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POLAND
 

Cities in POLAND

Krakow Lodz Warsaw

Geography and landscape

Geography

Poland (officially: Rzeczpospolita Polska = Polish republic) is a republic in Eastern Europe. The total area of Poland is 312,684 km2. Poland measures about 650 kilometers from north to south and about 700 kilometers from east to west.

Poland: Satellite photoPhoto: Public domain

Poland borders seven countries: in the west on Germany (456 km), in the east on the Russian enclave Kaliningrad Oblast (206 km), Lithuania (91 km), Belarus or Belarus (407 km) and the Ukraine (526 km), in the south to Czechia (658 km) and Slovakia (444 km). In the north, Poland borders the Baltic Sea and the coastline has a total length of 491 kilometers. The border with Germany is largely determined by the Oder and the Neisse.

In the extreme northwest corner of Poland lies the island of Wolin, where the Wolinski National Park is located, a true bird paradise. The peninsulas of Hel and Mierzeja Wislana can also be found here.

Landscape

Poland is generally a flat country; 54% of the total area is below 150 meters, 37% has a height between 150 and 300 meters. Mountains only occur on the southern border. In terms of relief, Poland can be divided into three roughly east-west running belts:

Along the Baltic Sea lie the coastal plain and in the low plain of the Vistula lies the lowest point of the country:-1,8 meters. The slightly higher (up to more than 300 m) Pomeranian and Masurian Lake Plains connect to this low plain. The coastal strip consists of wide sandy beaches, substantial dune ridges and a few large dune lakes. The somewhat lower central plains and the primeval current valleys consisting of the Silesian Basin, the Kujawy, the Great Polish Meervlakte, the lowlands of Mazowsze and Podlachia.

South of the central plains are a number of high plateaus. Of these, the Kleinpolse Plateau is articulated in Poland's oldest ridge, the Góry Swietokrzyskie (Holy Cross Mountains, up to 611 m high), the plateaus of Silesia and Kraków-Czestochowa and the synclinal of the Nida. The Lublin Plateau lies between Wisla and Bug and is 220-300 meters high.
The Carpathians consist of low mountain ranges and high altitudes of alpine origin, intersected by the upper reaches of the Odra and the Vistula. Apart from Bieszcady (Forest Carpathians), the Polish Carpathians are part of the Western Carpathians. The highest point in Poland (Rysy, 2499 m) is located in the Tatra massif.

People at the top of the Rysy, highest mountain in Poland Photo: public domain

The northernmost range is the chalky Pieniny. Further west, separated from the Carpathians by the Moravian Gate, are the Sudetes, a granite massif. The highest part of this is the Giant Mountains or Karkonosze.

Approx. 53% of the Polish soil consists of podzol soils. This type of soils is characterized by a dark top layer with a lot of humus, under which there is a leached layer, which is followed by a bottom layer in which minerals and organic matter accumulate through washing.

Rivers and lakes

More than 9000 lakes cover about 1% of the surface of Poland. The largest are Sniardwy Lake (109 km2) and Mamry Lake (102 km2), both located in Mazoeri . Most of the lakes are located in the Pomeranian, Masurian and Great Pole Lake Plains, as well as in the Kujawy.
Most of the rivers drain into the Baltic Sea. The catchment areas of the two main rivers, the Vistula (Weichsel, 1014 km) and the Odra (Oder), cover 56% and 34% respectively of the river surface of Poland;9% fall to the basins of coastal rivers flowing directly into the Baltic Sea.
The main river is the Vistula, which has its source in the Carpathians and flows north through Kraków and Warsaw and flows into the Baltic Sea. The main tributary of the Vistula is the Bug, which forms part of the Polish border with Ukraine and Belarus. The main tributary of the Odra is the Warta.
The river systems of Wisla and Odra are linked by the Bydgoszcz Canal between the Brda, tributary of the Wisla, and the Notec, tributary of the Warta.

The Polish climate is alternately influenced by Atlantic, oceanic and Asian continental air masses. The climate is therefore a transition from a moderate maritime climate in the north and west of the country to a dry continental climate in the south and east. West winds prevail against the east winds, but in general the weather is characterized by rapid changes, especially in winter and in the mountains.
The Atlantic influence is decreasing to the east, resulting in more precipitation in the west than in the east.
The precipitation in the Carpathians and the Sudetes is more than 800 mm per year; on the plateaus and lakes 600 to 800 mm per year and in Central Poland 450 mm. In the months of September and October, the so-called “golden autumn”, it is already getting colder and the chance of rain increases, but the number of sunny days is still quite high. November and December are characterized by a lot of fog and rain. In the capital Warsaw, January is the driest and July the wettest.

Winters last from about mid-December to April and are very severe with a lot of snowfall due to the easterly winds in the east and south. Rivers and lakes are largely frozen in those regions. In the mountains, the temperature does not rise above freezing point for about 130 days a year. Central Warsaw has a three-month period with average temperatures below freezing.
In the long, warm summer period, the temperature easily rises above 25°C;in winter, the mercury drops well below 0°C. The lowest temperature ever recorded in the low mountain ranges:-42°C;the highest in Lower Silesia (40.2°C). Average July temperature ranges from 17°C in the Baltic to 20°C in the southeast;the average January temperature varies regionally from-1°C to-6°C.

Plants and Animals

Plants

The current, typically Central European vegetation dates almost entirely after the last Ice Age and in wetlands and in the mountains you can still find remnants of the tundra flora, such as the dwarf birch, from the intermediate periods.
Due to reclamation since the 13th century and both world wars much forest was lost. There is still forest on about 27% of the territory and the famous Puszcza Bialowieska, on the border with Belarus, is the last remnant of jungles that once covered all of Poland. The least wooded is Województwo in the province of Lódz;the most wooded are Zielona Góra, Koszalin and Rzeszów. About 80% of the state forests is coniferous forest (mainly Scots pine and larch); the remainder is deciduous forest (mainly oak, beech, alder, linden and birch). Indigenous species include the Polish larch and the Ojców birch.
The swamps and heathlands are very varied botanically with 600 species of moss and 1500 species of mushrooms.
The national flower of Poland is the poppy, national trees are the white alder and the weeping willow.

