The Republic of Poland, a country in Central Europe, lies between Germany to the west, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Ukraine and Belarus to the east, and the Baltic Sea, Lithuania and Russia (in the form of the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave) to the north. Its location and accessible terrain has meant that the land has seen many wars fought over it, and its borders have shifted considerably over the centuries. Poland used to be a communist state and a satellite state of the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1989. After it had become free from the Soviet domination, the first free elections after the World War II were held in 1990.
Poland's official name in Polish is Rzeczpospolita Polska. The names of the country, Polska, and of the nationality, the Poles, are of Slavic origin. A common opinion holds that the name Polska comes from the Slavic Polanie tribe who established the Polish state in the 10th century (Greater Poland). Their name may derive from the Slavic word pole (field), or it may come from the tribal name Goplanie - people living around Lake Goplo - the cradle of Poland mentioned as Goplanie having 400 strongholds circa 845 (Bavarian Geographer). Conventional etymology of the ethnic name of the Poles relates it more widely to the Polish Polanie, "dwellers of the field"; pol, "field", analogous to Russian polyī, "open land", from Indo-European pelč-, "flat" + -anie, "inhabitants", analogous to Latin -anus, "originating from". In old Latin chronicles the terms terra Poloniae (land of Poland) or Regnum Poloniae (kingdom of Poland) appear. Parallel to this terminology, another one came into use, thought to derive from the tribe name Lędzianie. It gave rise to an alternative name for "Pole": Lach in Ruthenian, Lyakh in Russian, as well as to old German Lechien, Hungarian Lengyel and Lithuanian lenkas. See:
Main article: History of Poland
The Polish nation started to form itself into a recognisable unitary territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century. Poland's golden age occurred in the 16th century during its union with Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The citizens of Poland took pride in their ancient freedoms and parliamentary system, though the Szlachta (see "Nobles' Democracy" article) monopolised the benefits thereof. Since that time Poles have regarded freedom as their most important value. Poles often call themselves the Nation of the free people. In mid-17th century a rebellion of cossacks led by Bohdan Chmielnicki ushered in the turbulent time of The Deluge. Numerous wars against Turkey, Russia, Sweden, Transylvania and Brandenburg-Prussia ultimately came to an end in 1699. During the following 80 years, the waning of the central government and deadlock of the institutions weakened the nation, leading to dependency on Russia. The Enlightenment in Poland fostered a growing national movement to repair the state, resulting in the first written constitution in Europe, in 1791. The process of reforms ceased with the partitions of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1772, 1793 and 1795; these ultimately completely dissolved Poland. Poles resented their shrinking freedoms and several times rebelled against their oppressors ( see List of Polish Uprisings). After the Napoleonic wars a reconstituted Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw, ruled by the Russian tsar as a Congress Kingdom, possessed a liberal constitution. However, the Russian tsars soon reduced Polish freedoms and Russia eventually de facto annexed the country. Later in the 19th century, Austrian-ruled Galicia became the oasis of Polish freedom. During World War I all the Allies agreed on the restitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in point 13 of his Fourteen Points. Shortly after the surrender of Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic. A new threat, Soviet aggression, arose in the 1919 (Polish-Soviet War), but Poland succeeded in defending its independence.
The Second Polish Republic lasted until the start of World War II when Germany and the Soviet Union split the Polish territory between them (September 27 1939). Poland suffered greatly in this period (see General Government). Of all the countries involved in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over 6 million perished, half of them Polish Jews. Poland's borders shifted westwards; pushing the eastern border to the Curzon line and the western border to the Oder-Neisse line. After the shift Poland emerged smaller by 76 000 km² or by 20% of its pre-war size. The shifting of borders also involved the migration of millions of people – Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, Jews. Eventually, Poland became, for the first time in history, an ethnically unified country. The Soviet Union occupation brought a new communist government to Poland, analogously to much of the rest of Central Europe. In 1948 a turn towards Stalinism brought in the beginning of the next period of totalitarian rule. The People's Republic of Poland was officially proclaimed in 1952. In 1956 the régime became more liberal, freeing many people from prison and expanding some personal freedoms. Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union, "Solidarity", which over time became a political force. It eroded the dominance of the Communist Party; by 1989 it had triumphed in parliamentary elections, and a Solidarity candidate eventually won the presidency. A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Despite the regression in levels of social and economic human rights standards, numerous improvements in other human rights standards occurred (free speech, functioning democracy and the like). Poland was the first among post-communist countries to regain pre-1989 GDP levels. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999. Following a massive advertising campaign by the government in favour of joining the European Union, Polish voters voted yes to the EU in a referendum in June 2003. Poland joined the European Union on 1 May 2004.
