the newly incorporated Polish Order was regarded as the most appropriate Order to bestow upon non-Christian sovereigns.

To fully demonstrate the Order’s status as a Russian honour, and also to underscore Russia’s total dominance over Poland, significant alterations were made to the Order’s insignia. The new gold and enamel badge comprised the original red cross and white eagle of the Polish badge superimposed upon a far larger Russian Imperial (double-headed) eagle, displayed and enamelled black. The Imperial eagle was surmounted by crossed swords and an imperial crown. The reverse of the badge featured the reverse of the original Polish badge superimposed upon the back of the Russian Imperial eagle, with the name of the Virgin Mary, “Maria”, in the form of a stylised monogram. The badge was suspended from a suspension ring in the form of an imperial crown. The star was also altered and the sky-blue sash was changed to one of dark royal blue. The new presentation diploma, which was signed by the Tsar, was written in Russian for Russians and in both Polish and Russian when presented to a Pole.

The Order of the White Eagle remained part of the Russian honours system until the Communist Revolution of 1917, when all Imperial honours fell into abeyance. In 1918 a newly independent Poland broke free from its neighbours. Three years later, on Feburary 4th 1921, the Polish Sejm (Parliament) restored the Order of the White Eagle as Poland’s premier honour; it was to be awarded in recognition of significant service, both military and civil, in the interest of Poland.

The badge, star and sash of the revived Order replicated those worn in the 19th century. All Russian traces were removed. The motto of the Order, which continued to feature on the badge and star, was changed from the Latin PRO FIDE REGE ET LEGE to the Polish ZA OJCZYZNE I NAROD (“For Fatherland and Nation”). The centre of the badge was marked by a white roundel featuring the monogram “RP” (Republic of Poland) surrounded by a green wreath.

On June 25, 1921 a meeting was held to select suitable candidates for Poland’s premier award. Amongst those honoured were Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Ignacy Moscicki, Cardinal Prince Adam Sapieha and Edward Rydz-Smigly. Marshal Pilsudski, Poland’s charismatic Head of State, was appointed the revived Order’s first Grand Master; thereby establishing a tradition followed by each subsequent Polish President. Marshal Pilsudski’s Decree of March 6th 1922 established a Chapter General, consisting of a Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, two distinguished members and three deputies, to be selected every three years.

The Statutes of February 4th 1921 were later replaced by new Statutes of 18th March 1932; these were supplemented by a Presidential Decree of September 7th 1935. The status of the Order of the White Eagle was firmly entrenched by a Presidential Decree of March 22nd 1939.

Between the two World Wars, the Order of the White Eagle was bestowed upon a large number of foreign dignitaries, particularly heads of government and heads of state.5 Amongst the more regrettable awards were those made to the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his son-in-law, Galeazzo Count Ciano. Of the 111 awards made during this period, only 24 were bestowed upon Polish citizens; Poles, unlike foreigners, were obliged to pay a set fee to cover the costs associated with entry to the Order.

The Second World War initially had little impact upon the Order of the White Eagle. Based in London, the legitimate Polish Government-in-Exile continued to regard the Order as Poland’s premier honour. The Collar of the Order was sent to Canada for safekeeping and remained there until 1959. As it became apparent that the establishment in Poland of a communist regime loyal to the Soviet Union was inevitable and unavoidable, democratic Poles outside Poland chose to continue to operate a Government-in-Exile in London as permitted under the Polish Constitution of 1935. Acting under the authority of the Constitution, President Ignacy Moscicki appointed Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz as his successor. The Grand Mastership of the Polish Orders was vested in the President of Poland, and therefore the new Polish President-in-Exile succeeded also as Grand Master of the Order of the White Eagle; as did all of his successors.6

Whilst the London Poles regarded the Order of the White Eagle as an important national symbol, the same could not be said of their communist counterparts. The Order’s symbolism, status and history were incompatible with Communist ideology and, on February 17th 1960, the Communist regime formally omitted it from the official list of orders and decorations recognised by the Sejm.7 The Communist attitude towards the Order of the White Eagle was quite immaterial, however. The Grand Mastership of the Order had quite lawfully passed to the President-in-Exile (the Communist regime did not in fact have a “President”) and therefore any action taken by the de facto Head of State (the First Secretary) was of no force or effect insofar as the Order was concerned.

Thus, although the Warsaw-based communist government discontinued awards of the Order of the White Eagle (without explicitly declaring the Order to be extinct), the London-based Government-in-Exile continued to award Polish honours and even commissioned six sets of the White Eagle from Spink, the British Order specialists. 8

During the period of the Polish Government-in-Exile, the Order of the White Eagle was awarded very sparingly; aside from the obligatory appointments of the various Presidents-in-Exile, only six others received the Order between 1941 and 1990.9 President Raczkiewicz appointed only two persons to the Order including, posthumously, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Polish Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief.

On December 22, 1990 in the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last President of the Polish Government-in-Exile, presented the insignia of the various Polish honours, including the Order of the White Eagle, to Lech Walesa, his legitimate successor as President of a free and democratic Poland. Despite this symbolic transference of power, the Order of the White Eagle was not officially reinstituted in Poland until the Sejm officially re-established it as Poland’s premier honour on October 16, 1992.