Animals

The animal world is also Central European in character with a number of northern elements such as the moose, while Eastern European elements such as the flat-dwelling silt and soeslik (kind of ground squirrel) reach their western border here. The siezel is a close relative of the squirrel, but with a very different way of life. It lives in burrows and underground and the characteristic features of the squirrel, long ears and a bushy tail, are missing. The forest of Bialowieska on the border of Poland and Belarus is world famous for its free-roaming wisents, the largest European mammals.
The vast Masurian lakes, but also parts of Pomerania and Wielkopolska are very important as a breeding and stopping place of waterfowl, including a large number of breeding mute swans;crane, cormorant and black stork are also breeding birds. Wild geese, mallard ducks, gray herons, ravens and ospreys can also be found here. Mazoeri is the breeding area of the white stork. In the Tatra Mountains on the border with Czech Republic and Slovakia there is a national park that extends over both countries with the largest known breed of chamois, brown bears, wild boars, wolves, lynx and wild cats;the alpine marmot is also found here.
Possums, hamsters, squirrels, dormice, deer and roe deer come from southern and eastern Europe.
The rivers and lakes of Poland are home to 55 species of fish including pike, perch, bream, mullet, trout, salmon, whitefish, eel and carp.

Poland's national 'bird' is the white eagle. The black stork is considered an unrecognized national symbol.

History

Antiquity and early Middle Ages

In the Neolithic (4000-2000 BC), the first agricultural societies settled in modern-day Polish territory and trade routes sprang up right through the densely forested country. In the last millennium before, and several centuries AD, various groups such as the Celts, Scythians, Balts, Goths, Huns and many Germanic tribes occupied Polish territory, usually moved on again, but occasionally settled in these regions. It is almost certain that the Slavs, the ethnic group to which Poles belong, were also among these groups.
Various Slavonian tribes eventually settled between the Baltic Sea and the mountains of the Carpathians. In the mid-ninth century, the Polans (literally: the people of the field), who settled on the banks of the Warta River near present-day Poznan, became the dominant tribe in this region. Their legendary chieftain Piast managed to bring the different tribes together into a political unity and named the region Polska, or Poland, after the name of the tribe. The region later became known as Wielkopolska or Greater Poland. The earliest known ruler was a descendant of Piast, Count Mieszko I, who was converted to Christianity in 966.

Middle Ages

This day is considered the formal beginning of the Polish state. During the reign of Mieszko, the rest of the population was also Christianized and he made use of the church and the nobility to greatly increase his area. His son Boleslaw I managed to annex even larger areas. In 1000 the first archdiocese was founded and in 1025 Boleslaw was crowned the first king of Poland.

The main settlements in the north were Gniezno, Poznan and Kalisz, collectively known as Greater Poland. Lesser Poland or Malopolska included Krakow, Lublin, Sandomierz and Kielce. They both formed the heart of the Polish Empire. This empire also included Pomerania, Silesia and Mazovi .
After the death of Boleslaw I the empire fell apart but his successor Kazimierz I managed to restore unity and moved the capital to Kraków in 1040. Boleslaw II came into conflict with the Bishop of Kraków and had him executed. He was subsequently exiled and after his death in 1138, the Polish territory was divided between his four sons.
They each pursued an independent policy, dividing their lands among numerous heirs, dividing the empire into smaller and smaller duchies. As a result, the nobility and clergy gained more and more power. The lack of cooperation meant that the south was invaded by Tartars who conquered Legnica in 1241.

The north suffered from a wave of immigration from Prussia. In 1225 the Duke of Mazovi called on the Crusaders of the Teutonic Knights (Teutonic Knights) to drive the Prussians out of Polish territory. In 1275 the knights had completed their task, but annoying for the Poles was that these knights themselves occupied the north and did not intend to leave. On the contrary, by taking part in the trade of the Hanseatic League, they managed to build up a powerful position.
The Poles thus no longer had free access to the Baltic Sea and were also threatened by Bohemia from the south and Lithuania from the south. East. It was also bad internally due to the independent position and division of the nobility and the cities. Only under King Wladislaw I and his son and successor Kazimierz III Wielki (the Great) Poland became somewhat united again and the resistance of the mighty cities was broken. Poland was now also moving abroad again because parts of the Ukraine were conquered. In contrast, they lost Silezi to the King of Bohemia. Kazimierz also built castles all over Poland for the defense of Poland and promoted the development of trade, economy and culture. Jews who had fled from Central Europe were admitted to Poland without any problems and were even given a small degree of self-government. The nobility was further united by giving them their own rights and more important official functions. Here the foundation was laid for the later noble republic.

In 1370 Kazimierz died and the throne fell to Ludwik Wegierski (Louis of Hungary) of the genus Anjou. In 1384, his 11-year-old daughter Jadwiga was crowned queen (she was canonized by the Pope in 1997) and a year later forced to marry Jagiello, the grand duke of Lithuania. After the marriage, Poland and Lithuania were merged into a so-called personal union. Jagiello managed to defeat the Crusaders in the north and significantly expand the territory of Poland from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Poland was at the time economically, politically and culturally the center of this state with Kraków as its powerful center. Jagiello was succeeded in 1434 by his son Wladyslaw III, who fell against the Turks in 1444 in the Battle of Varna. He was succeeded by his brother Kazimierz IV who defeated the Teutonic Knights for good and in 1466 managed to win over West Prussia in the peace of Torun and East Prussia had to recognize Poland as a feudal high. Fortunately, Poland once again had unobstructed access to the Baltic Sea. At the end of the 15th century, major changes took place in many areas in Poland. Thus the nobility or “szlachta” increasingly powerful and they were assigned more and more public functions. This century also saw the birth of the Polish Diet or “Sejim” . The Sejim was made up of a chamber of deputies from the szlachta and senate, comprising ministers, magnates, bishops and army commanders. These sessions were so important that the king even attended them. This body was characterized by the “Liberum Veto” therefore any decision to legislate or tax had to be taken unanimously.

Sixteenth ”golden” century

The 16th century would be the “Golden Age” for Poland and the country was also the largest state in Europe. The Jagiellonians were in charge in Poland itself, but also in Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Rutheni, Ukraine, Bohemia and Hungary. Agriculture, mining and trade flourished and important trade routes cut across Polish territory. The Hanseatic cities in the north in particular played a major role in Poland's economic development. Culture also flourished under King Zygmunt I, partly due to the close connections with Italy after marrying an Italian daughter of a Milanese duke.

Zygmunt was succeeded by his son Zygmunt II. Despite three marriages, he remained childless and was in danger of disintegrating the personal union.
During this time, a new class of powerful families, the so-called "magnates", developed at the expense of the nobility. These families owned vast areas, many villages, towns, castles and often even a large army. In fact, they ruled what was then Poland, which, as a centrally ruled kingdom, was not so much anymore.
In 1569, the assembled nobility closed the Union of Lublin. In this, Poland and Lithuania were merged into a noble republic with a joint parliament and an elected king. In 1572 Zygmunt II died and the period of the electoral kings began. This meant, among other things, that the monarchy was accepted subject to a number of guarantees and conditions. Despite the strong position of the nobility, Poland was at that time the most democratically ruled country in Europe. The first elected king was Henryk Walezy (of Valois), the later King Henry III of France, who was soon succeeded, however, by Stefan Bathory, the prince of Transylvanian.

Seventeenth century

Meanwhile, the Counter-Reformation had started all over Europe and in Poland, too, everything was done to thwart the reformers. Under Zygmunt III Wasa in particular, the Polish counter-reformation seemed to have triumphed. In 1592 Zygmunt also became king of Sweden, but in 1604 he was again overthrown. In 1605 Sweden attacked Polish territory but was defeated. The relationship with Sweden remained very tense afterwards and, after a period of many conflicts, even led to the Thirty Years' War.
In 1609, the residence of Zygmunt III was moved from Kraków to Warsaw.

In 1632, Zygmunt was succeeded by his son Wladyslaw IV Waza, who waged war against the Russians and the Turks. He also initiated the counter-reformation against the mostly Protestant nobility. The Thirty Years' War ended with the Peace of Torun in 1648. Under the rule of Jan II Kazimierz Waza, however, dark clouds gathered over Poland again. In 1654, a Cossack revolt in Ukraine ensued and that meant the loss of a large part of Ukraine to Russia. At the same time, great financial problems arose as a result of the many wars that had been fought.
In 1655 Janus Radziwill brought the Swedes to Poland due to internal problems. However, this action turned out completely wrong, because of the “Swedish flood” Poland was damaged beyond repair. Large parts of Poland were forcibly ceded to Sweden, Russia and Prussia and economically Poland was completely aground; depopulation, destroyed cities, ruined crops and no more commercial activity. To make matters worse, Turkey declared war on Poland in 1672, but the Poles led by Jan Sobieski managed to defeat the Turkish army. After this, Sobieski was proclaimed King John III Sobieski. In 1683, Sobieski did another good deed by defeating the Turks who besieged Vienna. In this way he prevented Islam from spreading all over Europe.

Poland's power is crumbling

Under Sobieski's rule, Poland, as the largest country in Europe, once again experienced a period of political recovery and prosperity. After the death of Sobieski, the state of Poland continued to decline and foreign powers and magnates took over. The magnates thus decided on the king's choice and the “Liberum Veto” organ without military power and without financial means, which put Poland in a state of anarchy, something that was certainly not stopped by the neighbors of Poland.
At this time the Saxons came to power with the weak King August II and after August came Stanislaw Leszczynski in 1704, who had returned to power by France and the powerful Potocki family. August II came back to the throne in 1709, this time with the help of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. After his death, a war of succession ensued between the Russian-backed August III and the Polish rival candidate Stanislaw Leszczynski. In the meantime, Poland was getting further into crisis and calls for reform plans were growing.

That call was answered by the Czartoryski family, who eventually also took over. In 1764, this family appealed to Catherine the Great of Russia to put a cousin of the family on the throne. This worked, but Stanislaw August Poniatowski would become the last Polish king. He still managed to implement some radical reforms. He was able to strengthen the army and the Liberum Veto was abolished, causing foreigners and magnates to lose their grip on the political situation in Poland. This was not well received by the Prussians and the Russians in particular, who enforced all privileges for the nobility, the Landdag, the free choice of the king and the Liberum Veto to be restored.
They were helped in this by a number of Polish nobles who made an alliance, the “Confederation of Bar”. A real civil war then broke out, which, however, could not prevent Poland from being literally divided in 1772 by the Prussian King Frederick the Great, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great and Maria Theresa of Austria. Only a small protectorate remained of Poland.
Under the influence of the Enlightenment and an emerging nationalistic feeling, a new constitution was adopted on May 3, 1791, which was very modern for that time. Influenced by the French Revolution, a constitutional monarchy was established that was, however, not accepted by a number of magnates, and a Russian-backed "Confederation of Targowica". was closed (1792). Reform-minded Poles revolted that same year, but was crushed by Russia in 1793 and, together with Prussia, Poland was further divided between the three great powers of that time. On November 27, 1795, Stanislaw August was forced to resign and there was actually no longer a Polish state.

Kingdom of Poland and Russian oppression

The three occupiers immediately began to colonize the country and many Poles fled to France. They enlisted there in the army and hoped to be able to liberate the country one day. In 1797 campaigns were actually held and Napoleon also used these Polish troops. After Napoleon's victory over Prussia, Prussia lost part of its Polish territories and Napoleon founded the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. After this, another attempt was made to expel the Russians together with France, but this came to nothing due to the fall of Napoleon. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Kingdom of Poland was formed in a personal union with Russia. There was a constitution on the French model, but the structure of Polish society remained largely the same, with power in the hands of the nobility, and peasants who remained subject to the noble landowners.

Constantine Pavlovich of Russia, the brother the Russian tsar took power and the highest official positions were also held by Russians. During this time the Jews in particular had to endure very hard. Most Jews had always occupied good positions in Polish society, but that changed after the Swedish wars and Cossack raids in the 19th century. Poland also had to deal with large numbers of Jewish refugees from Russia. They settled in eastern Poland, but were also pursued there by the pogroms of the tsarist police, which forced them to assimilate into the native population. During this time, Krakow became a free city republic and Austria retained Galici, one of the poorest regions of the then Austrian Empire. In 1830, King Constantine in Warsaw just escaped an attempt on his life, but he eventually died in 1831.

