Next weekend, the region of Masuria will once again witness the roar of cannons and soldiers charging the enemy with bayonets. The small village of Jonkowo near Olsztyn will host the Napoleoniad – a re-enactment of the battle that was originally fought during the time of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. There is still a special, sentimental air about the Napoleonic period and its place in Poland’s history. The Little Corporal’s fondness for Poles, his struggle against European powers that partitioned Poland, and – last but not least – his Polish-born mistress Maria Walewska have kept alive Napoleon’s cult long after his death, cementing Polish-French relations. The French Emperor appears in the Polish national anthem, as well as in major works of art and literature. Poland is even home to the Centre for Napoleonic Studies – the country’s only research unit of this kind which is run by the Pultusk Academy of Humanities, a private higher education institution in Mazovia.
In 1807, the village of Jonkowo, which lies 15 kilometres north-east of Olsztyn, was the scene of one of the many skirmishes that the French and Russian armies fought in East Prussia at the time. France’s victory in the 1807 campaign led to the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, a rump state that remained after the partitions of Poland. Napoleon himself is said to have commanded the French army at Janikowo, watching the battle unfold from a church tower.