Today the Order continues to exist in only one grade. The Order is awarded to those who have made an exceptional contribution to Poland. Recipients may be Polish citizens or foreigners. Appointments are announced in the official publication, Monitor Polski. There is no restriction on the total number of members. The President of the Republic continues to act as Grand Master for the duration of his time in Office. The Chapter of the Order, appointed for a five year term by the Grand Master, comprises a Chancellor, a Secretary and three other Order recipients. Investitures, which most frequently take place during the national holidays of May 3rd and November 11th, traditionally take place at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. The Order is administered from the office of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, ul Wiejska 10, Warsaw.

On May 3rd 1993, HH Pope John Paul II became the first recipient of the Order following its restoration in a free and liberated Poland. A large number of foreign Heads of State have been honoured with the White Eagle in the years following. 10 A number of posthumous awards have also been made.11

The badge of the Order is 70 mm x 70 mm in length whilst the star is 80 mm in diameter. The sash of the Order is 100mm wide and is worn over the left shoulder.


1. An apparently confused Sir Bernard Burke mistakenly claims this first award to have taken place in 1703. (p. 240).

2. The Order’s insignia was further modified in 1713. The badge’s gold crown was removed and the rays were altered. The badge’s reverse was augmented with a roundel bearing a pair of crossed Saxon swords, the tips of which were connected by a small cross pattee; the design was surmounted by the King’s monogram (“AR”). It was at this time that the badge was complemented with a star and the now familiar pale blue sash. The sash, which replaced the earlier ribbon, was worn over the left shoulder. Members of the clergy did not wear the sash but, instead, wore the badge suspended from a pale blue cravat suspended from the neck. The Order’s embroidered star was composed of gold and silver bullion and featured a cross pattee, again with rays between each arm. The arms of the cross bore the motto of the Order: “Pro Fide Rege et Lege”. The motto on the King’s diamond-studded star was slightly different: “Pro Fide Grege et Lege” (“For Faith, Nation and Law”). The badge measured between 65-75 mm in length whilst the star varied from 80-90 mm.

3. Further alterations to the Order’s insignia were made during the reign of Stanislaw Augustus. The shape of the Eagle on the badge’s obverse was altered slightly whilst the badge’s reverse featured a stylised monogram of the name of the Virgin Mary, “Maria”, surmounted by a cross. The diamonds and precious stones that had featured so prominently on earlier badges and stars were removed. Perhaps the most significant alteration was the introduction of gold and silver metal stars and the gradual reduction in the number of embroidered stars.

4. The insignia created during this period were virtually identical to those created in the pre-partition period, save for two exceptions: minor alterations were made to the badge’s eagle and embroidered stars were completely supplanted by metal stars.

5. Type list

6. Polish Presidents-in-Exile and Grand Masters of the Order of the White Eagle: Wladyslaw Rackiewicz (1939-1947); August Zaleski (1947-1972); Dr. Stanislaw Ostrowski (1972-1979); Count Edward Raczynski (1979-1986); Kazimierz Sabbat (1986–1989); Ryszard Kaczorowski (1989-1990).

7. Dziennik No poz 66 of 160.

8. The Spink sets bore slight differences to the earlier insignia of the Order. The badges were slightly less thick, the letters on the reverse were narrower, the eagle’s feathers were more detailed and the wreath was not the same.

9. Dr. Henryk Liberman (1941); General Wladyslaw Sikorski (1943); Tadeusz Tomaszewski (1950); Prince Eustachy Sapieha (1959); General Michal Tokarzewski-Karaszewicz (1964); Wladyslaw Cardinal Rubin (1990).

10. Carl Gustaf XVI, King of Sweden (1993), Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic (1993), Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands (1994), Harald V, King of Norway (1995), Margarethe II, Queen of Denmark (1995), Queen Elizabeth II (1996), Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic (1996), Dr. Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1998).

11. Posthumous awards have been made to Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, Primate of Poland (1994 posthumously), Professor Jan Karski, emissary of the Polish government (1995), General Wladyslaw Anders (1995 posthumously), General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, commander of the Home Army (1995 posthumously), General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, C-in-C of the Polish Armed Forces, 1943-44 (1995 posthumously).


Re: Poland to award Reagan highest distinction

I guess such a move will help relations with America.

Re: Poland to award Reagan highest distinction

Good move on behalf of President Kaczynski

Re: Poland to award Reagan highest distinction

I agree, Reagan was a loyal friend of the Polish People, Mike C we can agree for once...

Re: Poland to award Reagan highest distinction

Go Ronnie! A fine man, well worthy of the award. I wonder if they'll give it to Mrs Thatcher too...

Interesting, if sad, to remember that when the Polish Government-in-Exile symbolically passed its authority to President Wałęsa, one of the 'cabinet' disagreed. I forget his name and only remember that he's a retired doctor living in Essex. He styles himself 'President of Poland' and is giving people his version of the Order of the White Eagle, usually for a financial contribution. Some Polish-Americans actually fall for this.

The real thing though, is respectable beyond doubt.