Rzeczpospolita (Polish pronunciation: [ʐɛt͡ʂpɔsˈpɔlʲita] ( listen); English pronunciation: /ʒɛtʃ.pɒsˈpɔːlitə/) is a traditional and official name of the Polish State – Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska (Latin: Respublica Poloniae, English: Republic of Poland). It comes from the words: "rzecz" (thing) and "pospolita" (common), literally, a "common thing". In terms of etymology and meaning, the closest Latin phrase is "res publica" (res "thing", publica "public, common") and the closest English term is "commonwealth" (i.e. "common wealth", "common good"), but a more modern translation is republic (a form of governance). In Poland the word Rzeczpospolita is used exclusively in relation to the Republic of Poland, and any other republic is referred to in Polish as a republika, e.g., Italian Republic – Polish: Republika Włoska.
The term "Rzeczpospolita" has been used in Poland since the beginning of the 16th century. Originally it was a generic term to denote a state or a commonness. The famous quote by Jan Zamoyski, the Lord Chancellor of the Crown, on the importance of education, is a great example of its use:
Polish: Takie będą Rzeczypospolite, jakie ich młodzieży chowanie.
Such will be the Commonwealths as the upbringing of their youth.
The meaning of "Rzeczpospolita" is well described by the term "Commonwealth". As a result, the literal meaning of "Rzeczpospolita Polska" is "Polish Commonwealth", or "Republic of Poland". However, the connotation with the term "republic" may be somewhat misleading in the context of the Polish State within the period of the 16th to the 18th century, because Poland in that time was an elective monarchy and the "Rzeczpospolita" was reflected in the official name, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
"Rzeczpospolita" is also used in a series of symbolic names referring to three periods in the History of Poland:
- I Rzeczpospolita (Polish: Pierwsza Rzeczpospolita), in reference to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795). During this period, commonwealth was ruled de facto by a privileged class called the szlachta, which had (amongst numerous others) the right to elect both the king and parliament (the Sejm). It began with the Union of Lublin in 1569 and ended with the third and final Partition of Poland in 1795;
- II Rzeczpospolita (Polish: Druga Rzeczpospolita), in reference to the Second Polish Republic (1918–39). Used to refer to the interwar period, lasting from the gaining of independence in 1918 following the end of World War I up to the World War II-triggering Invasion of Poland (1939) by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, who had secretly agreed on the partition in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The renascent Polish State was initially called the Republic of Poland (Polish: Republika Polska). The title Rzeczpospolita was introduced by the March Constitution of Poland, the first article of which stated that Polish: Państwo Polskie jest Rzecząpospolitą, meaning "The Polish State is a Commonwealth";
- III Rzeczpospolita (Polish: Trzecia Rzeczpospolita), in reference to the current Third Polish Republic (1989–present). This is the title of the current Polish State, dating from the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989.
(Please note: The above list is by no means a complete list of the various official titles for the Polish State throughout its history; it is simply a list of those which are referred to as a Rzeczpospolita.)
Expressions that make use the concept of "Rzeczpospolita" include:
- Rzeczpospolita szlachecka – Republic of Nobles (szlachta), another name for the "I Rzeczpospolita";
- Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów – The Commonwealth of the Two Nations, another name for the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth;
- Rzeczpospolita Babińska – Babin Republic, a satirical, literary society, founded by a group of nobles during the second half of the 16th century;
- Rzeczpospolita Krakowska – Free City of Kraków or Republic of Kraków (1815–1846);
- Rzeczpospolita Zakopiańska – Republic of Zakopane, a short-lasting form of an independent state, established for about a month in October 1918;
- Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa – People's Republic of Poland, a name used formally from 1952 to 1990. Was often abbreviated to simply "Rzeczpospolita Polska" or "PRL". Sometimes referenced (wrongly) to the post-war period 1944–1952;
- Czwarta Rzeczpospolita – Fourth Polish Republic, a slogan used by the political party Law and Justice.
Nowadays, the terms "Rzeczpospolita" and "Rzeczpospolita Polska" are used interchangeably, so far as they relate to the Polish State by default.
Before 1939, "Rzeczpospolita" was sometimes abbreviated to "Rzplita" in written documents.
"RP" is a common abbreviation for "Rzeczpospolita Polska".
While Lithuanian word Žečpospolita is a direct borrowing from Polish "rzeczpospolita", Belarusian Рэч Паспалітая (Rech Paspalitaya) and Ukrainian Річ Посполита (Rich Pospolyta) are like in Polish literal translations from Latin. All of them refer to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
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