Main article: Politics of Poland
Poland is a democratic republic. Its current constitution dates from 1997. The government structure centres on the Council of Ministers, led by a prime minister. The president appoints the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minister, typically from the majority coalition in the bicameral legislature's lower house (the Sejm). The president, elected by popular vote every 5 years, serves as the head of state. The citizens of Poland elect a parliament, the National Assembly (Polish Zgromadzenie Narodowe), consisting of 460 members of the Lower House (Sejm) and 100 members of the Senate (Senat), chosen by a proportional vote on a provincial basis to serve four-year terms. With the exception of ethnic minority parties, only political parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote can enter the parliament. The judicial branch plays a minor role in decision-making. Its major institutions include the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy) (judges appointed by the president of the republic on the recommendation of the National Council of the Judiciary for an indefinite period), and the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny) (judges chosen by the Sejm for nine-year terms). The Sejm (on approval of the Polish Senate) appoints the Ombudsman or the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) for a five-year term. The Ombudsman has the duty of guarding the observance and implementation of the rights and liberties of the human being and of the citizen, the law and principles of community life and social justice.
Main article: Voivodships of Poland
Poland is sub-divided for administrative purposes into 16 administrative regions known as voivodships (województwa, singular - województwo):
Main article: Geography of Poland
The Polish landscape consists almost entirely of the lowlands of the North European Plain, at an average height of 173 metres, though the Sudetes (including the Karkonosze) and the Carpathian Mountains (including the Tatra mountains, where one also finds Poland's highest point, Rysy, at 2,499 m.) form the southern border. Several large rivers cross the plains, for instance the Vistula (Wisła), Oder (Odra), Warta the (Western) Bug. Poland also contains over 9,300 lakes, predominantly in the north of the country. Masuria (Mazury) forms the largest and most-visited lake district in Poland. Remains of the ancient forests survive: see list of forests in Poland. Poland enjoys a temperate climate, with cold, cloudy, moderately severe winters with frequent precipitation and mild summers with frequent showers and thundershowers.
Main article: Economy of Poland
Since its return to democracy, Poland has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalising the economy and today stands out as one of the most successful and open examples of the transition from communism to a market economy.
The privatisation of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed for the rapid development of an aggressive private sector, but without any development of consumer rights organisations.
Restructuring and privatisation of "sensitive sectors" (e.g., coal, steel, railroads, and energy) has begun.
Poland has a large agricultural sector of private farms, that can be leading producer of food in the European Union. Challenges remain, especially under-investment.
Structural reforms in health care, education, the pension system, and state administration have resulted in larger-than-expected fiscal pressures.
Warsaw leads the region of Central Europe in foreign investment and allegedly needs a continued large inflow.
GDP growth had been strong and steady from 1993 to 2000 with only a short slowdown from 2001 to 2002. The prospect of closer integration with the European Union has put the economy back on track, with growth of 3.7% annually (as of 2003), a rise from 1.4% annually in 2002. In 2004 GDP growth is expected to exceed 5% (Q1, 2004 - 6.9%).
Main article: Roads and Expressways in Poland
Poland has a well developed infrastructure of roads, expressways, highways, waterways, and railroads. Total length of Railways in Poland is 23,420 km. The total length of Highways/Expressways in Poland is 364,656 km. There are a total of 9,283,000 registered passenger automobiles in Poland, as well as 1,762,000 registered trucks and busses (2000). Poland has 8 major airports, a total of 122 airports and airfields, as well as 3 heliports. The total length of navigable rivers and canals is 3,812 km. The merchant marine of Poland consists of 114 ships, with additional 100 ships being registered outside the country. Poland's principal ports and harbours are Gdańsk, Gdynia, Kołobrzeg, Szczecin, Świnoujście, Ustka, Warsaw, and Wrocław.
Main article: Demographics of Poland
Poland formerly played host to many languages, cultures and religions. However, the outcome of World War II and the following shift westwards to the area between the Curzon line and the Oder-Neisse line gave Poland an appearance of homogeneity. 36,983,700 people, or 96.74% of today's population considers itself Polish (Census 2002), 471,500 (1.23%) declared other nationality. 774,900 people (2.03%) didn't declare any nationality. The officially recognized ethnic minorities include: Germans, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Jews and Belarusians. The Polish language, a member of the West Slavic branch of the Slavic languages, functions as the official language of Poland. Most Poles adhere to the Roman Catholic faith, though only 75% count as practising Catholics. The rest of the population consists mainly of Eastern Orthodox and Protestant religious minorities.
Main article: Culture of Poland
Other articles related to culture include:
The most popular Polish web-portals: