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Poland

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THE POLAND COAT OF ARMS
Coat of arms of Poland2 1919-1927.svg
Poland - Location Map (2013) - POL - UNOCHA.svg
Location of Poland within the continent of Europe
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Map of Poland
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Flag Description Poland: The Poland flag was officially adopted on August 1, 1919.

Red and white have long been associated with Poland and its coat of arms. On the modern flag, white is said to represent the hope for peace by all of Poland's people, while red still recalls the symbolic reference to socialism from days gone by.

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Official name Rzeczpospolita Polska (Republic of Poland)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with two legislative houses (Senate [100]; Sejm [460])
Head of state President: Bronislaw Komorowski
Head of government Prime Minister: Ewa Kopacz
Capital Warsaw
Official language Polish
Official religion none1
Monetary unit złoty (zł)
Population (2013 est.) 38,542,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 120,726
Total area (sq km) 312,679
Urban-rural population

Urban: (2013) 60.6%
Rural: (2013) 39.4%

Life expectancy at birth

Male: (2012) 72.7 years
Female: (2012) 81 years

Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate

Male: not available
Female: not available

GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 12,670

Background of Poland

Poland's history as a state begins near the middle of the 10th century. By the mid-16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ruled a vast tract of land in central and eastern Europe. During the 18th century, internal disorders weakened the nation, and in a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves. Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite state following the war, but its government was comparatively tolerant and progressive. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force with over ten million members. Free elections in 1989 and 1990 won Solidarity control of the parliament and the presidency, bringing the communist era to a close. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed and with large investments in defense, energy, and other infrastructure, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.

Poland, country of central Europe. Poland is located at a geographic crossroads that links the forested lands of northwestern Europe to the sea lanes of the Atlantic Ocean and the fertile plains of the Eurasian frontier. Now bounded by seven nations, Poland has waxed and waned over the centuries, buffeted by the forces of regional history. In the early Middle Ages, Poland’s small principalities and townships were subjugated by successive waves of invaders, from Germans and Balts to Mongols. In the mid-1500s, united Poland was the largest state in Europe and perhaps the continent’s most powerful nation. Yet two and a half centuries later, during the Partitions of Poland (1772–1918), it disappeared, parceled out among the contending empires of Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

Even at a time of national crisis, however, Polish culture remained strong; indeed, it even flourished, if sometimes far from home. Polish revolutionary ideals, carried by such distinguished patriots as Kazimierz Pułaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko, informed those of the American Revolution. The Polish constitution of 1791, the oldest in Europe, in turn incorporated ideals of the American and French revolutions. Poles later settled in great numbers in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia and carried their culture with them. At the same time, Polish artists of the Romantic period, such as pianist Frédéric Chopin and poet Adam Mickiewicz, were leading lights on the European continent in the 19th century. Following their example, Polish intellectuals, musicians, filmmakers, and writers continue to enrich the world’s arts and letters.

Restored as a nation in 1918 but ravaged by two world wars, Poland suffered tremendously throughout the course of the 20th century. World War II was particularly damaging, as Poland’s historically strong Jewish population was almost wholly annihilated in the Holocaust. Millions of non-Jewish Poles also died, victims of more partition and conquest. With the fall of the Third Reich, Poland effectively lost its independence once again, becoming a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union. Nearly a half century of totalitarian rule followed, though not without strong challenges on the part of Poland’s workers, who, supported by a dissident Catholic Church, called the economic failures of the Soviet system into question.

In the late 1970s, beginning in the shipyards of Gdańsk, those workers formed a nationwide movement called Solidarity (Solidarność). Despite the arrest of Solidarity’s leadership, its newspapers kept publishing, spreading its values and agenda throughout the country. In May 1989 the Polish government fell, along with communist regimes throughout eastern Europe, beginning Poland’s rapid transformation into a democracy.

That transformation has not been without its difficulties, as the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wisława Szymborska wrote a decade later:

  • I came to the paradoxical conclusion that some workers had
  • it much easier in the Polish People’s Republic. They didn’t
  • have to pretend. They didn’t have to be polite if they didn’t
  • feel like it. They didn’t have to suppress their exhaustion,
  • boredom, irritation. They didn’t have to conceal their lack of
  • interest in other people’s problems. They didn’t have to
  • pretend that their back wasn’t killing them when their back
  • was in fact killing them. If they worked in a store, they didn’t
  • have to try to get their customers to buy things, since the
  • products always vanished before the lines did.

By the turn of the 21st century, Poland was a market-based democracy, abundant in products of all kinds and a member of both NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union (EU), allied more strongly with western Europe than with eastern Europe but, as always, squarely between them.

A land of striking beauty, Poland is punctuated by great forests and rivers, broad plains, and tall mountains. Warsaw (Warszawa), the country’s capital, combines modern buildings with historic architecture, most of which was heavily damaged during World War II but has since been faithfully restored in one of the most thoroughgoing reconstruction efforts in European history. Other cities of historic and cultural interest include Poznań, the seat of Poland’s first bishopric; Gdańsk, one of the most active ports on the busy Baltic Sea; and Kraków, a historic centre of arts and education and the home of Pope John Paul II, who personified for the Polish their country’s struggle for independence and peace in modern times.

Geography of Poland

The Land

Poland lies at the physical centre of the European continent, approximately between latitudes 49° and 55° N and longitudes 14° and 24° E. Irregularly circular in shape, it is bordered to the north by the Baltic Sea, to the northeast by Russia and Lithuania, and to the east by Belarus and Ukraine. To the south the border follows the watershed of the Beskid (Beskidy), Carpathian (Karpaty), and Sudeten (Sudety) mountains, which separate Poland from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while to the west the Neisse (Nysa Łużycka) and Oder (Odra) rivers define the border with Germany. Its current frontiers, stretching for 2,198 miles (3,538 km), were drawn in 1945. Except for its southern mountainous regions, the country consists almost entirely of lowlands within the North European Plain.

Relief

The natural landscape of Poland can be divided broadly into three relief groups: the lowlands, the highlands, and the mountains. The eastern extremes of Poland display characteristics common to eastern Europe, but the rest of the country is linked to western Europe by structure, climate, and the character of its vegetation. The lowland characteristics predominate: the average elevation of the whole country is only 568 feet (173 metres) above sea level, while more than three-fourths of the land lies below 650 feet (198 metres).

Poland’s relief was formed by the actions of Ice Age glaciers, which advanced and receded over the northern part of the country several times during the Pleistocene Epoch (from about 2,600,000 to 11,700 years ago). The great and often monotonous expanses of the Polish lowlands, part of the North European Plain, are composed of geologically recent deposits that lie over a vast structural basin.

In the southern part of the country, by contrast, older and more diverse geologic formations are exposed. The mountainous arc of the Carpathians, dating from the mountain-building Paleogene and Neogene periods (from about 65 to 2.6 million years ago), dominates the topography. Around the northern rim of the Carpathians lie a series of structural basins, separating the mountain belt proper from a much older structural mass, or foreland, that appears in the relief patterns of the region as the Bohemian Massif, the Sudeten, and the Little Poland Uplands (Wyżyna Małopolska).

