This week the Town of Warsaw has changed the illumination of the fountains at the town park on Richmond Road to the colors of blue and yellow to be in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in their struggle to ward off Russian aggression.
This action is in keeping with the precedent set nearly two centuries ago by the village elders at that time in adopting the name of Warsaw to be in unison with the people of Congress Poland as their independence was crushed by the Russian Emperor Nicholas I, thus history is repeating itself.
At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 which brought peace to Europe after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars of the previous three decades, the leaders met to restructure the map of Europe. During the last third of the 18th century the Russian Empress Catherine II, followed by her son, Paul I, had participated in the dismemberment of the Polish Republic, dividing its territory among Russia, Prussia and Austria.
At Vienna, Paul having been assassinated in 1801, his son and heir, the Emperor Alexander I, proposed establishing a new, quasi-independent, Polish state, to be a monarchy with himself as king. He proposed a similar situation for the Finns, where he would become Grand Duke of Finland. In each case he allowed significant autonomy for the new states. The Polish entity came to be known as Congress Poland because it had been set up by the Congress of Vienna.
The new Polish state consisted primarily of those parts of the previous Polish republic that had been seized by Catherine II and Paul I. Alexander I was an enigmatic figure. He was unwilling to cede his autocracy in Russia itself, but he enjoyed “playing” with more liberal democratic measures in Poland and Finland. With the benefit of hindsight, one can see a degree of wisdom in his approach.
Alexander’s most enigmatic behavior came in the winter of 1825 when he and his wife, the Empress Elizabeth, traveled to Taganrog on the shores of the Sea of Azov in the south of Russia to escape the Russian winter. There, on December 1, he died under mysterious circumstances. His coffin was taken back to Saint Petersburg to be buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth died on the return trip. As their two daughters had died in infancy, the throne passed to Alexander’s younger brother, Nicholas I, because Constantine, who would have been next in line to succeed, had renounced his rights to the throne in order to marry his morganatic wife.
Nicholas I was a stern autocrat who had no patience with democratic ideals and institutions. Five years after his coming to the throne, a revolutionary wave swept across Europe, toppling Charles X, the King of France, establishing the independence of Belgium, and witnessing uprisings in the Italian states and Portugal. The people of Congress Poland, inspired by the revolutionary fervor, attempted to break from Russia and establish complete independence.
Their burst of enthusiasm was met with a cruel and brutal subjugation by Nicholas I, who terminated the existing political structure, and divided Congress Poland into five Russian provinces ruled by the military. As the Finns did not rebel, Nicholas allowed that status to remain. The Polish suppression lasted until the end of the First World War, all of which brings us to the people of the small village known as Richmond Courthouse in the faraway Commonwealth of Virginia.
The village elders, town incorporation was to come later, decided to show their solidarity with the Polish people after the bloody suppression of the Battle of Warsaw and thereby renamed the village in the Polish city’s honor in 1831. Warsaw has a noble history in that regard as it was the town’s native son, Congressman William Atkinson Jones, who in the beginning of the twentieth century championed the independence of the Philippines, which nation showed its gratitude by building the impressive monument over his grave in Saint John’s churchyard.
Now, 191 years after the suppression of Congress Poland, the town of Warsaw again is showing its support for freedom from aggression in a distant land. The entire Northern Neck can take pride in the blue and yellow lights in the new Warsaw town park. Perhaps the park will come to be known as “Kyiv Square.”