"Polska" redirects here. For other uses, see Polska (disambiguation).
This article is about the European country. For other uses, see Poland (disambiguation).
Many historians trace the establishment of a Polish state to 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of a territory roughly coextensive with that of present-day Poland, converted to Christianity. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin, forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth gradually ceased to exist in the years 1772–1795, when the Polish territory was partitioned among Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Austria. Poland regained its independence (as the Second Polish Republic) at the end of World War I, in 1918.
Two decades later, in September 1939, World War II started with the invasions of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (as part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). More than six million Polish citizens died in the war. In 1944, a Soviet-backed Polish provisional government was formed, which, after a period of conflict, falsified referendum and elections, gave rise to a satellite state of the Soviet Union, Polish Republic (Rzeczpospolita Polska), renamed to the People's Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) in 1952. During the Revolutions of 1989, Poland's Marxist-Leninist government was overthrown and Poland adopted a new constitution establishing itself as a democracy under the name Rzeczpospolita Polska, often referred to as the "Third Polish Republic" (III Rzeczpospolita).
Despite the vast destruction the country experienced during World War II, Poland managed to preserve much of its cultural wealth. There are 14 heritage sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage and 54 Historical Monuments and many objects of cultural heritage. Since the end of the communist period, Poland has achieved a "very high" ranking in terms of human development.
Main article: Name of PolandThe source of the name Poland and the ethnonyms for the Poles include endonyms (the way Polish people refer to themselves and their country) and exonyms (the way other peoples refer to the Poles and their country). Endonyms and most exonyms for Poles and Poland derive from the name of the West Slavic tribe of the Polans (Polanie).
The origin of the name Polanie itself is uncertain. It may derive from such Polish words as pole (field). The early tribal inhabitants denominated it from the nature of the country. Lowlands and low hills predominate throughout the vast region from the Baltic shores to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Inter Alpes Huniae et Oceanum est Polonia, sic dicta in eorum idiomate quasi Campania is the description by Gervase of Tilbury in his Otia imperialia (Recreation for the emperor, 1211). In some languages the exonyms for Poland derive from another tribal name, Lechites (Lechici).
Main article: History of Poland
Main article: Prehistory and protohistory of PolandHistorians have postulated that throughout Late Antiquity, many distinct ethnic groups populated the regions of what is now known as Poland. The ethnicity and linguistic affiliation of these groups have been hotly debated; the time and route of the original settlement of Slavic peoples in these regions have been the particular subjects of much controversy.
The most famous archeological find from the prehistory and protohistory of Poland is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as a museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BC. Before adopting Christianity in 960 AD, the people of Poland believed in Svetovid, the Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance. Many other Slavic nations had the same belief.
Main articles: History of Poland during the Piast dynasty and Gesta principum PolonorumPoland began to form into a recognizable unitary and territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century under the Piast dynasty. Poland's first historically documented ruler, Mieszko I, accepted baptism in 966 and adopted Catholicism as the new official religion of his subjects. The bulk of the population converted in the course of the next few centuries. In 1000, Boleslaw the Brave, continuing the policy of his father Mieszko, held a Congress of Gniezno and created the metropolis of Gniezno and the dioceses of Kraków, Kołobrzeg, Wrocław.
As he writes in his chronicl of Gallus Anonymus, capitals Polish Piast dynasty during the reign of former Wrocław, Kraków and Sandomierz ("Boleslaus vero, in Wratislaw, et in Cracovia, et in Sandomir, sedes regni principales obtinuat").
