I have just returned from a remarkable trip to Dresden, Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow, a trip made all the more remarkable for three commemorative events that took place in Poland while I was there.

Wedged as it is between Germany and Russia, Poland has, over the past two centuries, struggled not only to achieve its independence but also to establish its national identity. For the entire 19th century, Poland was divided and occupied, predominantly by Russia, and did not exist as an independent nation state. The country was kept alive in the minds of its people and the works of its artists. The rebellious and free spirit of the Poles exists today in no small part thanks to the exquisite elegies and lamentations of great poets such as Slowacki, Norwid and Milosz, the sharp and cutting epics and satires of playwrights and novelists like Wyspianski and Witkiewicz, and the profoundly romantic and moving images of artists such as Matejko and many others.

And that rebellious spirit was very much in evidence earlier this month.