The relief structure can be divided more specifically into a series of east-west–trending zones. To the north lie the swamps and dunes of the Baltic Sea coast; south of these is a belt of morainic terrain with thousands of lakes, the southern boundary of which marks the limit of the last ice sheet. The third zone consists of the central lowlands, whose minimal relief was created by streams issuing from the retreating glaciers. This zone is the Polish heartland, the site of agriculture in places where loess has been deposited over the relatively infertile fluvioglacial deposits. The fourth zone is made up of the older mountains and highlands to the south; though limited in extent, it offers spectacular scenery. Along the southern border of the country are the Sudeten and Carpathian ranges and their foothills.

THE COASTAL PLAIN

The Baltic Coastal Plain stretches across northern Poland from Germany to Russia, forming a low-lying region built of various sediments. It is largely occupied by the ancient province of Pomerania (Pomorze), the name of which means “along the sea.” The scarcely indented Baltic coastline was formed by wave action after the retreat of the ice sheet and the raising of sea levels. The Pomeranian (Pomorska) Bay in the west and the Gulf of Gdańsk in the east are the two major inlets. In the southern portion of the former, two islands block off the Szczeciński Lagoon (Zalew Szczeciński), into which the Oder River discharges its waters. In the Gulf of Gdańsk, the Vistula (Wisła) River forms a large delta. Sandbars, on which the winds have created large dunes, line much of the coast, separating the coastal lakes and lagoons from the sea.

The main urban centres are the ports of Szczecin (German: Stettin) on the lower Oder and Gdańsk (German: Danzig) and Gdynia in the east. The central portion of the Baltic Coastal Plain is scantily populated—there are only small fishing ports, of which Kołobrzeg is the most important—and the landscape has a desolate beauty.

THE LAKE REGION AND CENTRAL LOWLANDS

The belt immediately to the south of the coastal plain is a varied landscape with lakes and hills of glacial origin. Wide river valleys divide the region into three parts: the Pomeranian Lakeland (Pojezierze Pomorskie); the Masurian (Mazurskie) Lakeland, east of the lower Vistula; and the Great Poland (Wielkopolskie) Lakeland. The larger settlements and the main communications routes of this zone lie in and along the river valleys; the remainder of the area is mostly wooded and thinly populated. Only the eastern portion of the Great Poland Lakeland has a developed agriculture.

The extensive central lowlands contain isolated relief features shaped by the oldest glaciations, but their character is generally flat and monotonous. The postglacial lakes have long since been filled in, and glacial outwash masks the weakly developed meltwater valley channels. The basins of the main rivers divide the area into the Silesian (Śląska) Lowland, which lies in the upper Oder; the southern Great Poland Lowland, which lies in the middle Warta River basin; and the Mazovian (Mazowiecka) and Podlasian (Podlaska) lowlands, which lie in the middle Vistula basin. Lower Silesia and Great Poland are important agricultural areas, but many parts of the central lowlands also have large industrial centres. Warsaw, the capital, situated on the middle Vistula, is the most prominent.

THE LITTLE POLAND UPLANDS

South of the central lowlands, the Little Poland Uplands extend from east to west, but they are folded transversely. In the west is the Silesian-Kraków upthrust, with rich deposits of coal. The ancient rocks of the Świętokrzyskie (“Holy Cross”) Mountains, which reach a maximum elevation of 2,008 feet (612 metres), form a second upthrust. Between these two regions lies the Nida River basin, with an average height of 650 to 1,000 feet (198 to 305 metres). East of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, the uplands are cut by the valley of the Vistula, beyond which lie the Lublin (Lubelska) Uplands. In the south occur patches of loess on which fertile brown- and black-earth soils have developed.

The older geologic regions contain valuable minerals; in the Silesian-Kraków uplands there are coal, iron, zinc, and lead deposits. These mineral resources have made possible the rise of Poland’s most important industrial region, and the landscape of Upper Silesia is highly urbanized. Katowice is the largest centre, and the region is closely linked with that around Kraków (Cracow). The Little Poland Uplands protect the Little Poland Lowlands, in which Kraków lies, from the colder air of the north. To the north the Staropolski (“Old Polish”) Basin, situated in the foothills of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, has a long history of industrial production. Kielce is the area’s urban centre.

THE SUDETEN

The Sudeten and their foreland, part of the larger Bohemian Massif, have a long and complex geologic history. They owe their present rugged form, however, to earth movements that accompanied the Carpathian uplift, and the highest portion, the Karkonosze (“Giant Mountains”), reaches 5,256 feet (1,602 metres) above sea level. The region contains rich mineral deposits, notably coking coal, which has occasioned the growth of an industrial centre around Wałbrzych. The region has many small towns. Resorts and spas are found in more-secluded areas. The foreland of the Sudeten, separated by a large fault from the larger mass, contains many granite quarries.

THE CARPATHIANS

The southernmost, and most scenic, portion of Poland embraces the Carpathian Mountains and their associated chains and basins, created in the Paleogene and Neogene periods. Within the Polish frontiers lie the Oświęcim and Sandomierz basins, a portion of the Beskid Mountains, the Orawka-Podhale Basin, and the Tatra (Tatry) Mountains. The sub-Carpathian basins contain deposits of salt, sulfur, and natural gas and some petroleum. The region has a large rural population, but there are also many towns of medium size.

The highest peak of the Beskid Mountains, Mount Babia, reaches 5,659 feet (1,725 metres); the Tatras, with a maximum elevation of 8,199 feet (2,499 metres), are the highest portion of the Polish Carpathians. Zakopane, the largest tourist and resort centre in Poland, lies at their feet. The Bieszczady Mountains—rolling, carpeted in beech woods, and sparsely inhabited—lie in the extreme southeast.

Drainage and soils

Virtually the entire area of Poland drains to the Baltic Sea, about half via the Vistula River and a third via the Oder River. Polish rivers experience two periods of high water each year. In spring, melted snow swells the lowland rivers. The presence of ice dams (which block the rivers for one to three months) and the fact that the thaw first strikes the upper reaches of the northward-flowing rivers intensify the effect. The summer rains bring a second maximum about the beginning of July.

There are some 9,300 Polish lakes with areas of more than 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare), and their total area is about 1,200 square miles (3,108 square km), or 1 percent of the national territory. The majority, however, are found in the northern glaciated belt, where they occupy more than 10 percent of the surface area.

Polish soils are varied and without clearly marked regional types. The greatest area is covered by podzol and pseudopodzol types, followed by the less widely distributed brown-earth soils, which are richer in nutrients. In the south are extensive areas of fertile loess-based soils. The rendzinas, formed on limestone rocks, are a unique type. The alluvial soils of the river valleys and the peaty swamp soils found in the lake area and in poorly drained valleys are also distinctive.

Climate

Varying types of air masses collide over Poland, influencing the character of both weather and climate. The major elements involved are oceanic air masses from the west, cold polar air from Scandinavia or Russia, and warmer, subtropical air from the south. A series of barometric depressions moves eastward along the polar front year-round, dividing the subtropical from the colder air and bringing to Poland, as to other parts of northern Europe, cloudy, wet days. In winter, polar-continental air often becomes dominant, bringing crisp, frosty weather, with still colder Arctic air following in its wake. Warm, dry, subtropical-continental air often brings pleasant days in late summer and autumn.

The overall climate of Poland has a transitional—and highly variable—character between maritime and continental types. Six seasons may be clearly distinguished: a snowy winter of one to three months; an early spring of one or two months, with alternating wintry and springlike conditions; a predominantly sunny spring; a warm summer with plenty of rain and sunshine; a sunny, warm autumn; and a foggy, humid period signifying the approach of winter. Sunshine reaches its maximum over the Baltic in summer and the Carpathians in winter, and mean annual temperatures range from 46 °F (8 °C) in the southwestern lowlands to 44 °F (7 °C) in the colder northeast. The climate of the mountains is determined by altitude.

The annual average precipitation is about 24 inches (610 mm), but in the mountains the figure approaches 31 to 47 inches (787 to 1,194 mm), dropping to about 18 inches (457 mm) in the central lowlands. In winter, snow makes up about half the total precipitation in the plains and almost all of it in the mountains.

Plant and animal life

VEGETATION

The vegetation of Poland that has developed since the last Ice Age consists of some 2,250 species of seed plants, 630 mosses, 200 liverworts, 1,200 lichens, and 1,500 fungi. Holarctic elements (i.e., those pertaining to the temperate belt of the Northern Hemisphere) are dominant among the seed plants.

The northeastern limits of certain trees—notably beech, fir, and the variety of oak known as pedunculate—run through Polish territory. There are few endemic species; the Polish larch (Larix polonica) and the Ojców birch (Betula oycoviensis) are two examples. Some relics of tundra vegetation have been preserved in the peat bogs and mountains. More than one-fourth of the country is wooded, with the majority set aside as public property. Poland lies in the zone of mixed forests, but in the southeast a fragment of the forest-steppe vegetation zone intrudes. In the northeast there are portions of the eastern European subtaiga, with spruce as a characteristic component. In the mountains the vegetation, like the climate, is determined by elevation. Fir and beech woods give way to the spruce of the upper woods, which in turn fade into subalpine, alpine, and snow-line vegetation.

WILDLIFE

Poland’s animal life belongs to the European–West Siberian zoogeographic province, itself part of the Palearctic subregion, and is closely linked with the vegetation cover. Among the vertebrate fauna are nearly 400 species, including many types of mammals and more than 200 native birds. Deer and wild pigs roam the woods; elk inhabit the coniferous forests of the northeast; and steppe rodents, such as the brindled gopher, live in the south. Wildcats live in the mountain woods, and the chamois and marmot are found at the highest levels. Brown bears live in the Carpathian Mountains. The European bison, or wisent, which once roamed widely across the continent but became extinct in the wild following World War I, once again roams the great Białowieża (Belarusian: Belovezhskaya) Forest in national parks on both sides of the Polish-Belarusian border, having been reintroduced by using zoo-bred animals.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Rapid industrialization following World War II in Poland, as well as in neighbouring Czech Republic, Slovakia, and eastern Germany, severely polluted many areas of the country. By the late 20th century, the Polish Academy of Sciences had described Poland as one of the most polluted countries in the world. Upper Silesia and Kraków, in particular, had suffered some of the highest levels of atmospheric and groundwater pollution in Europe. Several areas of central Poland, where cement is produced and brown coal (lignite) is burned, also were contaminated by air pollution.

The country’s major rivers remain badly polluted by industrial and urban effluents, and Poland’s cities and larger towns are major sources of pollution. Much higher levels of respiratory disease, abnormal pregnancy, and infant mortality have been reported in areas of environmental degradation. Pollution has also reduced crop yields and adversely affected tree growth in many of the forests in the Sudeten and western Carpathians.

The problems of environmental degradation were not officially recognized until the early 1970s and were not addressed until the Solidarity movement began agitating in the early 1980s. Significant reduction in the emission of pollutants occurred, however, as a consequence of the rapid fall in industrial production in the early 1990s, following the abandonment of communism and the introduction of economic reforms. Throughout the decade the government implemented antipollution policies, such as closing the most damaging industrial plants.

Demography of Poland

The People

Ethnic groups Before World War II the Polish lands were noted for the richness and variety of their ethnic communities. The traditional provinces of Silesia and Pomerania were home to a significant minority of Germans. In the southeast, Ukrainian settlements predominated in the regions east of Chełm and in the Carpathian Mountains east of Nowy Sącz. In all the towns and cities, there were large concentrations of Yiddish-speaking Jews. The Polish ethnographic area stretched eastward: in Lithuania, Belarus, and western Ukraine, all of which had a mixed population, Poles predominated not only in the cities but also in numerous rural districts. There were significant Polish minorities in Daugavpils (in Latvia), Minsk (in Belarus), and Kiev (in Ukraine).

The war, however, killed vast numbers of people, precipitated massive migrations, and radically altered borders. As a consequence, the population of Poland became one of the most ethnically homogeneous in the world. In addition, minority ethnic identity was not cultivated publicly until after the collapse of communism in 1989. Virtually all of Poland’s people claim Polish nationality, with Polish as their native tongue. Now, in the 21st century, most communities of non-Poles are dispersed but reside in the border provinces, primarily in the south. Ukrainians are scattered in various southwestern and northern districts. Belarusians and Lithuanians live in areas adjoining Belarus and Lithuania, respectively. In Silesia a significant segment of the population tends to declare itself as Silesian or German according to political circumstances. Kashubians live west of Gdańsk near the Baltic Sea. Situated in the southeast are communities of Roma (Gypsy), in Małopolskie województwo (province), and Ruthenians, in Podkarpackie province. The Jewish community, now almost entirely Polonized, has been greatly reduced and can be found in major cities. There are small numbers of Slovaks, Czechs, and Armenians. Conversely, there is a large Polish diaspora, notably in the United States.

  • Languages

The country’s official language, Polish (together with other Lekhitic languages and Czech, Slovak, and Upper and Lower Sorbian), belongs to the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages. It has several dialects that correspond in the main to the old tribal divisions; the most significant of these (in terms of numbers of speakers) are Great Polish (spoken in the northwest), Little Polish (spoken in the southeast), Mazovian, and Silesian (Śleżanie). Mazovian shares some features with Kashubian, whose remaining speakers number only a few thousand, which is a small percentage of the ethnic Kashubians in the country.

Elsewhere, the Polish language has been influenced by contact with foreign tongues. In Silesia the inimitable regional patois contains a mixture of Polish and German elements. After 1945, as the result of mass education and mass migrations, standard Polish became far more homogeneous, although regional dialects persist. In the western and northern territories, resettled in the second half of the 20th century in large measure by Poles from the Soviet Union, the older generation came to speak a language characteristic of the former eastern provinces. Small numbers of people also speak Belarusian, Ukrainian, and German as well as several varieties of Romany.

Literary Polish developed from the medieval period onward, on the basis of the dialects of Great Poland and Little Poland. By the 19th century Polish was well established both as a literary vehicle and as the dominant language of common speech in Poland, despite attempts of the partitioning powers to Germanize or Russify the population. Indeed, quite the opposite happened, and the Polish language became the main touchstone of national identity.

  • Religion

The overwhelming majority of the Polish population is Roman Catholic, and a large number are practicing Catholics. Though the country claims no official religion, Poland is among the most uniformly Catholic countries in the world, and the Roman Catholic Church in Poland enjoys immense social prestige and political influence.