In 1109, Bolesław III Wrymouth defeated the King of Germany Henry V in the Battle of Hundsfeld. In 1138, Poland fragmented into several smaller duchies when Bolesław III Wrymouth divided his lands among his sons. In 1226, Konrad I of Masovia, one of the regional Piast dukes, invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Baltic Prussian pagans; a decision which led to centuries of warfare with the Knights. In the middle of 13th-century the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty (Henry I the Bearded and Henry II the Pious, ruled 1238–1241) almost succeeded in uniting the Polish lands, but the Mongols devastated the country and won the Battle of Legnica where Duke Henry II the Pious died (1241). In 1320, after a number of earlier unsuccessful attempts by regional rulers at uniting the Polish dukedoms, Władysław I consolidated his power, took the throne and became the first King of a reunified Poland. His son, Casimir III (reigned 1333–1370), has a reputation as one of the greatest Polish kings, and gained wide recognition as a protector of trade. He extended his kingdom to 250% of its initial size. Casimir also extended royal protection to Jews.
The education of Polish society was a goal of rulers as early as the 12th century, and Poland became one of the most educated countries in Europe. The library catalogue of the Cathedral Chapter of Kraków dating back to 1110 shows that in the early 12th-century Polish intellectuals had access to European literature.
Casimir III realized that the nation needed a class of educated people, especially lawyers, who could codify the country's laws and administer the courts and offices. His efforts to found an institution of higher learning in Poland were finally rewarded when Pope Urban V granted him permission to open the University of Kraków.
The Golden Liberty of the nobles began to develop under Casimir's rule, when in return for their military support, the king made serious concessions to the aristocrats, finally establishing their status as superior to that of the townsmen, and aiding their rise to power. When Casimir died in 1370 he left no legitimate male heir and, considering his other male descendants either too young or unsuitable, was laid to rest as the last of the nation's Piast rulers.
Poland also became a magnet for migrants. Germans settled in the towns; the Jewish community began to settle and flourish in Poland during this era (see History of the Jews in Poland); the same applies in smaller number to Armenians. The Black Death which afflicted most parts of Europe from 1347 to 1351 affected Poland less severely.
Main article: History of Poland (1385–1569)The rule of the Jagiellon dynasty spanned the late Middle Ages and early Modern Era of Polish history. Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), the Jagiellon dynasty (1386–1572) formed the Polish–Lithuanian union. The partnership brought vast Lithuania-controlled Rus' areas into Poland's sphere of influence and proved beneficial for the Poles and Lithuanians, who coexisted and cooperated in one of the largest political entities in Europe for the next four centuries. In the Baltic Sea region Poland's struggle with the Teutonic Knights continued and included the Battle of Grunwald (1410), where a Polish-Lithuanian army inflicted a decisive defeat on the Teutonic Knights, both countries' main adversary, allowing Poland's and Lithuania's territorial expansion into the far north region of Livonia. In 1466, after the Thirteen Years' War, King Casimir IV Jagiellon gave royal consent to the milestone Peace of Thorn, which created the future Duchy of Prussia, a Polish vassal. The Jagiellons at one point also established dynastic control over the kingdoms of Bohemia (1471 onwards) and Hungary. In the south Poland confronted the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Tatars (by whom they were attacked on 75 separate occasions between 1474 and 1569), and in the east helped Lithuania fight the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Some historians estimate that Crimean Tatar slave-raiding cost Poland one million of its population from 1494 to 1694.
Poland was developing as a feudal state, with a predominantly agricultural economy and an increasingly powerful landed nobility. The Nihil novi act adopted by the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1505, transferred most of the legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm, an event which marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility. Protestant Reformation movements made deep inroads into Polish Christianity, which resulted in the establishment of policies promoting religious tolerance, unique in Europe at that time. It is believed that this tolerance allowed the country to avoid the religious turmoil that spread over Europe during the late Middle Ages. The European Renaissance evoked in late Jagiellon Poland (kings Sigismund I the Old and Sigismund II Augustus) a sense of urgency in the need to promote a cultural awakening, and resultantly during this period Polish culture and the nation's economy flourished. In 1543 the Pole, Nicolaus Copernicus, an astronomer from Toruń, published his epochal works, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), and thus became the first proponent of a predictive mathematical model confirming heliocentric theory which became the accepted basic model for the practice of modern astronomy. Another major figure associated with the era is classicist poet Jan Kochanowski.
