May Coup: Wikis


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The May Coup d'Etat, Przewr├│t majowy (1926)
Piłsudski May 1926.jpg
Piłsudski and other coup leaders on Poniatowski Bridge in Warsaw.
Date 12 ÔÇô 14 May 1926
Location Warsaw, Poland
Result Sanacja victory
Sanacja-loyal army Government-loyal army
Marshal Józef Piłsudski President Stanisław Wojciechowski,
Prime Minister Wincenty Witos
12,000 6,000-8,000
Casualties and losses
Military killed: 215
Civilians killed: 164
Military and civilian wounded: 920
Total: 1,299

The May Coup d'├ëtat (Polish: Przewr├│t majowy or zamach majowy) was a coup d'├ętat successfully carried out in Poland by J├│zef Pi┼ésudski between 12 and 14 May 1926. The coup overthrew the government of President Stanis┼éaw Wojciechowski and Prime Minister Wincenty Witos. A new government was installed, headed by Lw├│w Polytechnic Professor Kazimierz Bartel, and supported by the Sanation political movement.

Initially Pi┼ésudski was offered the presidency, but he declined in favor of Ignacy Mo┼Ťcicki. Pi┼ésudski, however, remained the most influential politician in Poland, and became its de facto dictator until his death in 1935.



In November 1925 the government of Prime Minister W┼éadys┼éaw Grabski was replaced by the government of Prime Minister Aleksander Skrzy┼äski, which had received support from the National Democratic Party and the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). General Lucjan ┼╗eligowski became the new government's minister of military affairs. However, after the PPS withdrew its support, this government also fell and was replaced by that of Prime Minister Wincenty Witos, formed by PSL Piast and Chrze┼Ťcija┼äski Zwi─ůzek Jedno┼Ťci Narodowej (Chjeno-Piast). However, the new government had even less popular support than the previous ones, and pronouncements from J├│zef Pi┼ésudski, who viewed the constant power shifts in the Sejm (Polish parliament) as chaotic and damaging, set the stage for a coup d'├ętat.

Apart from domestic turmoil, Polish politics had been shaken by a trade war with Germany, begun in June 1925, and by the signing of the Treaty of Locarno on October 16. Under the terms of the treaty, the World War I western European Allied powers and the new states of Central and Eastern Europe sought to secure a postwar territorial settlement in return for normalized relations with defeated Germany.

Coup d'├ętat

On 10 May 1926 a Chjeno-Piast government was formed, and that same day Józef Piłsudski, in an interview with Kurier Poranny (the Morning Courier), said that he was "ready to fight the evil" of Sejmocracy and promised a "sanation" (restoration to health) of political life. The newspaper edition was confiscated by the authorities.

The night of 11 May to 12 May a state of alert was declared in the Warsaw military garrison, and some units marched to Rembertów, where they pledged their support to Piłsudski. On 12 May they marched on Warsaw and captured bridges over the Wisła River. Meanwhile Wincenty Witos' government declared a state of emergency.

Piłsudski (center) on Poniatowski Bridge, Warsaw, 12 May 1926, during the May Coup d' État. At right is Gen. Gustaw Orlicz-Dreszer.

At about 17:00 hours, Marshal Piłsudski met President Stanisław Wojciechowski on the Poniatowski Bridge. Piłsudski demanded the resignation of Witos' cabinet, while the President demanded Piłsudski's capitulation. With no result in this round of negotiations, fighting erupted about 19:00 hours.

Next day a new round of negotiations was begun, mediated by Archbishop Aleksander Kakowski and Marshall of the Sejm Maciej Rataj. These negotiations, however, brought no change to the stalemate. On 14 May the Polish Socialist Party declared its support for the rebels and called for a general strike, supported by the Railwaymen's Union (Zwi─ůzek Zawodowy Kolejarzy). The strike by socialist railwaymen paralyzed communications and prevented pro-government military reinforcements from reaching Warsaw.[1]

Eventually, to prevent the Warsaw fighting from turning into a country-wide civil war, Wojciechowski and Witos resigned their offices.

During these events, 215 soldiers and 164 civilians were killed, and some 900 people were wounded.

A new government was formed under Prime Minister Kazimierz Bartel, with Pi┼ésudski as minister of military affairs. On 31 May the National Assembly (Zgromadzenie Narodowe) nominated Pi┼ésudski to be president, but he declined to accept. Eventually Ignacy Mo┼Ťcicki became the new president; Pi┼ésudski, however, wielded much greater de facto power than his military ministry nominally gave him.


Pi┼ésudski initiated Sanation government (1926-39) ÔÇö conducted at times by authoritarian means ÔÇö directed at restoring moral "health" to public life. Although until his death in 1935 Pi┼ésudski played a preponderant role in Poland's government, his formal offices ÔÇö apart from two stints as prime minister in 1926-28 and 1930 ÔÇö were for the most part limited to those of minister of defense and inspector-general of the armed forces.

The adoption of a new Polish constitution in April 1935 (the April Constitution), tailored by Pi┼ésudski's supporters to his specifications ÔÇö providing for a strong presidency ÔÇö came too late for Pi┼ésudski to seek that office. But the April Constitution would serve Poland until the outbreak of World War II and would carry its Government in Exile through the war and beyond.


  1. ^ Davies, op cit, Google Books, p.422


External links

Simple English

File:Piłsudski May
Józef Piłsudski and his followers during the coup

May Coup was a coup d'├ętat that happened in Poland in May 1926. It was organised by the former Polish leader and national hero J├│zef Pi┼ésudski to remove the "weak" democratic government from power. It started on 12 May and ended on 15 May.

Piłsudski and his followers were victorious and the Polish democracy was replaced with an authoritarian regime that remained in power until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 that started World War II. After Piłsudski's death in 1935 the regime became more and more radical, with regular persecution of the political opponents, never changing into totalitarianism though.


  • Joseph Rothschild, Pilsudski's Coup D'├ëtat, Columbia University Press, 1967, ISBN 0-231-02984-5.

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