Piłsudski's colonels, or the colonels' regime (in Polish called simply "the colonels"), dominated the government of the Second Polish Republic from 1926 to 1939. In some contexts, the term refers primarily to the final period, 1935–39, following the death of their mentor and patron, Józef Piłsudski.
Close allies of Józef Piłsudski, most of "the colonels" had been officers in the Polish Legions and Polish Military Organization (POW), and in the Polish Army (particularly from 1919–1920, during the Polish-Soviet War, prior to Piłsudski's 1923 resignation as Chief of the General Staff). They had held key, if not necessarily the highest, military ranks during Piłsudski's May 1926 Coup d'État.
Later they became important figures in Piłsudski's Sanation movement and ministers in several governments. After the BBWR's 1930 electoral victory, Piłsudski left most internal matters in the hands of his "colonels", while himself concentrating on military and foreign affairs.
The "colonels" included Józef Beck, Janusz Jędrzejewicz, Wacław Jędrzejewicz, Adam Koc, Leon Kozłowski, Ignacy Matuszewski, Bogusław Miedziński, Bronisław Pieracki, Aleksander Prystor, Adam Skwarczyński, Walery Sławek, and Kazimierz Świtalski.
The colonels' regime may be divided into three periods: 1926-1929; 1930–1935; and 1935-1939.
The second period, following the 1930 "Brest elections", saw the colonels' regime under Piłsudski's guidance, with power exercised by his allies and friends such as Walery Slawek and Aleksander Prystor (both of whom had known Piłsudski since 1905 and had served in his paramilitary units before World War I).
After Piłsudski's death (1935), the hardliner "colonels", led by Walery Sławek, lost influence to the Castle faction of Ignacy Mościcki and Edward Rydz-Śmigły. Nevertheless, the "colonels' regime" and Sanation still dominated the Polish government in 1935–39 until the German invasion of Poland. Some scholars draw a distinction between the "Piłsudski period" (1926–35) and the "colonels' period, proper" (1935–39).
From 1937 the colonels' new political front would be the Camp of National Unity (OZON). In that last period, the Polish government—a "dictatorship without a dictator"—in order to bolster its popular support, paradoxically adopted some of the nationalistic, anti-minority policies that had been opposed by Piłsudski and advocated by his most vocal adversaries, the National Democrats.
- Pilsudski Bros., TIME, Monday, April 07, 1930
- Colonels' Constitution, TIME, Monday, December 25, 1933
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