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Poland facts and history in brief

Excerpted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Republic of Poland is a country located in Central Europe, 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 enclave) to the north.
The Polish state was formed over a 1,000 years ago under the Piast dynasty, and it reached its Golden Age near the end of the 16th century under the Jagiellonian dynasty, when Poland was one of the richest and most powerful countries in Europe.
On May 3, 1791 the Sejm of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania voted for the May Constitution of Poland, the first written constitution of Europe, and the second in the world after the Constitution of the United States.
The country ceased to exist soon afterwards for the 123 years, after partitions by its neighbours Russia, Austria and Prussia.
It regained independence in 1918 in the aftermath of the First World War as the Second Polish Republic.
Following the Second World War it became a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union known as the People's Republic of Poland.
In 1989 the first free elections in Poland's post-World War II history concluded the Solidarity movement's struggle for freedom and resulted in the defeat of Poland's communist rulers.
A new constitution was drafted and the current Third Polish Republic was established.
In 1999 Poland became a part of NATO and in 2004 it joined the European Union.

Official Polish name: Rzeczpospolita Polska
Motto: none
Anthem: Mazurek Dabrowskiego
Capital: Warsaw
Largest city: Warsaw Official language: Polish*
Government: Republic
President: Aleksander Kwasniewski
Prime minister: Marek Belka
- Declared: 9th century
- Redeclared: November 11, 1918
Area: - Total: 312,685 km² (68th)
- Water (%): 2.6%
- 2005 est: 38,635,144 (32nd)
- Density: 123.5/km² (64th)
- 2005 estimate Total: $512.9 billion (23rd)
Per capita: $13,275 (51st)
Currency: Zloty (PLN)
Time zone: CET (UTC+1)
- Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Internet TLD: pl
Calling code: +48

* Belorussian, Cassubian, German and Ukrainian are used in five communal offices. They are, however, not considered to be official languages at state level.

Poland's official name in Polish is Rzeczpospolita Polska. The name 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 polyî, "open land", from Indo-European pelè-, "flat" + -anie, "inhabitants", analogous to Latin -anus, "originating from" (please compare Yuriev-Polsky). In old Latin chronicles the terms terra Poloniae (land of Poland) or Regnum Poloniae (kingdom of Poland) appear.
Parallel to this terminology, another one, Lechia, came into use, thought to derive from the tribe name Ledzianie. It gave rise to an alternative name for "Pole": Lech, Lechowie in Old Church Slavonic, Lechia, Lechites in Latin, Lach in Ruthenian, Lyakh in Russian, as well as to old German Lechien, Hungarian Lengyelorszag, Lengyel, Lithuanian Lenkija, lenkas and Turkish Lechistan (from Persian Lehestan.)


The Polish nation started to form into a recognisable unitary territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century under the Piast dynasty. In 12th century Poland was fragmented into several smaller states, which were later ravaged by the Mongol armies of Golden Horde in 1241. Under the Jagiellon dynasty Poland forged an alliance with its neighbour Lithuania. A golden age occurred in the 16th century during its union (Lublin Union) with Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The citizens of Poland took pride in their ancient freedoms and parliamentary system, though the Szlachta 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.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at its greatest extent
In mid 17th century a rebellion of Cossacks led by Bohdan Chmielnicki ushered in the turbulent time known as "The Deluge" (potop). Numerous wars against Ottoman Empire, 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 (May Constitution of Poland). 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 invaded and split the Polish territory between them from (September 28, 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 brought a new communist government to Poland, analogously to much of the rest of the Eastern Bloc. 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 regime 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 Lech Walesa 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.

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 current president is Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Polish voters elect a two house parliament (National Assembly, Polish Zgromadzenie Narodowe), consisting of a 460 member lower house Sejm and a 100 member Senate (Senat). Sejm is elected under a proportional representation electoral system similar to that used in other parliamentary political systems while the Senate is elected under a comparatively rare first past the post bloc voting. With the exception of ethnic minority parties, only political parties receiving at least 5% of the total national vote can enter Sejm.

The judicial branch plays a minor role in decision-making. Its major institutions include the Supreme Court (Sad Najwyzszy) (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 (Trybunal 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.

Administration of Poland
Poland is sub-divided for administrative purposes into 16 administrative regions known as voivodships (województwa, singular - województwo):
Greater Poland Voivodship (Wielkopolskie)
Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodship (Kujawsko-Pomorskie)
Lesser Poland Voivodship (Malopolskie), Lodz Voivodship (Lódzkie), Lower Silesian Voivodship (Dolnoslaskie), Lublin Voivodship (Lubelskie), Lubusz Voivodship (Lubuskie), Masovian Voivodship (Mazowieckie), Opole Voivodship (Opolskie), Podlasie Voivodship (Podlaskie), Pomeranian Voivodship (Pomorskie), Silesian Voivodship (Slaskie), Subcarpathian Voivodship (Podkarpackie), Swietokrzyskie Voivodship (Swietokrzyskie), Warmian-Masurian Voivodship (Warminsko-Mazurskie), West Pomeranian Voivodship (Zachodniopomorskie).