An uprising of the Poles immediately followed, but was repressed by the Russians with a heavy hand and was enforced with many restrictive measures. In the same year, a revolt broke out in the Prussian part of Poland. And here too strict measures were taken. Further German colonization of the area was continued and German became the main language. In 1846, an uprising broke out in Kraków, which was used by Austria to annex the city republic.
Following Italian unification, unrest in Poland also increased, leading to some timid reforms, such as the reopening of the University of Warsaw and the replacement of some Russian officials by Poles. In 1861 there was another demonstration for the unification of Poland and a little later a real uprising. This uprising failed because the peasants did not participate and prompted the Russians to pull the strings very tight again.
In general, it can be said that both Russia and Prussia strived to abolish all that was Polish. Since 1871, the Prussian part of Poland was part of the German Empire under the leadership of Chancellor Bismarck. Bismarck pursued a tough Germanization policy in order to eliminate the Polish nobility, the language and the Catholic Church.

World War I and Interbellum

When the First World War broke out, the Polish Marshal Józef Pilsudski was allowed to cross the Russian border with a large army. However, when the Germans were losing, Pilsudski was proclaimed president of the Polish republic, which was also recognized by the Allies. In the Treaty of Versailles in 1918, the border with the loser Germany was only partially defined. Only after popular votes in East Prussia and Upper Silesia final decisions would be made on these areas. Pilsudski wanted a federation with the Lithuanian, Ukraine and Belarusian territories. All of this led to the Polish-Russian war in which even Warsaw seemed to fall into the hands of the Russians. Miraculously, Pilsudski managed to prevent this. In 1921 the final border was set by the Allies and it ran east of the so-called Curzon line. Politically and economically things were not going so well at that time in the mainly agricultural Poland. Attempts were made to improve the situation through agricultural reforms, for example, and the Americans also put a lot of money into the country, but all this was for nothing when the worldwide crisis broke out in 1929. The constitution introduced two chambers with representatives of the people, but this did not work out well either. The Sejm, the Polish parliament, overthrew several cabinets so that not much came of government. This prompted Pilsudski to commit a coup d'état in 1926 and continue to lead Poland as dictator.

World War II and communist rule

On September 1, 1939, more than a million German soldiers invaded Poland, while Russians invaded the country from the east. Warsaw capitulated after an unequal battle on September 17 and Poland was then divided among the two aggressors. Many Jews were also deported in Poland and taken to concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek and Sobibor.

In 1943, a major uprising broke out in the Warsaw ghetto. And Warsaw itself revolted in 1944.

Ultimately, six million Poles died in World War II and 70% of the cultural heritage was destroyed. Poland was liberated from the Germans on January 17, 1945.

At the Yalta Conference, the new borders of Poland were established; the Oder-Neisse line and the Curzon line. However, almost half of the Polish territory had to be surrendered to the then Soviet Union and in return Poland was pushed to the west, as it were. The Communist Party, in close cooperation with the Soviet army, quickly took power, partly through fraudulent elections in 1947. In addition, they assumed all important positions and the country was kept under control by an extensive police apparatus. The communists wanted a society after the Russian example and after the constitutional amendment in 1952 all power was concentrated in the communist party. The population has always opposed this situation, which has been exacerbated by the economic situation with low wages and poor working conditions.
This inevitably led to strikes that were, however, repressed with great violence. The situation only improved after the death of Bierut, the first communist president. And after the famous anti-Stalin speech by President Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. Bierut was succeeded by Wladislaw Gomulka, the new General Secretary of the Communist Party. In 1959 he succeeded in expelling the Stalinists from the government and the party, but still remained completely bound by the policies and decisions of Moscow.

Economic crisis

Economically it went very badly around 1970 and in December 1970 food prices were also drastically increased. Strikes followed, but were crushed with a very hard hand. A few days later, Gomulka was succeeded by Gierek, who implemented some liberalizations and thereby managed to raise the standard of living slightly and to temper the discontent among the population. However, this did not last long and slowly but surely the population found out that Poland had entered a deep economic crisis and that radical reforms were necessary to turn the tide. The discontent was supported by the church, which had regained some rights. In addition, a Pole was elected pope for the first time in history in 1978.

In 1980, discontent led to a series of strikes. The strikes at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk in particular attracted full international attention. Lech Walesa led a nationwide strike committee, which was eventually recognized by the government and went on as the union "Solidarnosc" (Solidarity). Although the many strikes intensified chaos, this union continued to exert great pressure on the government to thoroughly reform its socio-economic policies.
In response to these developments, General Jaruzelski became Prime Minister in February 1981 and party leader in October. On December 13, he seized all power and martial law was declared and thousands of people arrested. In January 1982, Jaruzelski regained control of the tense situation, which resulted in the end of martial law at the end of 1982.
In 1985, everything was back to normal and Jaruzelski was elected president of Poland. However, the economy was still very bad and strikes broke out again in 1988.

Poland the first to detach from the Soviet Union

In June 1989, the first free elections were held for the new Senate. The communists were wiped out and the opposition won all available seats. In the Sejm, the opposition was allocated a total of 35% of the seats. However, the former communists' allies, the Democratic Party and the Peasants' Party, quickly sided with the opposition. In July Jaruzelski stepped down as party leader and was succeeded by outgoing Prime Minister Rakowski. Jaruzelski was still elected president with great difficulty. On August 19, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed Prime Minister on the nomination of Walesa. At the eleventh party congress in January 1990, the Communist Party (PZPR) disbanded and was succeeded by the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland (SdRP), which, together with the left-wing trade union OPZZ, formed the Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD). Between 1990 and 1993, the 45,000-strong Soviet army in Poland would withdraw.

