The Poles have a very particular relationship with their history. They consider themselves part of the West , stalwarts of values born out of Christianity, Renaissance, Enlightenment. Their attachment to personal liberty and national freedom has few equals. Yet, historically, they were unable to construct a strong state or an empire, and fell between the grinding stones of Russia and Germany. They believe to have saved the western civilization more than once: from the hegemony of Ottoman Empire during the Battle of Vienna, and from the spreading of the Bolshevik flood in 1920. In both cases, decisive, or important part of the victory was obtained thanks to the cavalry.
They perceive “unfairness” in their history, having often been attacked from all sides, and left alone to combat hopeless wars, while remote allies stood pat. One of famous Polish poems, “Mr. Cogito” by Zbigniew Herbert, relates to this, when he wrote about “those betrayed at dawn”. Apparently against all odds, they have finally scored their greatest victory, overthrowing communism and becoming the catalyst of the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989. When I was a boy, much earlier than I heard of geography or biology, I was taught, that my first duty was to fight for the freedom of my country, no matter the cost. The figure of a cavalry soldier bearing a naked sword, and words: “Bog, Honor, Ojczyzna” ( God, Honour, Fatherland) have been imprinted in my brain.
I know of no other capital in the world, where the sense that history is a constant battleground, is so pervasive as in Warsaw. Should you be interested to explore Polish history more, there are numerous excellent recent books available, particularly by a British historian Norman Davies, whom I had a pleasure to meet when I studied in London, and by Adam Zamoyski , who also has a great talent for narration.