Following World War II, during the communist era, all religious institutions became subject to the control of the state. In practice the Roman Catholic Church wielded a full measure of independence, partly through the sheer force of the faithful and partly because in all important matters it answered to the pope in Rome and not to the government in Warsaw. Those opposed to communism within Poland were greatly encouraged by the election in 1978 of the archbishop of Kraków, Karol Cardinal Wojtyła, as Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century. The religious minorities, though encouraged by the anti-Roman Catholic policies of the communist state, were barely visible except in local areas. The influence of the Catholic Church became even greater after the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, and this led to its greater involvement in state schools and to the replacement of the country’s liberal abortion law, by 1993, with much more restrictive legislation.

The Polish National Catholic Church, a schismatic offshoot of Roman Catholicism, never won popular support, despite strong government advocacy following World War II. Two Protestant strongholds remain in Poland—that of the Polish Lutherans in Masuria and the Evangelicals (Augsburg Confession) in Cieszyn, Silesia. An autocephalous Polish Orthodox church is partly linked with the small Belarusian minority, and a Ukrainian Uniate community survives in southeastern districts. In the last quarter of the 20th century, Charismatics and other renewal movements arrived in Poland.

The constitution of 1997 guarantees religious freedom. Poland has residual communities of Polish Jews, whose synagogues and religious activities were officially sanctioned by the communist government. There are nearly an equal number of Muslims in Poland, located primarily in the east, near Białystok. Small Christian groups representing fundamentalist sects such as the Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses operate in a few cities.

  • Settlement patterns

Polish society since World War II has been transformed by two interrelated great movements: the growth of a dominant urban industrialized working class and the continuing drift of peasants from the rural areas into towns and cities. Whereas in 1946 there were nearly twice as many people in the countryside as in towns, by the late 1960s the two numbered equally. About three-fifths of the country’s population is now urban. So-called peasant workers, who tended to live on the fringes of industrial regions, contrived to benefit from both movements: while one part of the family maintained the farm, other family members earned wages in local factories.

RURAL SETTLEMENT

Until the mid-20th century, the pattern of rural settlement differed widely from one part of Poland to another. In the centre and east of the country, many villages were small and irregular in shape, reflecting their origin as self-sufficient clusters of cultivators and pastoralists set in forest clearings. In the mountains, villages stretched along the valleys, in some cases for several miles. In Lower Silesia they were larger and more orderly, associated with the planned settlement of the area by Teutonic people in medieval times. In the north, rural settlement was dominated by large landed estates, which had belonged to the Prussian Junkers. Many houses in the centre, east, and south were wooden. Since the 1950s, however, there have been marked changes. Some attempt has been made to retain traditional building styles in the mountains, but many older single-story houses in all parts of the country have been replaced with two- to three-story cinder-block structures. In addition, many villages have expanded, especially those close to larger cities and in regions popular with tourists.

URBAN SETTLEMENT

Warsaw is the largest city in Poland, with a population twice that of Łódź, the next most populous city. Warsaw consists of a small historic core on the west bank of the Vistula River. Virtually destroyed by German Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, it was largely restored. This area comprises both the medieval town—Old Town (Stare Miasto)—and its 18th-century suburbs—New Town (Nowe Miasto) to the north and Krakowskie Przedmieście to the south. About 85 percent of the city’s buildings, including many of those in the core, were left in ruins during World War II; much of the city therefore dates from the period since 1950. The Palace of Culture and Science, a skyscraper built in the Soviet style in the 1950s, still dominates the skyline. Many of Warsaw’s inhabitants live in large unattractive blocks of flats that were built around the edge of the city in the 1960s and ’70s. In the 1990s downtown Warsaw experienced a construction boom as several high-rise hotels and office buildings were added to its skyline at the same time that many single-family houses and villas were erected in the suburbs.

Kraków (the original capital of Poland), Gdańsk, Poznań, and Wrocław (German: Breslau) share many characteristics with Warsaw, all having more or less extensive medieval and early modern cores surrounded by 19th- and, especially, 20th-century suburbs containing a mixture of manufacturing complexes and poor-quality apartment-style housing, as well as newer (post-1990) subdivisions of single-family dwellings. The historic medieval-era city centres of both Warsaw and Kraków have been designated World Heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In contrast, Łódź, Poland’s second largest city, dates from the 19th century, when it grew rapidly to become one of the most important centres of the textile industry in the Russian Empire. The other major urban area is that of southern Upper Silesia, a conurbation of mining and industrial settlements stretching some 30 miles (48 km) from Dąbrowa Górnicza to Gliwice.

  • Demographic trends

The population of Poland was transformed during and immediately after World War II. Nearly 35 million people lived within the Polish frontiers in 1939, but by 1946 only about 24 million resided within the country’s new borders. The decrease of some 11 million can be accounted for mainly by war losses but also in part by changes in frontiers.

Polish war losses are the subject of some controversy. The official figure, issued in 1947, was 6,028,000 (some 3,000,000 of them Polish Jews), although it referred exclusively to losses within the postwar frontiers. As a result of the changes in frontiers, millions of Germans were forcibly expelled from 1946 to 1947. On the other hand, millions of Poles were transferred from former Polish homelands that were incorporated into the Soviet Union during the same period. An estimated 500,000 Ukrainians and Belarusians also were transferred into the Soviet Union. At the same time, there were vast internal movements into the new northern and western territories annexed from Germany.

Population losses and movements on this scale introduced long-term distortions into demographic structures and trends. At the end of the war, there were huge deficiencies in certain categories, especially males, urban dwellers, and the educated as a whole. However, the immediate postwar generation had an unprecedented birth rate, and the population grew rapidly again, especially in the northern and western portions of the country, returning to its prewar level in 1977. The birth rate fell sharply after the early 1980s, and population growth slowed, though the death rate approximated the world average. By the early 21st century, the natural increase rate (balance of births against deaths) was virtually nil.

Emigration was a permanent feature of Polish life for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, and roughly one Pole in three lives abroad. Wave after wave of political émigrés has left Poland since the mid-18th century. By far the greatest numbers of people left, however, for economic reasons. Starting in the mid-19th century, Polish emigrants moved into the new industrial areas of Europe and later to the United States and Canada.

Economy of Poland

Before World War II, Poland was a free-market economy based largely upon agriculture but with a few important centres of manufacturing and mining. After the initiation of communist rule in the 1940s, the country developed an increasingly industrial, state-run command economy based on the Soviet model. It operated within the rigid framework of Comecon (Council on Mutual Economic Assistance), an organization of Eastern-bloc countries dominated by the Soviet Union.

From the mid-1970s the Polish economy struggled with limited growth, largely as a result of an antiquated industrial infrastructure, government subsidies that masked inefficient production, and wages that were artificially high relative to productivity. In the late 1980s a swelling government deficit and hyperinflation brought about economic crisis. With the fall of communism and the demise of Comecon, the Polish economy became increasingly involved in the market-oriented global economy, for which it was ill-suited. To try to achieve economic stability, the postcommunist government introduced an approach known as “shock therapy,” which sought both to control inflation and to expedite Poland’s transition to a market economy. As part of that plan, the government froze wages, removed price controls, phased out subsidies to state-owned enterprises, and permitted large-scale private enterprise.