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 (Wisla), 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 slop-dropping and mild summers with frequent showers and thunder showers.

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.

Zloty, the nation's currency.
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. The biggest privatisations so far were a sale of Telekomunikacja Polska, a national telecom to France Telecom (2000) and an issue of 30% shares of the biggest Polish bank, PKO BP, on the Polish stockmarket (2004).

Poland has a large agricultural sector of private farms, that could be a leading producer of food in the European Union now that Poland is a member. 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 in 2003, a rise from 1.4% annually in 2002. In 2004 GDP growth equalled 5.4% and in 2005, it is expected to be around 3.7%.

Although the Polish economy is currently undergoing an economic boom there are many challenges ahead. The most notable task on the horizon is the preparation of the economy (through continuing deep structural reforms) to allow the Poland to meet the strict economic criteria for entry into the European Single Currency. There is much speculation as to just when Poland might be ready to join the Eurozone, although the best guess estimates put the entry date somewhere between 2009 and 2013. For now, Poland is undergoing preparation to make the Euro its official currency (as other countries of the European Union), and Zloty will eventually be abolished from the modern Polish economy.

By Western European standards, Poland has a relatively poorly 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 364,657 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 Gdansk, Gdynia, Kolobrzeg, Szczecin, Swinoujscie, Ustka, Warsaw, and Wroclaw.

Telecommunication and IT
In Poland, the share of telecom sector in GDP generation is 4.4% (end of 2000 figure), when compared to 2.5% in 1996. Nevertheless, despite high expenditures for telecom infrastructure (the coverage increased from 78 users per 1000 inhabitants in 1989 to 282 in 2000) the infrastructure is still underdeveloped. Density of stationary network in Poland vary from region to region, with rural areas lagging behind.

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 another nationality. 774,900 people (2.03%) didn't declare any nationality. The officially recognised ethnic minorities include: Germans, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Jews and Belorussians. 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.

The style and personality of Polish life has been shaped over a thousand years. The national culture developed at the crossroads of the Latinate and Byzantine worlds, in continual dialogue with the many ethnic groups in Poland. The people of Poland have always been hospitable to artists from abroad, and eager to follow what was happening in other countries. In the 19th and 20th centuries Poles' concentration on cultural advancement often took the place of political and economic activity. These factors have contributed to the versatile character of Polish art, with all its complex nuances.

Dialogue and the interpenetration of cultures have been major characteristics of Polish tradition for centuries. Customs, manners, and dress have reflected the influences of east and west. The traditional costumes worn by the gentry in the 16th and 17th centuries were inspired by rich eastern ornamental styles, including Islamic influences. Polish cuisine and social customs are another reflection of multifarious trends.

Polish towns reflect the whole spectrum of European styles. Poland's eastern frontiers marked the boundary of the influences of Western architecture on the continent. History has not been kind to Poland's architectural monuments. However, a number of ancient edifices have survived: castles, churches, and stately homes, sometimes unique in the regional or European context. Some of them have been painstakingly restored (the Royal Castle in Cracow), or completely reconstructed after totally devastation in the Second World War (the Old City and Royal Castle in Warsaw, the Old Cities of Gdansk and Wroclaw). Kazimierz on the Vistula is an example of a well-preserved mediaeval town. Cracow ranks among the best preserved Gothic and Renaissance urban complexes in Europe. Polish church architecture deserves special attention. Some interesting buildings were also constructed during the Communist regime in the style of Socialist Realism. Recently, some remarkable specimens of modern architecture have been erected.

Polish art has always reflected world trends while maintaining its unique character. Jan Matejko's famous school of Historicist painting produced monumental portrayals of events which were historic for Poland. Stanislaw Witkiewicz was an ardent supporter of Realism in Polish art, its main representative being Jozef Chelmonski. The Mloda Polska (Young Poland) movement witnessed the birth of modern Polish art, and engaged in a great deal of formal experimentation. Its main adherents were Jacek Malczewski (Symbolism), Stanislaw Wyspianski, Józef Mehoffer, and a group of Polish Impressionists. Artists of the twentieth-century Avant-garde represented various schools and trends. The art of Tadeusz Makowski was influenced by Cubism; while Wladyslaw Strzeminski and Henryk Stazewski worked within the Constructivist idiom. Distinguished contemporary artists include Roman Opalka, Leon Tarasewicz, Jerzy Nowosielski, and Miroslaw Balka and Katarzyna Kozyra in the younger generation. The most celebrated Polish sculptors include Xawery Dunikowski, Katarzyna Kobro, Alina Szapocznikow and Magdalena Abakanowicz. Since the inter-war years, Polish art and documentary photography has enjoyed world-wide recognition. In the sixties the Polish Poster School was formed, with Henryk Tomaszewski and Waldemar Swierzy at its head.