Main article: History of Poland (1569–1795)The 1569 Union of Lublin established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a more closely unified federal state with an elective monarchy, but which was governed largely by the nobility, through a system of local assemblies with a central parliament. The establishment of the Commonwealth coincided with a period of great stability and prosperity in Poland, with the union thereafter becoming a great European power and a major cultural entity, occupying approximately one million square kilometers of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as an agent for the dissemination of 'Western culture' through Polonization in modern-day Ukraine, Belarus and Western Russia. Poland-Lithuania suffered from a number of dynastic crises during the reigns of the Vasa kings Sigismund III and Władysław IV and found itself engaged in major conflicts with Russia, Sweden and the Ottoman Empire, as well as a series of minor Cossack uprisings.
In 1610 Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski seized Moscow after winning the Battle of Klushino.
From the middle of the 17th century, the nobles' democracy, suffering from internal disorder, gradually declined, thus leaving the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention.
From 1648, the Cossack Khmelnytsky Uprising engulfed the south and east eventually leaving Ukraine divided, with the eastern part, lost by the Commonwealth, becoming a dependency of the Tsardom of Russia. This was followed by the 'Deluge', a Swedish invasion, which marched through the Polish heartlands and damaged Poland's population, culture and infrastructure. Around four million of Poland's eleven million population died in famines and epidemics in this period.
However, under John III Sobieski the Commonwealth's military prowess was re-established, and in 1683 Polish forces played a major part in relieving Vienna of a Turkish siege which was being conducted by Kara Mustafa in hope of eventually marching his troops further into Europe to spread Islam.
Sobieski's reign marked the end of the nation's golden-era. Finding itself subjected to almost constant warfare and suffering enormous population losses as well as massive damage to its economy, the Commonwealth fell into decline. The government became ineffective as a result of large-scale internal conflicts (e.g. Lubomirski's Rokosz against John II Casimir and rebellious confederations) and corrupted legislative processes. The nobility fell under the control of a handful of magnats, and this, compounded with two relatively weak kings of the Saxon Wettin dynasty, Augustus II and Augustus III, as well as the rise of Russia and Prussia after the Great Northern War only served to worsen the Commonwealth's plight. Despite this The Commonwealth-Saxony personal union gave rise to the emergence of the Commonwealth's first reform movement, and laid the foundations for the Polish Enlightenment.
During the later part of the 18th century, the Commonwealth made attempts to implement fundamental internal reforms; with the second half of the century bringing a much improved economy, significant population growth and far-reaching progress in the areas of education, intellectual life, art, and especially toward the end of the period, evolution of the social and political system. The most populous capital city of Warsaw replaced Gdańsk (Danzig) as the leading centre of commerce, and the role of the more prosperous townsfolk increased. The royal election of 1764 resulted in the elevation of Stanisław August Poniatowski, a refined and worldly aristocrat connected to a major magnate faction, to the monarchy. However, a one-time lover of Empress Catherine II of Russia, the new king spent much of his reign torn between his desire to implement reforms necessary to save his nation, and his perceived necessity to remain in a relationship with his Russian sponsor. This led to the formation of the 1768 Bar Confederation, a szlachta rebellion directed against Russia and the Polish king that fought to preserve Poland's independence and the szlachta's traditional privileges. Attempts at reform provoked the union's neighbours, and in 1772 the First Partition of the Commonwealth by Russia, Austria and Prussia took place; an act which the "Partition Sejm", under considerable duress, eventually "ratified" fait accompli. Disregarding this loss, in 1773 the king established the Commission of National Education, the first government education authority in Europe.
The Great Sejm convened by Stanisław August in 1788 successfully adopted the 3 May Constitution, the first set of modern supreme national laws in Europe. However, this document, accused by detractors of harbouring revolutionary sympathies, generated strong opposition from the Commonwealth's nobles and conservatives as well as from Catherine II, who, determined to prevent the rebirth of a strong Commonwealth set about planning the final dismemberment of the Polish-Lithuanian state. Russia was aided in achieving its goal when the Targowica Confederation, an organisation of Polish nobles, appealed to the Empress for help. In May 1792 Russian forces crossed the Commonwealth's frontier, thus beginning the Polish-Russian War.
The defensive war fought by the Poles and Lithuanians ended prematurely when the King, convinced of the futility of resistance, capitulated and joined the Targowica Confederation. The Confederation then took over the government. Russia and Prussia, fearing the mere existence of a Polish state, arranged for, and in 1793 executed, the Second Partition of the Commonwealth, which left the country deprived of so much territory that it was practically incapable of independent existence. Eventually, in 1795, following the failed Kościuszko Uprising, the Commonwealth was partitioned one last time by all three of its more powerful neighbours, and with this, effectively ceased to exist.
The Age of Partitions
Main article: History of Poland (1795–1918)Poles rebelled several times against the partitioners, particularly near the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. One of the most famous and successful attempts at securing renewed Polish independence took place in 1794, during the Kościuszko Uprising, at the Racławice where Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a popular and distinguished general who had served under Washington in America, led peasants and some Polish regulars into battle against numerically superior Russian forces. In 1807, Napoleon I of France recreated a Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw, but after the Napoleonic Wars, Poland was again divided by the victorious Allies at the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The eastern part was ruled by the Russian tsar as a Congress Kingdom which possessed a very liberal constitution. However, the tsars reduced Polish freedoms, and Russia annexed the country in virtually all but name. Thus in the latter half of the 19th century, only Austrian-ruled Galicia, and particularly the Free City of Kraków, created good environment for free Polish cultural life to flourish.
Throughout the period of the partitions, political and cultural repression of the Polish nation led to the organisation of a number of uprisings against the authorities of the occupying Russian, Prussian and Austrian governments. Notable among these are the November Uprising of 1830 and January Uprising of 1863, both of which were attempts to free Poland from the rule of tsarist Russia. The November uprising began on 29 November 1830 in Warsaw when, led by Lieutenant Piotr Wysocki, young non-commissioned officers at the Imperial Russian Army's military academy in that city revolted. They were joined by large segments of Polish society, and together forced Warsaw's Russian garrison to withdraw north of the city.
Over the course of the next seven months, Polish forces successfully defeated the Russian armies of Field Marshal Hans Karl von Diebitsch and a number of other Russian commanders; however, finding themselves in a position unsupported by any other foreign powers, save distant France and the newborn United States, and with Prussia and Austria refusing to allow the import of military supplies through their territories, the Poles accepted that the uprising was doomed to failure. Upon the surrender of Warsaw to General Ivan Paskievich, many Polish troops, feeling they could not go on, withdrew into Germany and there laid down their arms. Poles would have to wait another 32 years for another opportunity to free their homeland.
When in January 1863 a new Polish uprising against Russian rule began, it did so as a spontaneous protest by young Poles against conscription into the Imperial Russian Army. However, the insurrectionists, despite being joined by high-ranking Polish-Lithuanian officers and numerous politicians were still severely outnumbered and lacking in foreign support. They were forced to resort to guerrilla warfare tactics. They failed to win any major military victories. Afterwards no major uprising was witnessed in the Russian controlled Congress Poland and Poles resorted instead to fostering economic and cultural self-improvement.
Despite the political unrest experienced during the partitions, Poland did benefit from large-scale industrialisation and modernisation programs, instituted by the occupying powers, which helped it develop into a more economically coherent and viable entity. This was particularly true in the Greater Poland, Pomerania and Warmia annexed by Prussia (later becoming a part of the German Empire); an area which eventually, thanks largely to the Greater Poland Uprising, was reconstituted as a part of the Second Polish Republic and became one of its most productive regions.
Reconstitution of Poland
Main articles: History of Poland (1918–39), Second Polish Republic, Battle of Lemberg (1918), Battle of Przemyśl (1918), Treaty of Warsaw (1920), Peace of Riga and The Polish Operation of the NKVD (1937–1938)During World War I, all the Allies agreed on the reconstitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in Point 13 of his Fourteen Points. A total of 2 million Polish troops fought with the armies of the three occupying powers, and 450,000 died. Shortly after the armistice with Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic (II Rzeczpospolita Polska). It reaffirmed its independence after a series of military conflicts, the most notable being the Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921) when Poland inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw, an event which is considered to have halted the advance of Communism into Europe and forced Vladimir Lenin to rethink his objective of achieving global socialism. Nowadays the event is often referred to as the "Miracle at the Vistula".
During this period, Poland successfully managed to fuse the territories of the three former partitioning powers into a cohesive nation state. Railways were restructured to direct traffic towards Warsaw instead of the former imperial capitals, a new network of national roads was gradually built up and a major seaport was opened on the Baltic Coast, so as to allow Polish exports and imports to bypass the politically charged Free City of Danzig.
The inter-war period heralded in a new era of Polish politics. Whilst Polish political activists had faced heavy censorship in the decades up until the First World War, the country now found itself trying to establish a new political tradition. For this reason, many exiled Polish activists, such as Jan Paderewski (who would later become Prime Minister) returned home to help; a great number of them then went on to take key positions in the newly formed political and governmental structures. Tragedy struck in 1922 when Gabriel Narutowicz, inaugural holder of the Presidency, was assassinated at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw by painter and right-wing nationalist Eligiusz Niewiadomski.
The 1926 May Coup of Józef Piłsudski turned rule of the Second Polish Republic over to the Sanacja movement. By the 1930s Poland had become increasingly authoritarian; a number of 'undesirable' political parties, such as the Polish Communists, had been banned and following Piłsudski's death, the regime, unable to appoint a new leader, began to show its inherent internal weaknesses and unwillingness to cooperate in any way with other political parties.
World War II
Main articles: History of Poland (1939–45), Polish contribution to World War II and World War II crimes in PolandThe Sanacja movement controlled Poland until the start of World War II in 1939, when Nazi Germany's and Slovakia Invasion of Poland (1939) on 1 September and the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September, which followed the breaking of the Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact, occurred. Warsaw capitulated on 28 September 1939. As agreed in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Poland was split into two zones, one occupied by Nazi Germany while the Kresy, or Borderlands, fell under the control of the Soviet Union. In 1939–1941, the Soviets had moved hundreds of thousands of Poles across the Soviet Union, and the Soviet secret police, NKVD, had executed thousands of Polish prisoners of war (inter alia Katyn massacre).
Poland made the fourth-largest troop contribution to the Allied war effort, after the Soviets, the British, and the Americans.[a] Polish troops fought under the command of both the Polish Government in Exile in the theatre of war west of Germany and under Soviet leadership in the theatre of war east of Germany. The Polish expeditionary corps, which was controlled by the exiled pre-war government based in London, played an important role in the Italian and North African Campaigns. They are particularly well remembered for their conduct at the Battle of Monte Cassino, a conflict which culminated in the raising of a Polish flag over the ruins of the mountain-top abbey by the 12th Podolian Uhlans. The Polish forces in the theatre of war east of Germany were commanded by Lieutenant General Władysław Anders who had received his command from Prime Minister of the exiled government Władysław Sikorski. On the east of Germany, the Soviet-backed Polish 1st Army distinguished itself in the battles for Berlin and Warsaw, although its actions in support of the latter have often been criticised.
Polish servicemen were also active in the theatres of naval and air warfare; during the Battle of Britain Polish squadrons such as the No. 303 "Kościuszko" fighter squadron achieved great success, and by the end of the war the exiled Polish Air Forces could claim 769 confirmed kills. Meanwhile, the Polish Navy was active in the protection of convoys in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
In addition to the organised units of the 1st Army and the Forces in the Nazi-occupied Europe, the domestic underground resistance movement, the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army, fought to free Poland from German occupation and establish an independent Polish state. The wartime resistance movement in Poland was one of the three largest resistance movements of the entire war[b] and encompassed an unusually broad range of clandestine activities, which essentially functioned as an underground state complete with degree-awarding universities and a court system. The resistance was, however, largely loyal to the exiled government and generally resented the idea of a communist Poland; for this reason, on 1 August 1944 they initiated Operation Tempest and thus began the Warsaw Uprising. The objective of the uprising was to drive the German occupiers from the city and help with the larger fight against Germany and the Axis powers, however secondary motives for the uprising sought to see Warsaw liberated before the Soviets could reach the capital, so as to underscore Polish sovereignty by empowering the Polish Underground State before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control. However, a lack of available allied military aid and Stalin's reluctance to allow the 1st Army to help their fellow countrymen take the city, led to the uprising's failure and subsequent planned destruction of the city.
During the war, German forces, under direct order from Adolf Hitler, set up six major extermination camps, all of which were established on Polish territory; these included both the notorious Treblinka and Auschwitz camps. This allowed the Germans to transport the Jews living in the Third Reich outside of "German" territory, as well as to import Jews and other targeted groups from across occupied Europe to be "liquidated," or killed, in the concentration camps set up in the General Government. Among such groups were Polish intelligentsia, communists, Romani people and Soviet Prisoners of War. However, since millions of Jews lived in pre-war Poland, Jewish victims make up the largest percentage of all victims of the Nazis' extermination program. It is estimated that, of pre-war Poland's Jewry, approximately 90% (or about 3 million members) were killed. Throughout the occupation, many members of the Armia Krajowa, supported by the Polish government in exile, and millions of ordinary Poles – at great risk to themselves and their families – engaged in rescuing Jews from the Nazi Germans. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. To date, 6,394 Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel–more than any other nation. Some estimates put the number of Poles involved in rescue efforts at up to 3 million, and credit Poles with saving up to approximately 450,000 Jews from certain death.
At the war's conclusion, Poland's territory was shifted westwards, pushing the Kresy in accordance with the Curzon Line. Meanwhile, the western border moved to the Oder-Neisse line. As a result, Poland's territory was reduced by 20%, or 77,500 square kilometres (29,900 sq mi). The shift forced the migration of millions of people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews. Of all the countries involved in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over 6 million perished – nearly one-fifth of Poland's population — half of them Polish Jews. Over 90% of deaths were non-military in nature. Population numbers did not recover until the 1970s. An estimated 600,000 Soviet soldiers died fighting Germans on Polish soil during World War II.
Postwar communist Poland
Main articles: History of Poland (1945–1989), Cursed soldiers, Poznań 1956 protests, 1968 Polish political crisis, Polish 1970 protests and June 1976 protestsAt the insistence of Joseph Stalin, the Yalta Conference sanctioned the formation of a new provisional pro-Communist coalition government in Moscow, which ignored the Polish government-in-exile based in London; a move which angered many Poles who considered it a betrayal by the Allies. In 1944, Stalin had made guarantees to Churchill and Roosevelt that he would maintain Poland's sovereignty and allow democratic elections to take place. However, upon achieving victory in 1945, the elections organized by the occupying Soviet authorities were falsified and were used to provide a veneer of 'legitimacy' for Soviet hegemony over Polish affairs. The Soviet Union instituted a new communist government in Poland, analogous to much of the rest of the Eastern Bloc. As elsewhere in Communist Europe the Soviet occupation of Poland met with armed resistance from the outset which continued into the fifties.
Despite widespread objections, the new Polish government accepted the Soviet annexation of the pre-war eastern regions of Poland (in particular the cities of Wilno and Lwów) and agreed to the permanent garrisoning of Red Army units on Poland's territory. Military alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War came about as a direct result of this change in Poland's political culture and in the European scene came to characterise the full-fledged integration of Poland into the brotherhood of communist nations.
The People's Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was officially proclaimed in 1952. In 1956 after the death of Bolesław Bierut, the régime of Władysław Gomułka became temporarily more liberal, freeing many people from prison and expanding some personal freedoms. A similar situation repeated itself in the 1970s under Edward Gierek, but most of the time persecution of anti-communist opposition groups persisted. Despite this, Poland was at the time considered to be one of the least oppressive states of the Soviet Bloc.
Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" ("Solidarność"), which over time became a political force. Despite persecution and imposition of martial law in 1981, it eroded the dominance of the Polish United Workers' Party and by 1989 had triumphed in Poland's first partially free and democratic parliamentary elections since the end of the Second World War. Lech Wałęsa, a Solidarity candidate, eventually won the presidency in 1990. The Solidarity movement heralded the collapse of communist regimes and parties across Europe.
Main article: History of Poland (1989–present)A shock therapy programme, initiated by Leszek Balcerowicz in the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its socialist-style planned economy into a market economy. As with all other post-communist countries, Poland suffered temporary slumps in social and economic standards, but it became the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels, which it achieved by 1995 largely thanks to its booming economy.
Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in human rights, such as the freedom of speech, internet freedom (no censorship), civil liberties (1st class) and political rights (1st class), according to Freedom House. In 1991, Poland became a member of the Visegrád Group and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member on 1 May 2004. Poland joined the Schengen Area in 2007, as a result of which, the country's borders with other member states of the European Union have been dismantled, allowing for full freedom of movement within most of the EU. In contrast to this, the section of Poland's eastern border now comprising the external EU border with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, has become increasingly well protected, and has led in part to the coining of the phrase 'Fortress Europe', in reference to the seeming 'impossibility' of gaining entry to the EU for citizens of the former Soviet Union. Today Poland is one of the main countries pushing the European Union towards further economic, political and even military integration. Poland has been one of the most prominent voices of establishing a common European Armed Forces, with Poland's Premier along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande (collectively also part of Weimar Triangle taking steps to negotiate such a deal, in hope of drastically reducing dependence on NATO and increasing readiness. Poland has already built several commands of a common battle group with Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, with a total of 12, 000 troops ready for deployment. Poland today is seeking to build more battle groups with Lithuania and Ukraine. These battle groups have vowed to serve under the European Union, and not NATO. Eurosceptics criticize such moves as further unnecessary integration and a new major step towards a federalized European Union under one government. Military integration is judged to be the most significant step after a monetary union.
On 10 April 2010, the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, along with 89 other high-ranking Polish officials died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia. The president's party were on their way to attend an annual service of commemoration for the victims of the Katyń massacre when the tragedy took place.
In 2011, national census elections took place. Polish presidency in the EU started that year and the elections took place (they were won by the ruling party). Poland joined European Space Agency in 2012, as well as organised the Euro 2012 (along with Ukraine) and the process of digitisation started.
In 2013, Poland also became a member of the Development Assistance Committee.
Main article: Geography of PolandPoland's territory extends across several geographical regions, between latitudes 49° and 55° N, and longitudes 14° and 25° E. In the north-west is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdańsk. This coast is marked by several spits, coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes. The largely straight coastline is indented by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon. The centre and parts of the north lie within the North European Plain.
Rising above these lowlands is a geographical region comprising the four hilly districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age. These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of north-eastern Poland. The lake districts form part of the Baltic Ridge, a series of moraine belts along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea.
South of the Northern European Lowlands lie the regions of Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys. Farther south lies the Polish mountain region, including the Sudetes, the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra Mountains, along Poland's southern border.
GeologyThe geological structure of Poland has been shaped by the continental collision of Europe and Africa over the past 60 million years, on the one hand (and the other), by the Quaternary glaciations of northern Europe. Both processes shaped the Sudetes and the Carpathian Mountains. The moraine landscape of northern Poland contains soils made up mostly of sand or loam, while the ice age river valleys of the south often contain loess. The Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, the Pieniny, and the Western Tatras consist of limestone, while the High Tatras, the Beskids, and the Karkonosze are made up mainly of granite and basalts. The Polish Jura Chain is one of the oldest mountain ranges on earth.
Poland has 70 mountains over 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) in elevation, all in the Tatras. The Polish Tatras, which consist of the High Tatras and the Western Tatras, is the highest mountain group of Poland and of the entire Carpathian range. In the High Tatras lies Poland's highest point, the north-western peak of Rysy, 2,499 metres (8,199 ft) in elevation. At its foot lies the mountain lakes of Czarny Staw pod Rysami (Black Lake below Mount Rysy), and Morskie Oko (the Marine Eye).
The second highest mountain group in Poland is the Beskids, whose highest peak is Babia Góra, at 1,725 metres (5,659 ft). The next highest mountain groups is the Karkonosze in the Sudetes, whose highest point is Śnieżka, at 1,602 metres (5,256 ft); Śnieżnik Mountains whose highest point is Śnieżnik, at 1,425 metres (4,675 ft).
Tourists also frequent the Bieszczady Mountains in the far southeast of Poland, whose highest point in Poland is Tarnica, with an elevation of 1,346 metres (4,416 ft), Gorce Mountains in Gorce National Park, whose highest point is Turbacz, with elevations 1,310 metres (4,298 ft), and the Pieniny in Pieniny National Park, whose highest point is Wysokie Skałki (Wysoka), with elevations 1,050 metres (3,445 ft). The lowest point in Poland – at 2 metres (6.6 ft) below sea level – is at Raczki Elbląskie, near Elbląg in the Vistula Delta.
The only desert located in Poland stretches over the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie (the Coal Fields of Dąbrowa) region. It is called the Błędów Desert, located in the Silesian Voivodeship in southern Poland. It has a total area of 32 square kilometres (12 sq mi). It is one of only five natural deserts in Europe. But also, it is the warmest desert that appears at this latitude. Błędów Desert was created thousands of years ago by a melting glacier. The specific geological structure has been of big importance. The average thickness of the sand layer is about 40 metres (131 ft), with a maximum of 70 metres (230 ft), which made the fast and deep drainage very easy.
The Baltic Sea activity in Słowiński National Park created sand dunes which in the course of time separated the bay from the sea. As waves and wind carry sand inland the dunes slowly move, at a speed of 3 to 10 metres (9.8 to 32.8 ft) meters per year. Some dunes are quite high – up to 30 metres (98 ft). The highest peak of the park – Rowokol (115 metres or 377 feet above sea level) — is also an excellent observation point.
See also: Rivers of Poland and Category:Lakes of PolandThe longest rivers are the Vistula (Polish: Wisła), 1,047 kilometres (651 mi) long; the Oder (Polish: Odra) which forms part of Poland's western border, 854 kilometres (531 mi) long; its tributary, the Warta, 808 kilometres (502 mi) long; and the Bug, a tributary of the Vistula, 772 kilometres (480 mi) long. The Vistula and the Oder flow into the Baltic Sea, as do numerous smaller rivers in Pomerania.
The Łyna and the Angrapa flow by way of the Pregolya to the Baltic, and the Czarna Hańcza flows into the Baltic through the Neman. While the great majority of Poland's rivers drain into the Baltic Sea, Poland's Beskids are the source of some of the upper tributaries of the Orava, which flows via the Váh and the Danube to the Black Sea. The eastern Beskids are also the source of some streams that drain through the Dniester to the Black Sea.
Poland's rivers have been used since early times for navigation. The Vikings, for example, traveled up the Vistula and the Oder in their longships. In the Middle Ages and in early modern times, when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was the breadbasket of Europe; the shipment of grain and other agricultural products down the Vistula toward Gdańsk and onward to other parts of Europe took on great importance.
With almost ten thousand closed bodies of water covering more than 1 hectare (2.47 acres) each, Poland has one of the highest numbers of lakes in the world. In Europe, only Finland has a greater density of lakes. The largest lakes, covering more than 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi), are Lake Śniardwy and Lake Mamry in Masuria, and Lake Łebsko and Lake Drawsko in Pomerania.
In addition to the lake districts in the north