As a result, in the early 1990s industrial output and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped significantly (agricultural production also fell, though largely owing to drought). Unemployment grew, affecting as many as one in seven Poles. Inflation, however, began to drop, from 250 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2000. Production and GDP also recorded dramatic turnarounds, with an average annual GDP growth of about 4 percent from 1990 to 2000. Poland’s balance of payments improved (partly as the result of debt forgiveness), and the country developed one of the leading economies of the former Eastern bloc, as well as one of the fastest growing in Europe. Unemployment, which had been high at the beginning of the decade, righted itself in the late 1990s, falling to levels similar to those in western Europe in 1997–98 (i.e., to about 10 percent). The percentage of unemployed persons, however, rose once again in the early 21st century, climbing above 18 percent in 2003, when a downturn in the Polish economy was accelerated by a worldwide economic slowdown.

Privatization of some of Poland’s large industries proved to be a slow process. Under communism the principal branches of industry, services, and trade were directly owned by the state. There was, however, a surprisingly large sector of legal self-employment, and small-scale private businesses—including workshops, services, and restaurants—proliferated. Moreover, some three-fourths of Poland’s farmland remained privately owned. A government collectivization campaign begun in 1949 was abandoned in 1956. After the fall of communism, both industry and agriculture became increasingly privatized. By the early 1990s, more than half the Polish economy was in private ownership, while more than four-fifths of Polish shops were privately owned.

The privatization of larger enterprises was more complicated. A number of these were transformed into joint-stock and limited-liability companies. To distribute ownership in them, the Mass Privatization Program was introduced in 1994, which created 15 national investment funds (NIFs) to serve as joint-stock companies for more than 500 large and medium-size firms that were privatized. Poles were able to purchase shares in these funds at a nominal price. Listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, the NIFs comprised a broad range of enterprises—not just individual companies or groups of companies—and this enabled citizens to possess a diversified interest in key Polish industries. By 2001 more than 6,800 state-owned enterprises had been involved in the privatization process, and the private sector accounted for more than 70 percent of GDP.

Development under the communist government stressed the classless and proletarian nature of society; however, the party elite enjoyed a range of privileges unavailable to ordinary workers. In postcommunist Poland, as private businesses proliferated, a small number of people became wealthy, and a middle class composed of entrepreneurs and urban professionals emerged. However, many people, in particular those on fixed incomes, suffered sharp declines in their standard of living. Crime, drug use, and corruption also increased, but such problems are not uncommon elsewhere in Europe. Also, greater wealth was found in western provinces near Germany than in eastern districts near Belarus and Ukraine.

As it made the transition to private ownership and the market economy, Poland became increasingly involved with international economic and political organizations. In 1991 it joined the Council of Europe; in 1995 it became a member of the World Trade Organization; and in 1996 it joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It gained full membership in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1999, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic. An associate member of the European Union (EU) since 1994, Poland ascended to full membership in 2004.--->>>>Read More.<<<

Government and politics of Poland

Poland is a republic. The chief of state is a president who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, and is eligible for a second term. The president appoints the prime minister and deputy prime ministers, as well as the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minister, both typically from the majority coalition.

The Polish Parliament has two chambers. The lower chamber (Sejm) has 460 members, elected for a four-year term by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies, with a five percent threshold (eight percent for coalitions, threshold waived for national minorities). The Senate (Senat) has 100 members elected for a four-year term in 40 multi-seat constituencies under a rare plurality bloc voting method where several candidates with the highest support are elected from each electorate. Suffrage is universal to those aged 18 years and over.

In the 2007 legislative election, the Civic Platform took 209 seats, the Law and Justice Party took 166 seats, the Left and Democrats Party took 53 seats, the Polish People's Party took 31 seats, and the German Minority Party took one seat.

When sitting in joint session, members of the Sejm and Senate form the National Assembly. The National Assembly is formed on three occasions: Taking the oath of office by a new president, bringing an indictment against the president, and declaration of a president's permanent incapacity to exercise their duties due to the state of their health. Only the first type of sitting has occurred to date.

On the approval of the Senate, the Sejm also appoints the Ombudsman or the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection for a five-year term. The Ombudsman guards the rights and liberties of Polish citizens and residents.

The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of Poland, the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland, the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland, and the State Tribunal of Poland. Poland has a mixture of continental (Napoleonic) civil law and holdover communist legal theory, although the latter is gradually being removed. The Constitutional Tribunal supervises the compliance of statutory law with the Constitution, and annuls laws which do not comply. Its rulings are final (since October 1999). Court decisions can be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Administrative divisions

Poland's provinces are largely based on the country's historic regions, whereas those of the past two decades (till 1998) had been centered on and named after individual cities. The new units range in areas from under 3800 square miles (10,000km²) (Opole Voivodeship) to over 13,500 square miles (35,000km²) (Masovian Voivodeship). Voivodeships are governed by voivod governments, and their legislatures are called voivodeship sejmiks.

Poland is subdivided into 16 administrative regions, known as voivodeships. In turn, the voivodeships are divided into powiaty, second-level units of administration, equivalent to a county, district or prefecture in other countries, and finally communes, gminy.

Foreign relations

Poland has forged ahead on its economic reintegration with the West. Poland became a full member of NATO in 1999, and of the European Union in 2004. Poland became an associate member of the European Union (EU) and its defensive arm, the Western European Union (WEU) in 1994. In 1996 Poland achieved full OECD membership and submitted preliminary documentation for full EU membership. Poland joined the European Union in 2004, along with the other members of the Visegrád group.

Changes since 1989 have redrawn the map of central Europe. Poland has signed friendship treaties replacing links severed by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. The Poles have forged special relationships with Lithuania and particularly Ukraine in an effort to firmly anchor these states to the West. Poland is a part of the multinational force in Iraq.

The military

Wojsko Polskie (Polish Army) is the name applied to the military forces of Poland. The name has been used since the early nineteenth century. Polish Armed Forces consist of the Army, which comprises 168,000 persons, Navy, 15,976 persons, and Air Force, 31,147 persons. As of 2006, professional soldiers made up 60 percent of military personnel, while the government intended to make the army fully professional by 2012 by either ending the draft or reducing it to short training of recruits that would last up to two or three months. Conscripts were required to do nine months service and every male aged 18 was due for this service. The Polish military continues to use mostly Soviet-era equipment, however after joining NATO in 1999 Poland has begun upgrading and modernizing its hardware to NATO standards.

Culture Life of Poland

History of Poland

Beginnings

The territorial dimensions of Poland have varied considerably during its history. In the 9th and 10th cent., the Polians [dwellers in the field] gained hegemony over the other Slavic groups that occupied what is roughly present-day Poland. Under Duke Mieszko I (reigned 960–92) of the Piast dynasty began (966) the conversion of Poland to Christianity. Gniezno was the first capital of Poland and Poznań the first episcopal see. The Piasts expanded their domains in wars against the German emperors, Hungary, Bohemia, Pomerania, Denmark, and Kiev, and in 1025 Boleslaus I (reigned 992–1025) took the title of king.

At the death (1138) of Boleslaus III the kingdom was broken up; its reunification was begun by Ladislaus I, who was king from 1320 to 1333. During the period of disunity, the Teutonic Knights gained a foothold in the then pagan N Poland. Their power was only broken by their defeat at the hands of Polish-Lithuanian forces at Tannenberg (1410); by the second treaty of Toruń (1466) they became vassals of the Polish kings. The main line of the Piast dynasty ended with the death (1370) of Casimir III, whose enlightened economic, administrative, and social policies included the protection of the Jews. He also completed the reunification of the kingdom. After Casimir, the crown passed to his nephew, Louis I of Hungary (reigned 1370–82) and then to Louis' daughter, Jadwiga (reigned 1384–99).

  • The Age of Greatness

Jadwiga married Ladislaus Jagiello, grand duke of Lithuania, who became king of Poland as Ladislaus II (reigned 1386–1434). The Jagiello dynasty ruled Poland until 1572; this period—especially the 16th cent.—is considered the golden age of Poland. Although involved in frequent wars with Hungary, Moscow, Moldavia, the Tatars, and the Ottoman Turks, the closely allied Polish and Lithuanian states maintained an empire that reached from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Ladislaus III (reigned 1434–44; after 1440 also king of Hungary), although routed and killed by the Ottoman Turks at the battle of Varna (1444), gave Poland the prestige of championing the Christian cause against the Muslim invaders. Casimir V (1447–92) placed Poland and Lithuania on equal terms and decisively defeated (1462) the Teutonic Knights. Under Sigismund I (reigned 1506–48) internal power was consolidated, the economy developed, and the culture of the Renaissance was introduced. During the reign of Sigismund II (reigned 1548–72) a unified Polish-Lithuanian state was created by the Union of Lublin (1569).

The arts and sciences flourished during the Jagiello dynasty; a towering figure of the age was the astronomer Copernicus. At the same time, however, the Jagiellos were forced to contend with the growing power of the gentry, who by the 15th cent. began to acquire considerable political influence. In 1505 the gentry forced King Alexander (reigned 1501–6) to recognize the legislative power of the Sejm, or diet, which comprised a senate (made up of representatives of the landed magnates and of the high clergy) and a chamber (consisting of the deputies of the nobility and of the gentry). The liberum veto, which allowed any representative to dissolve the Sejm and even to annul its previous decisions, was applied with growing recklessness in the 17th and 18th cent.

  • Class Divisions and Foreign Conflicts

The Polish kings had always been elective in theory, but in practice the choice had usually fallen on the incumbent representatives of the ruling dynasty. After the death (1572) of Sigismund II, last of the Jagiellos, the theory that the entire nobility could take part in the royal elections was newly guaranteed. In practice, this meant that internal factional rivalry prevented the establishment of any great Polish dynasty; contested elections and insurrections by the gentry were frequent. Although the state was weakened, the constitution of the royal republic created a certain democratic egalitarianism among the gentry and noble classes. The peasantry, however, had been reduced to serfdom, and its condition tended to worsen rather than improve. The middle class was largely Jewish or German.

There was considerable religious toleration in 16th-century Poland and the progress of Protestantism was arrested without coercion by the Jesuits, who introduced the Counter Reformation in 1565. Relations between the Roman Catholic ruling class and the followers of the Greek Orthodox Church in Belarus and Ukraine (then parts of Lithuania) were less harmonious and helped to involve Poland in several wars with Russia.

Much of the reigns of Stephen Báthory (1575–86) and Sigismund III (1587–1632) was occupied by attempts to conquer Russia. The outstanding figure of their reigns was Jan Zamojski (1542–1605). Sigismund III, a prince of the Swedish ruling house of Vasa, also became king of Sweden; after his deposition (1598) by his Swedish subjects he continued to advance his claims and started a long series of Polish-Swedish wars. In addition, Sigismund defeated an armed revolt (1606–7) by the gentry and fought the Ottoman Turks. He was succeeded by his sons Ladislaus IV (1632–48) and John II (1648–68).

John's reign came to be known in Polish history as the "Deluge." During his rule discontent in Ukraine flared in the rebellion of the Cossacks under Bohdan Chmielnicki. In 1655, Charles X of Sweden overran Poland, while Czar Alexis of Russia attacked from the east. Inspired by their heroic defense of the monastery at Częstochowa, the Poles managed to regroup and to save the country from complete dismemberment. The Peace of Oliva (1660) cost Poland considerable territory (including N Livonia), and by the Treaty of Andrusov (1667) E Ukraine passed to Russia. The Vasa dynasty ended with the death of John II. John III (John Sobieski; reigned 1674–96), who defended (1683) Vienna from the Ottoman Turk invaders, temporarily restored the prestige of Poland, but with his death Poland virtually ceased to be an independent country.

  • Partition and Regeneration

After John III, the fate of Poland was determined with increasing cynicism by its three powerful neighbors—Russia, Prussia, and Austria. In 1697 the elector of Saxony was chosen king of Poland as Augustus II by a minority faction supported by Czar Peter I. Augustus allied himself with Russia and Denmark against Charles XII of Sweden. In the ensuing Northern War (1700–1721), during which Poland was plundered several times, Charles XII maintained Stanislaus I (Stanislaus Leszczynski) as Polish king from 1704 to 1709. The War of the Polish Succession (1733–35), precipitated by Augustus's death, resulted in the final abdication of Stanislaus and the accession of Augustus III (1734–63). Under Augustus III, the Polish economy (still largely agricultural) declined and orderly politics was undermined by feuding among the great landed families, which was evident in the frequent use of the liberum veto.

As a result of the support of Catherine II of Russia and Frederick II of Prussia, Stanislaus II (Stanislaus Poniatowski; reigned 1764–95), a member of the powerful Czartoryski family, was elected king of Poland. Prince Nikolai Repnin, the Russian minister at Warsaw, gained much influence in Polish internal affairs. Opposition to Russian domination led to the formation (with French help) in 1768 of the Confederation of the Bar, which, however, was suppressed militarily by Russia in 1772. Fearing that all Poland might fall into Russian hands, Frederick II proposed (1772) a partition plan to Catherine II, which later in the same year was modified to include Austria. Three successive partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) resulted in the disappearance (1795) of Poland from the map of Europe. Russia gained the largest share.

Despite the severe losses that the country suffered, there was a renewed spirit of national revival after 1772. It manifested itself in the thorough reform (including the abolition of the liberum veto ) embodied in the May Constitution (1791) for the remaining independent part of Poland and in the heroic revolt (1794) led by Kosciusko. By the Treaty of Tilsit (1807), Napoleon I created a Polish buffer state, the grand duchy of Warsaw, under King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. After Napoleon's defeat, the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) established a nominally independent Polish kingdom ("Congress Poland"), in personal union with the czar of Russia. The western provinces of Poland were awarded to Prussia; Galicia was given to Austria; and Kraków and its environs were made a separate republic.

A Polish nationalist revival led to a general insurrection in 1830 (known as the November Revolution) in Russian Poland. The Poles were at first successful, but their army was defeated (1831) at Ostrołęka, and the Russians reentered Warsaw. The Polish constitution was suspended, and the kingdom became virtually an integral part of Russia. Thousands of Poles emigrated, notably to Paris, which became the center of Polish nationalist activities. In 1846 an insurrection in Galicia by the peasantry against the gentry led to the annexation of Kraków by Austria. Rebellions broke out in 1848 in Prussian and Austrian Poland, and in 1863 the Poles in Russian Poland rose in the so-called January Revolution.

After crushing the revolt, the Russians began an intensive program of Russification. At the same time industry (especially the manufacture of textiles and iron goods) was developed and large estates were divided and given in freehold to peasants. A similar policy of Germanization in Prussian Poland was linked with Bismarck's Kulturkampf (see Ledóchowski, Count Mieczisław). Only in Austrian Galicia did the Poles enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy, but there the economy was very weak.

  • The Restoration of a Nation

In World War I the early efforts of the Polish nationalists were directed against Russia. Polish legions, led by Joseph Piłsudski, fought for two years alongside Germany and Austria. In Nov., 1916, Germany and Austria proclaimed Poland an independent kingdom, but Germany, which occupied the country, retained control over the Polish government. Piłsudski resigned and was imprisoned (July, 1917), and the independence movement from then on was centered at Paris. The defeat of the partitioning powers allowed Poland to regain its independence, which was proclaimed on Nov. 9, 1918. Piłsudski returned on Nov. 10 and was declared chief of state.

The Treaty of Versailles (1919) gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea via the Polish Corridor and forced Germany to return Prussian Poland to Poland. Gdańsk became a free city and parts of Silesia were awarded to Poland as a result of plebiscites. The Polish-Russian border proposed at the Paris Peace Conference (and later named after Lord Curzon of Great Britain) would have awarded to Russia large parts of the former eastern provinces of Poland, inhabited mainly by Belarusians and Ukrainians. However, Poland insisted on its 1772 borders. War broke out between Poland and Russia, and in 1920 the Poles drove the Russians back from Warsaw. In the Treaty of Riga (1921), Poland secured parts of its claims.

Poland also became involved in protracted disputes over Vilnius with Lithuania and over Teschen with Czechoslovakia. About one third of newly created Poland was made up of ethnic Germans, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, and Lithuanians, and these minorities were generally treated inequitably. A republican constitution was adopted in 1921. Financial and agrarian reforms were undertaken and industrialization progressed, but the condition of the peasantry remained generally poor, and the landowning aristocracy retained most of its wealth.

In 1926 a parliamentary government was suspended by a military coup that made Piłsudski virtual dictator. After his death (1935), Marshall Edward Rydz-Śmigły assumed control, and under a new constitution (1935) parliament became a tool of the governing clique ("the colonels"). Foreign policy in the 1920s was based on alliances with France and Romania; in the 1930s, under the guidance of Col. Josef Beck, Poland attempted to steer a course among the powers of Europe (especially Germany and the USSR) by following a pragmatic policy of balance. In the economic depression of the 1930s unemployment was widespread; also, anti-Semitism became increasingly virulent.

In early 1939, after having secured guarantees against aggression from Great Britain and France, Poland rejected Germany's demand for Gdańsk. In Aug., 1939, the negotiations of Great Britain and France with the USSR for a military agreement fell through, partly because Poland would not agree to allow Soviet troops to march across Poland in case of a conflict with Germany. On Aug. 23, 1939, Germany and the USSR signed a nonaggression treaty, which included secret clauses providing for the partition of Poland between them. On Aug. 25, 1939, a treaty of alliance between Poland and England was concluded.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany, having refused further negotiations, invaded Poland and thus precipitated World War II. German columns advanced with spectacular speed. On Sept. 17, Soviet troops invaded Poland from the east. Polish resistance was crushed, and the country was partitioned between Germany and the USSR, except for a central portion that was annexed by neither power but was placed under German rule. After the German attack (1941) on the USSR, all Poland passed under German rule.

  • World War

Poland suffered tremendous losses in life and property in the war. The Nazi authorities eliminated a large part of the population by massacres and starvation and in extermination camps such as the one at Oświęcim (Auschwitz). About six million Poles were killed, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labor. Polish Jews suffered the worst fate; all but about 100,000 of the prewar Jewish population of some 3,113,900 were exterminated.

Despite German oppression, the Poles did not cease to fight for their independence. An underground resistance movement was organized, and a government in exile (led initially by General Władysław Sikorski and later by Stanislaus Mikołajczyk) was established first in France and then in London. Polish prisoners of war in the USSR were allowed to form a corps under Wladislaw Anders and fought with distinction with the Allies; other Polish units were organized in Great Britain and Canada.

The German announcement (1943) that a mass grave of some 10,000 Polish officers, allegedly executed by the Soviets, had been discovered in the Katyn forest led to a break between the Polish government in exile and the Soviet Union. (The Soviet Union admitted to the massacre in 1990.) The rift was widened by Soviet demands for the Curzon line as the new Polish-Soviet border. When Soviet troops entered Poland, a provisional Polish government was established (July, 1944) under Soviet auspices at Lublin. A Polish uprising (Aug.–Oct., 1944) at Warsaw, organized by the resistance movement and controlled by the Polish government in exile in London, was crushed by the Germans while Soviet forces remained inactive outside Warsaw. The last German troops were expelled from Poland in early 1945.

By an agreement at the Yalta Conference (Feb., 1945), Mikołajczyk joined the Lublin government, and this new government was subsequently recognized by Great Britain and the United States. The Polish-Soviet border was fixed by treaty slightly east of the Curzon line, and 15% of German reparation payments to the USSR was allotted to Poland. At the Potsdam Conference (July–Aug., 1945), the sections of Prussia east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, including Gdańsk and the southern part of East Prussia (altogether c.39,000 sq mi/101,010 sq km) were placed under Polish administration pending a general peace treaty. The expulsion of the German population from these territories was sanctioned.

  • The Communist Regime

A unicameral parliament was established (1946) after a referendum. Legal opposition was limited almost entirely to Mikołajczyk's Peasant party, but nationalists, rightists, and some other opponents operated as underground forces. The government-controlled elections of 1947 gave the government bloc an overwhelming majority; Mikołajczyk resigned and fled abroad. Bolesław Bierut, a Pole who was a Communist and a citizen of the USSR, was elected president of Poland by the parliament. The Sovietization of Poland was accelerated; in 1949, Soviet Marshall Konstantin Rokossovsky was made minister of defense and commander in chief of the Polish army. The constitution of 1952 made Poland a people's republic on the Soviet model.

In 1949, Poland joined the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), and in 1955 it became a charter member of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Polish foreign policy became identical with that of the USSR. Relations with the Vatican were severed; the church became a chief target of government persecution, which included the arrest (1953) of the primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. Partly as a result of the more relaxed atmosphere following Stalin's death (1953), workers and students in Poznań rioted (late June, 1956) in a mass demonstration against Communist and Soviet control of Poland. Discontent soon became widespread, and the government was forced to reconsider its policies.

In Oct., 1956, Władysław Gomułka, purged in 1949 from the Polish Communist party as a "rightist deviationist" and imprisoned from 1951 to early 1956, was elected leader of the Polish United Workers (Communist) party (PZPR) and became the symbol of revolt against Moscow. Gomułka denounced the terror of the Stalinist period, ousted many Stalinists from the government and the party, relieved Rokossovsky of his posts, and freed Cardinal Wyszynski from detention. Collectivization of agriculture was halted, and the Poles were given far more freedom than under the previous regime. Relations with the church improved, and economic and cultural ties with the West were broadened. However, Poland retained close ties with the USSR. By the early 1960s Gomułka was tightening the party's hold on Poland; intellectual freedom was curbed, the church again was a target of government polemics, political rhetoric was infused with an anti-Semitic nationalistic fervor, and renewed attempts were made to have peasants join state groups.

In Aug., 1968, Poland joined other East European countries and the USSR in invading Czechoslovakia. In early Dec., 1970, Poland and West Germany signed a treaty (ratified in 1972) that recognized the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's western boundary (recognized in 1950 by East Germany) and provided for normal diplomatic relations. Later in the same month, rapidly increasing food prices led to riots by workers in the Baltic ports of Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Szczecin. Gomułka was ousted and replaced by Edward Gierek, who sought, with some success, to ease the living conditions of the average citizen. By the mid-1970s, however, recession necessitated price hikes that led to strikes and the arrests of hundreds of protesters. The bishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, became Pope John Paul II in 1978, and his subsequent visit to Poland in June, 1979, drew several crowds of over a million people.

  • Solidarity and a Multiparty State

The continued shortage and expensiveness of food and housing led to strikes in 1980, first at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk and then in other cities. The striking workers formed an illegal labor union, Solidarity, led by Gdańsk shipyard worker Lech Wałęsa. Granted legal status and enormously popular, Solidarity continued to strike for higher wages, lower prices, and also for the right to strike and an end to censorship. General secretary Gierek was replaced by Stanisław Kania, who in turn was replaced by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski. Martial law was declared in Dec., 1981; Solidarity was banned in 1982, and its representatives were arrested. Martial law was lifted in 1984, Jaruzelski became president in 1985, and all imprisoned Solidarity members were released by 1986. Solidarity, still outlawed, remained a popular force as the economy failed to improve.

In 1989, Solidarity was again legalized, and it participated in the negotiation of substantial political reforms that led to free elections in the same year. Solidarity won a majority in both houses of the parliament. Tadeusz Mazowiecki was named prime minister in 1989, and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa was elected president. In 1990 the Solidarity-led government adopted a radical program for transforming Poland to a market economy, but the ensuing economic hardship led to widespread discontent and political instability.

From 1990 through 1996 Poland had eight prime ministers. Hanna Suchocka became Poland's first woman to hold the post in 1992, but she lost a no-confidence vote the next year. In new elections the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Polish Peasants' party (PSL) together won a majority. Waldemar Pawlak of the PSL became premier, but he resigned and was succeeded in Mar., 1995, by SLD leader Józef Oleksy. In Nov., 1995, Wałęsa was defeated in his presidential reelection bid by Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the SLD candidate. Oleksy resigned in Jan., 1996, after being accused of having spied for Moscow when he was a senior Communist party official. (Although the charges were later dropped, he was convicted in 2002 of having lied about collaborating with Polish military intelligence in the late 1960s.) He was succeeded by Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz of the SLD.

Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), the political bloc that grew out of the labor union, won a plurality in 1997 parliamentary elections, forming a coalition government with the market-oriented Freedom Union. AWS leader Jerzy Buzek was named prime minister and pledged to speed up reform of Poland's outmoded heavy industrial base. A new constitution approved in 1997 diluted the power of the presidency and strengthened the power of the parliament. Poland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999. The AWS-led coalition collapsed in June, 2000, but Buzek formed an AWS minority government and remained in power. President Kwaśniewski was reelected in Oct., 2000.

In parliamentary elections in Sept., 2001, the SLD, led by Leszek Miller, won a sizable plurality of the seats but not a majority. The SLD formed a coalition with the PSL and the Union of Labor, and Miller became prime minister. The AWS, with only 5.6% of the vote, failed to win any seats; it was badly hurt by growing unemployment and other economic problems, as well as charges of corruption. Economic conditions continued to worsen after 2001, with unemployment reaching 19% in 2003. In Mar., 2003, disagreements over policy led the SLD to expel the PSL from the coalition; the SLD continued in power with a minority government.

Government budget cuts prompted by Poland's approaching entry into the European Union eroded popular support for the SLD, leading Miller to resign as party leader early in 2004, but he remained prime minister until May, when Poland joined the European Union. Marek Belka, a former finance minister and technocrat, was confirmed as Miller's successor in June. Continuing high unemployment and a series of political scandals hurt the SLD in the Aug., 2005, parliamentary elections. The socially conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) and the economically conservative Civic Platform (PO) each won roughly a third of the seats in the lower house and entered into unsuccessful negotiations on forming a new government.

The strongly conservative turn in Polish politics continued in October when, after a runoff election, Lech Kaczyński, of the PiS, was elected president; his main opponent had been Donald Tusk, the PO candidate. PiS subsequently formed a minority government led by Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz; the government became more stable when support from two fringe parties, one far-right, the other far-left, was secured in Feb., 2006. The three parties entered into a formal coalition in Apr.–May, 2006. There were tensions, however, between the president and prime minister, and in July, 2006, Marcinkiewicz resigned, and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS and the twin brother of the president, was appointed prime minister.

The coalition collapsed in September when the leader of the leftist Self Defense party (SRP) was expelled from the government for repeatedly criticizing its policies, but SRP rejoined the government in Oct., 2006, as it and the PiS sought to avoid new elections. Poland's Communist past returned to haunt the Roman Catholic church in early 2007 when Stanisław Wielgus, who had been appointed archbishop of Warsaw, resigned before he was consecrated after it was revealed the he had collaborated with the secret police under Communist rule.

Poland's support for basing U.S. antimissile facilities in its territory strained relations with Russia in early 2007 and into 2008 when a preliminary agreement was signed (August) concerning the placement of missile interceptors in N Poland. In Nov., 2008, Russia said it would station short-range missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave, neighboring N Poland, if U.S. missiles were based in Poland. A new U.S. administration, however, suspended plans for a ballistic missile defense system in E Europe in Sept., 2009, to focus on defending against shorter range missiles, and Poland agreed in principle (Oct., 2009) to host a short-range antimissile base. Meanwhile, the governing coalition collapsed again in Aug., 2007, and in early elections in September the PO won a plurality of the seats in parliament. The PO subsequently formed a coalition with the PSL, and PO leader Donald Tusk became prime minister. In Apr., 2010, President Kaczyński, the army chief of staff, and other high-ranking government and military officials were killed when their plane crashed while landing at Smolensk, Russia. Bronisław Komorowski, the marshal (speaker) of the Sejm, became acting president. In July, Komorowski was elected president, defeating Jarosław Kaczyński in a runoff. The Oct., 2011, parliamentary elections again produced a plurality for the PO and a majority for the PO-PSL coalition.

Poland in 2006

Poland Area: 312,685 sq km (120,728 sq mi) Population (2006 est.): 38,136,000 Capital: Warsaw Chief of state: President Lech Kaczynski Head of government: Prime Ministers Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz ...>>>Read On<<<


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This is not the official site of this country. Most of the information in this site were taken from the U.S. Department of State, The Central Intelligence Agency, The United Nations, [1],[2], [3], [4], [5],[6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14],[15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24],[25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30],[31], [32], [33], [34], and the [35].

Other sources of information will be mentioned as they are posted.