The origins of Polish literature written in the Polish vernacular go back beyond the 14th century. In the 16th century the poetic works of Jan Kochanowski established him as a leading representative of European Renaissance literature. Baroque and Neo-classicist letters made a signal contribution to the cementing together of Poland's peoples of many different cultural backgrounds. The early 19th century novel "Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse" by Count Jan Potocki, which survived in its Polish translation after the loss of the original in French, became a world classic. Wojciech Has' film based on it, a favourite with Luis Bunuel, later became a cult film on university campuses. Poland's great Romantic literature flourished in the 19th century when the country had lost its independence. The poets Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki and Zygmunt Krasinski, the "Three Bards," became the spiritual leaders of a nation deprived of its sovereignty, and prophesied its revival. Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Nobel prize-winner for his novel Quo Vadis in 1905, eulogised the historical tradition.

In the early 20th century many outstanding literary works emerged from exchange across cultures and Avant-garde experimentation. The legacy of the Kresy Marchlands in Poland's eastern regions with Wilno and Lwów (now Vilnius and Lviv) as two major centres for the arts, played a special role in these developments. This was also a region in which Jewish tradition and the mystic movement of Hasidism thrived. The Kresy were a cultural trysting-place for numerous ethnic and national groups, where the arts flourished of cultures in contact with each other. The works of Bruno Schulz, Boleslaw Lesmian, and Józef Czechowicz were written here. In the south of Poland, Zakopane was the birthplace of the avant-garde works of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy).

After the Second World War many Polish writers found themselves in exile abroad, with many clustered around the Paris-based Kultura publishing venture run by Jerzy Giedroyc. The group of émigré writers included Witold Gombrowicz, Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, Czeslaw Milosz, and Slawomir Mrozek. Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Rózewicz, Czeslaw Milosz (Nobel Prize in 1980), and Wislawa Szymborska (Nobel Prize in 1996) are among the most outstanding 20th century Polish poets, novelists and playwrights, which also includes Witold Gombrowicz, Slawomir Mrozek, and Stanislaw Lem (for science fiction). Hanna Krall's reportage which focuses mainly on the war-time Jewish experience, and Ryszard Kapuscinski's books have been translated into many languages.

It is difficult to grasp fully the detailed tradition of Polish Romanticism and its consequences for Polish literature without a thorough knowledge of Polish history. The music of Fryderyk Chopin, inspired by Polish tradition and folklore, conveys the quintessence of Romanticism. Since 1927, the Chopin International Piano Competition, one of the world's most prestigious piano competitions, has been held every five years in Warsaw. Traditional Polish music has inspired composers like Karol Szymanowski, Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, Witold Lutoslawski, Wojciech Kilar, Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, and Krzysztof Penderecki - all of whom rank among the world's most celebrated composers. Polish jazz with its special national flavour has fans and followers in many countries. The best-known jazzmen are Krzysztof Komeda, Michal Urbaniak, Adam Makowicz, and Tomasz Stanko. Successful composers of film music include Zbigniew Preisner, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, and Wojciech Kilar.

Graduates of the famous Lódz Film School include many celebrated directors, among them Roman Polanski ("Knife in the Water", "Rosemary's Baby", "Frantic", "The Pianist") and Krzysztof Zanussi, a leading director of the cinema of moral anxiety of the 70s. Andrzej Wajda's films offer an insightful analysis of what is universal in the Polish experience - the struggle to maintain human dignity under circumstances which hardly allow it. His major films describe the identity of many of Poland's generations. In 2000 Wajda was awarded an Oscar for his contribution to cinema. In the 90s Krzysztof Kieslowski's films, such as "The Decalogue", "The Double Life of Veronica", "Three Colours", won great popularity. Other Polish film directors such as Agnieszka Holland and Jerzy Kaminski have worked in Hollywood as well. Polish animated films - represented by Jan Lenica and Zbigniew Rybczynski (awarded an Oscar in 1983) - have a long tradition, and derived inspiration from Poland's graphic arts.

The Polish avant-garde theatre is world-famous, with Jerzy Grotowski as its most innovative and creative representative. One of the most original twentieth-century theatre personalities was Tadeusz Kantor, painter, theoretician of drama, stage designer, and playwright, his ideas finding their culmination in the theatre of death and his most recognised production being "Umarla klasa" (Dead Class).

Poland offers a wide spectrum of cultural experience. Those interested in high culture will enjoy the renowned music festivals like Wratislavia Cantans and the Warsaw Autumn. Polish museums exhibit remarkable art collections - masterpieces including Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine in the Czartoryski Museum, Cracow; the Veit Stoss High Altar in St. Mary's Basilica, Cracow; and the Last Judgement by Hans Memling (The National Museum in Gdansk). Ethnographic museums and open-air museums also hold attractive collections. The panorama of Polish culture is completed by a medley of local festivals.

External links

Other popular Polish web-portals

This page was retrieved and condensed from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland) July, 2005
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
(see Copyrights for details).

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