Rzeczpospolita ([ʐɛt͡ʂpɔˈspɔlita] (listen)) is the official name of Poland and a traditional name for some of its predecessor states. It is a compound of rzecz "thing, matter" and pospolita "common", a calque of Latin res publica (res "thing" + publica "public, common"), i.e. republic, in English also rendered as commonwealth (historic) and republic (current).
In Poland, the word Rzeczpospolita is used exclusively in relation to the Republic of Poland, while 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 an 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.
The three Rzeczpospolitas
Rzeczpospolita is also used in a series of symbolic names referring to three periods in the History of Poland:
- I Rzeczpospolita (Polish: Pierwsza Rzeczpospolita) (sometimes translated as the "First Polish Republic"), in reference to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795). During this period, the commonwealth was ruled de facto by a privileged class called the szlachta, which had (among numerous others) the right to elect both the king and parliament (the Sejm). This political system is known as the Golden Liberty. It began with the Union of Lublin in 1569 and ended with the third and final Partition of Poland in 1795. Sometimes the term I Rzeczpospolita is used in reference to the country before the Union of Lublin too, because the szlachta started limiting king's autocracy since early 1500s.
- II Rzeczpospolita (Polish: Druga Rzeczpospolita), in reference to the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939). Used to refer to the interwar period, lasting from the regaining 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 Soviet Union. 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 present-day Polish state, dating from the fall of the Polish People's Republic (a satellite state of the Soviet Union) and reintroduction of democratic elections in Polish government.
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, while RP is still a common abbreviation for Rzeczpospolita Polska.
The Lithuanian word Žečpospolita is a direct borrowing from Polish. The East Slavic equivalents of the name are: Russian: Речь Посполитая, romanized: Rječ Pospolitaja; Ukrainian: Річ Посполита, romanized: Rič Pospolyta; Belarusian: Рэч Паспалітая, romanized: Reč Paspalitaja.
- The above list is not a complete list of official titles for the Polish State throughout its history; it is a list of those which are referred to as a rzeczpospolita.