At the beginning of 1990, Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz began radical economic reforms to combat hyperinflation, which was 1989 had risen above 1000%. The sharp fall in inflation was accompanied by a sharp drop in living standards, massive unemployment and a recession. After a split in the Solidarity union, Mazowiecki and Walesa both ran for presidential elections at the end of 1990. In the second round on December 9, Walesa triumphed with more than 74% and on December 22 he was appointed president. In January 1991 a new cabinet under the leadership of Jan Krzysztof Bielecki took office. With Germany on Nov. 1990 signed a treaty regarding the establishment of the Oder-Neisse border, followed by a friendship treaty between the two countries on June 17, 1991. The Warsaw Pact was formally dissolved by the six remaining members on July 1 in Prague.
In June, President Walesa suffered a personal defeat when the Sejm – despite two presidential vetos – adopted a new electoral law in view of the first democratic elections on 27 October 1991. Those elections resulted in a fragmented parliament. Jan Olszewski (Dec. 1991- June 1992), Waldemar Pawlak (June- July 1992) and Hanna Suchocka (July 1992- May 1993) successively formed a government. Suchocka stayed on until the new elections under a new electoral law in September 1993. These elections were a victory for the ex-communists and the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) finished second. Together they got two-thirds of the seats in the Sejm and three-quarters of the seats in the Senate, which was more than enough for the formation of a new government. The coalition pledged to pursue the policy of privatization and other reforms. Economically, the nineties were favorable years with growth of around 6%. In September 1993, the last Russian troops left Poland.

In the November 1995 presidential election, SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski beat Lech Walesa by a small margin. In the same year, a money reform came about (zloty upgrading) and a start was made on privatizing small and medium-sized state-owned enterprises. In the summer of 1996, parliament approved a reform plan to slim down central government and limit the role of government in the economy. At the same time, Poland became the third former communist country to join the OECD.

In 1997, a new constitution, which had taken years of work, was accepted by both chambers and entered into force. He established the country as a parliamentary democracy with a free market economy. In September 1997, the parliamentary elections were a major victory for the opposition Electoral Action Solidarity (AWS), a coalition of over 20 conservative, Catholic and nationalist organizations around the Solidarity trade union. Jerzy Buzek became prime minister of a coalition between AWS and the liberal Freedom Union in October.

In 1997, the European Union decided that Poland could eventually join the EU. That same year, NATO invited Poland to join the alliance, which was completed in March 1999.

At the end of May 2000, the Liberal Freedom Union (UW) withdrew from Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Leszek Balcerowicz withdrew from the government coalition with the right-wing Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). In the background there was the national conflict over economic reform policy, which, according to the UW, was opposed by part of the AWS. After a failed gluing attempt, the Buzek government continued as a minority cabinet at the beginning of June.

In the presidential elections held in October 2000, incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski (SLD) already had the absolute majority in the first round with 54% to obtain. AWS candidate Marian Krzaklewski got 16%, while ex-president Lech Walesa got just 1% of the vote. Kwasniewski was re-elected for a term of five years. The voter turnout was 61%.

On May 1, 2004, Poland joined the European Union.

The September 2005 parliamentary elections were won by the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), with 28% of the vote. Its ally, the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO), came in at 26%. The big loser was the ruling Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD), the social-democratic successor of the communist party with only 11% of the vote (still 41% in 2001 !!).

The presidential elections of October 2005 were won by the conservative Lech Kaczynski with 54% of the vote. Just over 50% of the emperors showed up to choose between Kaczynski of the Order and Justice Party (PiS) and his rival Donald Tusk of the liberal Civic Platform.

On October 31, 2005, a government led by Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was installed, of which only PiS is a part. On November 10, 2005, the new government received the confidence of Parliament. PiS has received support for this from the highly populist Samoobrona (Self Defense), the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR) and the Peasants' Party PSL. Donald Tusk has been Prime Minister of Poland since November 16, 2007 after Civic Platform won the elections.

In May 2009, Poland received a loan from the IMF to combat the effects of the credit crisis. President Lech Kaczynski was killed in a plane crash in April 2010.

In July 2010, Bronislaw Komorowski of the center-right Civic Platform wins the second round presidential election of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Lech Kaczynski. In July 2011, Poland takes up the rotating presidency of the EU for the first time. The October 2011 parliamentary elections are won by the Civic Platform led by Donald Tusk. As of February 2014, Donald Tusk is still the Prime Minister and in March 2014 he strongly condemns Russia's occupation of Crimea. In June 2014, the government just survived a motion of censure after an eavesdropping scandal. In September 2014, Tusk resigns to become President of the European Council, Ewa Kopazc becomes Prime Minister. In May 2015, Andrzej Duda of the right-wing Law and Justice party wins the presidential election. In October 2015, that party won the absolute majority in the parliamentary elections. Beate Szydlo will become the new prime minister in November 2015. In 2016 there is a controversy with the EU over a new media law that will give the Polish state more influence over the appointments to radio and television. The EU calls this decision contrary to European values. In 2017, relations between Poland and most of the EU remain tense, due to the government's aim of influencing appointments to the judiciary. This escalates in December 2020, Poland threatens to vote against the EU budget together with Hungary because recipients of EU money can be held accountable for their dealings with the rule of law.

Population

In 2017 Poland had 38,476,269 inhabitants.

The Polish population is aging rapidly and it is expected that 2 million retirees will join in the next 10 years and will increase by 2030. the four Poles will be retired. There are approximately 123 people per km2.

96.9% of the population consists of Poland (before the Second World War 65%) and there are also Belarusian, Ukrainian (5 million before the war!), Russian, Lithuanian, Czech, Slovak, Greek and German (1 million before the war!) minorities, as well as Gypsies. This means that since the Second World War Poland has almost no large groups of minorities. After the end of the Second World War, the remaining Ukrainians and Germans were expelled. Their place was taken by millions of Poles from areas in Russia.
A large part of the population was Jewish before World War II. At that time, the Jews generally lived in the major cities and in specific villages in the southeast. Most of the Polish Jews were killed by the Germans. In total, 6 million Poles were killed as a result of the war or died in concentration and labor camps.
Many Poles have settled abroad over time, in search of a better life or on the run for the political repression in their country. The largest group, about 7 million, settled in the United States, especially in Chicago and the surrounding area. Other migration countries were Canada, Brazil, France and Germany. In the latter country they form the largest minority.

About 60% of the population lives in the cities; the largest cities are: Warsaw (Polish: Warszawa 1.77 million inhabitants), Lódz, Krakow Wroclaw (= Breslau), Poznan, Gdansk, Katowice, Bialystok and Czestochowa.
More than a quarter of the population lives in cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants. The most densely populated part of Poland is formed by the converging mining towns around Katowice. More than 3 million inhabitants live here on less than 2% of the Polish territory. The least populated are the lake plateaus in the north and the land between Vistula and the eastern border;large cities are almost non-existent here.

In the period 1985- 1995 the average population growth was 0.4%. In the 21st century the population shrank slightly. (2017-0.13%)
Births per 1000 inhabitants: 9.5 (2017)
Deaths per 1000 inhabitants: 10.4 (2017)
Life expectancy for women 81.8 years and for men 73.9 years. (2017)

Language

Polish belongs to the West Slavic branch of the Baltoslavian language family. This family belongs to the family of the Indo-Germanic languages. This family also includes Czech, Russian and Bulgarian. Polish developed between the 6th and 9th centuries from the dialect of the tribes that lived between the Odra, the Vistula and the Warta. The official written language was Latin until the sixteenth century, which is why many Latin words ended up in the spoken Polish language.

Until the Christianization of the Poles in 966, only spoken language existed. Since the Middle Ages, many German words have been incorporated into the language due to the large numbers of German speakers in the cities. In the 16th century, Czech and since the 18th century words from the French language were added. Polish has become a unitary language that has supplanted almost all dialects.

Only in the Carpathians, through the Górals, and in Kashubia, in the lake district southwest of Gdansk, are dialects still spoken that deviate from Polish to such an extent that they are difficult to understand even for the Poles. In Silesia, Polish is spoken that seems strongly influenced by German.

Approx. About 200,000 Kashubs live 100 km southwest of Gdansk. Their dialect, Kashubian, is all that remains of Pomeranian, a West Slavic language, as are Polish and Czech. A related dialect is Slowinsky, which is still spoken by a few scattered communities. The related Polabian became extinct in the 18th century.

The alphabet consists of 32 letters in Latin script with a number of diacritics. In contrast to English, Polish is strongly inflected and there are no fewer than seven cases. Furthermore, Polish has a number of difficult conjugations which make the grammar very similar to Latin.

The Polish language does not know articles and in Polish the stress in a word almost always falls on the penultimate syllable. Reproduction of typical Polish sounds also includes the accumulation of some consonants such as in the name of the city of Szczecin.

Some words and phrases:

Religion

General

About 97% of the population is Roman Catholic. Approx. 1.5% belong to the Russian Orthodox Church and 0.5% are Protestants, most of whom are Lutherans. There are also about 80,000 Old Catholics. Most church buildings of the Russian Orthodox are found in the east of the country.

The number of Jews, 10% of the population in 1939, was only 1,300 in 1993.
< br />With Christianization in 966, Poland became the easternmost Catholic country in Europe and a close bond between church and state developed. It was remarkable that in the many wars that the Poles fought, religion hardly played a role. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Poland was also spared bloody religious disputes.
The Roman Catholic Church in Poland is organized in the archdioceses of Gniezno, Krakow, Poznan, Warsaw and Wroclaw, plus two archdioceses outside Polish territory, Lwow and Vilnius, and 21 dioceses. The Primate of Poland is the Archbishop of Warsaw and Gniezno (the oldest diocese). During the communist regime, the church thrived against oppression. In 1950, 1956 and 1972, church and state signed agreements, whereby the church accepted the regime and the state gave guarantees for ecclesiastical administration and Catholic education.
After the overthrow of communism, the separation of church and state is still not nearly as self-evident as in many other countries. On the contrary, the influence of the Catholic Church is still enormous in Poland in the social sphere as well.

The visit of Pope John Paul II to his homeland in June 1979 strengthened the position of the Church in relation to the government. In May 1989 a new agreement was reached whereby the church was fully legally recognized. The accord established the independence of the church and freedom of religion. In addition, the Church was entitled to its own schools and media.
His visit to Poland in June 1979 was of great importance to the population and society in general. It made the people aware of the power of the masses and the Polish question was once again brought to international attention. Wojtyla's election as Pope in 1978 also provided tremendous support for the opposition, especially the trade union "Solidarity". The Church also helped many political prisoners and their families, and many clergy took an active part in the resistance. That the government was completely out of touch with the position of the Church was evident when the popular Warsaw opposition priest Jerzy Popieluszko was murdered in 1994 by members of the Polish security service.

Church life in Catholic Poland is still alive and kicking and Sunday masses are often packed. Baptism, Communion and Confirmation are still the highlights of most Poles' lives. Catholic holidays and pilgrimages continue to be extremely popular.

Most of the traditions and customs in Poland are linked to the Christian holidays.
A famous example of the intense religious experience of the Poles is the annual pilgrimage held in August to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, even considered the symbolic queen of Poland. This 14th-century image attracts 1.5 million worshipers and tourists every year. The ten-day pilgrimage tour starts in Warsaw and finally ends in Czetochowa. Another pilgrimage destination is the “Polish Calvary Mountains”, with as accurate as possible recreations of the mountain in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

John Paul II

Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice on May 18, 1920 and died on April 2, 2005 at the age of 84. On October 16, 1978, the then Archbishop of Kraków was elected Pope John Paul II. He was the first non-Italian leader of the Catholic Church since 1523.

Society

State structure

Under the new 1997 Constitution, Poland is a parliamentary democracy, in which state power is decentralized and the rights of individual citizens are strengthened.
The powers of the president have been diminished in favor of parliament and government. The highest body is the Sejm, the parliament, with 460 seats. In addition, the Senate was re-introduced in June 1989 with 100 seats. The Senate has the right of amendment, but amendments can be stopped by the Sejm with a two-thirds majority.
The members of the Sejm are elected once every four years on the basis of proportionality.

The president is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces and is directly elected once every five years. He can dissolve parliament under certain circumstances, such as if the Sejm does not approve the state budget within four months of reading. He can also block parliamentary legislation with a presidential veto that can be overturned with a majority in both houses of parliament. For the current political situation see chapter history.

Administrative division

Since 1999, Poland has been administratively divided into 16 provinces, which replace the 49 wojewodztwa from 1975. The then existing structures were replaced by self-government on three levels: regional level (voivodships), district level (315 powiats), and municipal level (gminas). Regional self-government takes place through regional governors (voivods), who are appointed by the central government, and newly elected regional councils (sejmiks). The responsibility for developing and implementing regional economic policy rests with the sejmiks, who have independent legal personality and their own budget.
The provision of government services is the responsibility of the districts or powiats.
At municipal level, the 2,489 gminas have been given new budgetary resources and powers to tax in order to provide the main services.

Membership in international organizations

Poland is a member of the United Nations, the WTO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Poland has also been a member of NATO since March 1999 and the European Union since 2004.

Education

The Polish education can be divided as follows:

Kindergarten
Primary education class 1 to 6
Gimnasium class 7 to 9
Liceum class 10 to 12
'Technikum' class 10 to 13
Vocational education lasts 2 to 3 years
HBO/University

Regarding the pre-school period there are “kindergarten” and preschool sections of primary schools for children between three and six years old.

Primary and secondary education between seven and sixteen years old is compulsory and free. Pupils take a kind of exam every year before they are allowed to go to the next group. A general certificate must also be obtained in order to be able to attend further courses. These courses are also free and are given in general schools and vocational training courses. Figures from the 1997-1998 school year show that 96-98% of secondary school students choose another course of study, of which 30% went to general schools and 20% to vocational courses. can walk.

Approx. 20% of the students go to higher education. There are 178 general universities, technical universities and colleges. Often an entrance exam must be passed. State universities offer four to five and a half year courses, while private institutes also offer three-year courses.

In 1998, Polish education developed positively. The reform, which started in September 1999, is mainly aimed at raising the general level of education. Poland has opted for a secondary education system that places a stronger emphasis than before on general technical education and higher education in order to improve the mobility of school-leavers in the labor market
Vocational training is a bit poor as a result of this reform which mainly is on general and higher education.

Economy

General

After the Second World War, Poland concentrated completely on the economic model of the Soviet Union. Banks and large companies were nationalized and large land holdings were discontinued. Only the smaller farms and the service sector remained in private hands. The standard of living remained very low for a long time, but Poland gradually changed from a predominantly agricultural to an industrialized country. In 1995, 22% of the labor force worked in agriculture, 32% in industry and 46% in trade and services.

The private sector currently employs 65% of the Polish labor force. The regional differences in unemployment are large. Urban areas such as Warsaw, Krakow and Poznan have a low unemployment rate. In 2017, the unemployment rate for the whole of Poland was 4.9%.

Between 1980 and 1995, the gross national product (GNP) per capita increased by an average of 2.4% per year. Poland has also suffered from the economic crisis. In recent years (2011, 2012 and 2013) the growth was 4.5%, 1.9% and 1.3% respectively. In 2017, economic growth was 4.7% In absolute terms, however, GDP is not very high ($ 29,600 per capita in 2017).

After joining the European Union in 2004, Poland left the CEFTA. The Cefta had concluded an agreement on mutual trade with Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and Czech Republic .

Agriculture, livestock and fishing

Large landholdings were abolished after the communist takeover, that is, land holdings above 50 ha (100 ha in the newly acquired western areas). Initially the smaller private companies were left alone, but after 1949 attempts were made to induce farmers to merge their holdings into collective farms or to form cooperations.
In an attempt to gain more control over the agricultural sector the so-called agricultural circles were established: institutions that rent out agricultural machines, act as a joint purchasing agency for private farmers and organize community life in the countryside. Private ownership in the agricultural sector has always dominated during the communist period (between 75 and 85% of the total agricultural area). The state farms were closed in October 1991.
Of the current 2 million agricultural businesses, approximately 95% are privately owned. The 0.5 million farmers of those companies were free to start their own business. The average private company had an area of 1-10 ha in 2013 and the average agricultural company is only 7 ha. Unemployment in agriculture, especially in the North and Northeast, has been rising quite rapidly. The entire agricultural sector makes only a limited contribution to GDP (2.4% in 2017).
In addition to cereals (wheat, rye, barley and oats), Poland traditionally produces a lot of potatoes and sugar beets.

Livestock farming mainly consists of cattle and pig farming. Lack of animal feed and poor infrastructure are the main barriers to growth in this sector. As a result, intensive livestock farming has decreased considerably, especially the number of sheep and cattle. The least affected is pork production.

Fishing in the Baltic Sea and beyond is carried out by a large fishing fleet. Cod and herring are the main products.

Industry

Most of the industry is located in the south of the country, with Upper Silesia as the center of gravity. (metal, electrical, chemical and woodworking industry). Major industrial cities are also Lódz (chemical industry and especially textiles), Warsaw (tool and machine construction, textiles, building materials), Poznan (machine construction, cellulose, building materials, textiles) and Gdansk (ship and machine construction).

Chemistry and plastics

The chemical sector is important to the economy and a lot of foreign capital is needed to renew this industry. EU legislation prescribes strict environmental requirements and requires additional investment.
Companies produced rubber and plastic articles, chemicals, chemical products and synthetic fibers. More than 600 companies are owned by foreign investors.

Service sector

Polish banks and other financial institutions still show a number of weaknesses, including inefficient organization, a limited range of modern services and inexperienced management. Credit cards and online banking are becoming increasingly popular in Poland.
Further liberalization will lead to a further restructuring of the Polish banking sector, something which has also been agreed in an agreement between the EU and Poland. Many foreign banks have also established themselves in Poland.
The insurance sector has since been fully privatized. The largest player in the insurance market is the former state insurance company PZU with a market share of 60%. Since 1999, foreign insurance companies have been allowed to operate on the Polish market.

ICT sector

Internet usage among private and business users has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Telecommunications is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Polish economy. Since the 1990s, the highly outdated telecommunications network, which suffers from capacity problems, has been modernized and expanded. The number of mobile connections is on the rise.

Machine industry

The machine industry in Poland mainly consists of machines for the packaging industry, agriculture, machine tools, woodworking equipment and construction and infrastructure. This industry is currently undergoing major changes, with well-known foreign companies such as Siemens, Danfoss and Bosch playing a major role. They have invested more than 1 billion euros in recent years alone.

The Poles generally make excellent products but even they are already facing competition from the really low-wage countries. Many second-hand parts and machines are also imported, which means that the domestic demand for these products is declining. Due to the growth of the construction sector and the restructuring of factories, this Polish industry can survive.

Metal industry

After the communist era, the Polish metal sector was one of the first industries to be restructured. In a short time this had huge consequences for employment in the sector. In 1998 there were still 592,000 people working in the metal industry, compared to only 38,000 in 2001.
Approx. 50,000 jobs were moved to sectors outside the steel sector.
The metal sector has three sub-sectors: metal products, machine and equipment industry and base metals. The metal products industry is growing fastest with approximately 41,000 mostly small companies in the south of Poland.
The largest turnover in this total sector is achieved by the basic metal industry. The ten largest blast furnaces account for 58% of the turnover in this sub-sector.

Mining

Poland is rich in minerals, including coal and lignite. Coal is mined in Upper Silesia, Lower Silesia and the Lublin Basin. The stocks of coal are enormous, about 65 billion tons. The vast majority of the energy is still generated by coal, which incidentally has an excellent quality.
Due to the deeper layers of coal, mining is becoming increasingly difficult and the installations are also outdated. As a result, coal extraction is currently loss-making and a large-scale remediation of the mines is being worked on.
The country also has rich copper, zinc and sulfur reserves. Iron ore, gas and petroleum are also extracted, but insufficiently exploited to meet Poland's own needs.

Construction and infrastructure

Since 1989, the Polish construction market has been interesting for foreign investors due to the many overdue maintenance and the lack of investments in the past. The Polish construction market will be one of the fastest growing markets in Europe in the coming years.
There are more than 300,000 companies active in the construction industry and the sector employs nearly 1 million people. Less than 1% of companies employ more than 100 employees, but they are responsible for more than 30% of total industry sales.
Major foreign investors are from Germany, France, Austria and The Netherlands.

Poland's infrastructure is not that great yet. The state of maintenance of the more than 350,000 kilometer long road network is only 15% good, 50% reasonable and 35% bad.
The modernization and expansion of the railways, the sea and airport will also cost many billions. Since 2000, Poland can count on EUR 120 million annually from the EU for the development of the road network.

Food processing industry

This sector is very important for Poland, because it is responsible for about a quarter of the total industrial production. Over the past ten years, EUR 5.7 billion has been invested by mainly foreign companies.
These include big names such as Heineken (with a 32% market share in the beer market), Coca Cola, Philip Morris, Nestlé, Pepsico and Farm Frites. Major retail chains from Western Europe already have a market share of 30%, and it is expected that this will rise to 50% in the not too distant future.

Within the EU, Germany and the Netherlands are the largest exporter of food to Poland. Germany is also the largest food importer from Poland.

Energy

The majority (97%) of Polish electricity is generated by coal and lignite-fired power stations. The rest of the energy is generated by hydroelectric power stations. In recent years, coal production has exceeded 100 million tons and lignite production has amounted to approximately 60 million tons. A major disadvantage of the fired power plants is the air pollution they cause in Poland. Green energy is slowly starting to emerge, such as wind energy. Electricity is imported from Germany, Belarus and the Ukraine, among others.

The petroleum drilled into the Baltic Sea appears to be still limited and the refining and processing facilities for oil are still limited. In urgent need of modernization.

Poland is still highly dependent on Russia for natural gas (90% comes from that country). In 2001 contracts were signed with a Danish and a Norwegian company to reduce dependence on Russia.

Trade

Poland has a trade deficit. Main exports are coal, chemicals and food. Imports include machinery, petroleum, chemical products and foodstuffs. Main trading partner is Germany and further Italy, Russia, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France.

Banking

As of 31 Dec. 1989, the entire banking system was reorganized. As a result, the National Bank of Poland became independent from the government and was given extensive powers over the exchange rate and the level of interest. After 1989 the number of commercial banks has grown explosively. From that year onwards, a number of banks, wholly or partly privately owned, were established. The Warsaw Stock Exchange was opened in 1991.

Traffic

The development of the railway network has lagged behind economic growth. Less than half of the total network (almost 25,000 km) is electrified. The road network is quite good these days.
The merchant fleet consists of about 600 ships (excluding the fishing fleet). The main sea ports are Szczecin, Gdynia and Gdansk.
Warsaw has an international airport. The national airline is the Polskie Linie Lotnicze (LOT).

Holidays and Sightseeing

The tourism sector has grown significantly. In 2000, Poland was visited by 84.5 million foreigners, of which more than 17 million as tourists. There is still a serious shortage of mid-range accommodation.
International hotel chains are mainly located in the capital Warsaw and most tourist accommodations are located on the coast from the Baltic Sea, in the mountain regions and in the Mazoeri Lake District.
Many Western investors are already active in Poland.

Warsaw is the capital of Poland. After the Second World War, Warsaw's historic center, Stare Miasto, was restored with great care. This was done so well that it has been fully included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The old city district therefore forms démain landmark of Warsaw. The centerpiece of Stare Miasto is the old market square. Definitely recommended to visit are the Royal Castle, the well-preserved Barbican (original Warsaw city walls) and St. John's Cathedral. read more on the Warsaw page of countries web.

Krakow is a must for tourists visiting Poland and has numerous world-class monuments, charming views, a lovely atmosphere and excellent restaurants. You will find amazing historical monuments, the entire old town is under UNESCO's World Heritage protection. There is a separate page from landenweb.com about Krakow

Lódz is a big city, full of life and picturesque Art Nouveau buildings . Although the city is not quite a tourist destination, many people come here for its rich film history, as the city is home to leading Polish film studios and a famous film academy, known throughout Europe. Here you will also find the Museum of Modern Art with works of art by famous artists such as Chagall, Picasso, Adler, Vantongerlo, Leger and some modern artists from Poland, such as Hiler, Witkiewish and Czyzewski. Read more on the Lodz page of the countries web.

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Sources

Dydynski, K. / Poland
Lonely Planet

Hus, M. / Polen
ANWB media,

Wijnands, S. / Polen
Gottmer,

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated October 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb