Country in Central Europe
Top 10 Poland related articles
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Geography
- 4 Government and politics
- 5 Economy
- 6 Demographics
- 7 Culture
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Republic of Poland
Rzeczpospolita Polska (Polish)
Anthem: "Mazurek Dąbrowskiego"
(English: "Poland Is Not Yet Lost")
and largest city
|14 April 966|
|18 April 1025|
|1 July 1569|
|24 October 1795|
|11 November 1918|
|17 September 1939|
|19 February 1947|
|31 December 1989|
|312,696 km2 (120,733 sq mi)[b] (69th)|
• Water (%)
|1.48 (as of 2015)|
• 2020 estimate
|123/km2 (318.6/sq mi) (83rd)|
|GDP (PPP)||2020 estimate|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2020 estimate|
• Per capita
very high · 35th
|Time zone||UTC+1 (CET)|
• Summer (DST)
|Date format||dd/mm/yyyy (CE)|
|ISO 3166 code||PL|
Poland (Polish: Polska [ˈpɔlska] (
Poland's topographically diverse territory extends from the beaches along the Baltic Sea in the north to the Sudetes and Carpathian Mountains in its south. The country is bordered by Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia to the northeast, Belarus and Ukraine to the east, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the south, and Germany to the west.
The history of human activity on Polish soil spans thousands of years. Throughout the late antiquity period it became extensively diverse, with various cultures and tribes settling on the vast Central European Plain. However, it was the Western Polans who dominated the region and gave Poland its name. The establishment of Polish statehood can be traced to 966, when the pagan ruler of a realm coextensive with the territory of present-day Poland embraced Christianity and converted to Catholicism. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented its longstanding political association with Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin. This union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest (over 1,000,000 square kilometres – 400,000 square miles) and most populous nations of 16th and 17th century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system which adopted Europe's first modern constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.
With the passing of prominence and prosperity, the country was partitioned by neighbouring states at the end of the 18th century, and regained independence in 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles. After a series of territorial conflicts, the new multi-ethnic Poland restored its position as a key player in European politics. In September 1939, World War II began with the invasion of Poland by Germany, followed by the Soviets invading Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Approximately six million Polish citizens, including three million of the country's Jews, perished during the course of the war. As a member of the Eastern Bloc, the Polish People's Republic proclaimed forthwith was a chief signatory of the Warsaw Treaty amidst global Cold War tensions. In the wake of the 1989 events, notably through the emergence and contributions of the Solidarity movement, the communist government was dissolved and Poland re-established itself as a semi-presidential democratic republic.
Poland is a developed market and a regional power in Central Europe; it has the sixth largest economy in the European Union by nominal GDP and the fifth largest by GDP (PPP). It provides very high standards of living, safety and economic freedom, as well as free university education and a universal health care system in accordance with EU standards. The country has 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 15 of which are cultural. Poland is a member state of the Schengen Area, the United Nations, NATO, the OECD, the Three Seas Initiative and the Visegrád Group.
Poland Intro articles: 121
The origin of the name "Poland" derives from the West Slavic tribe of Polans (Polanie), who inhabited the Warta river basin of the present-day Greater Poland region starting in the mid-6th century. The origin of the name Polanie itself derives from the Proto-Slavic word pole (field). In some languages, such as Hungarian, Lithuanian, Persian, Russian and Turkish, the country's name is derived from the Lendians (Lędzianie or Lachy) who dwelled on the southeasternmost edge of present-day Lesser Poland. Their name likewise derives from the Old Polish word lęda (open land or plain).
Poland Etymology articles: 8
Prehistory and protohistory
The early Bronze Age in Poland began around 2400 BC, while the Iron Age commenced in approximately 750 BC. During this time, the Lusatian culture, spanning both the Bronze and Iron Ages, became particularly prominent. The most famous archaeological find from the prehistory and protohistory of Poland is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as an open-air museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the late Bronze Age, around 748 BC.
Throughout the Antiquity period, many distinct ancient ethnic groups populated the regions of what is now Poland in an era that dates from about 400 BC to 500 AD. These groups are identified as Celtic, Scythian, Germanic, Sarmatian, Slavic and Baltic tribes. Also, recent archeological findings in the Kuyavia region confirmed the presence of the Roman Legions on the territory of Poland. These were most likely expeditionary missions sent out to protect the amber trade. The exact time and routes of the original migration and settlement of Slavic peoples lacks written records and can only be defined as fragmented. The Slavic tribes who settled the territory of modern Poland migrated to the region in the 6th century AD. Up until the creation of Mieszko's state and his subsequent conversion to Christianity in 966 AD, the main religion of the numerous West Slavic (Lechitic) tribes that inhabited the geographical area of present-day Poland was paganism. With the Baptism of Poland the Polish rulers accepted Western Christianity and the religious authority of the Roman Church. However, the transition from paganism was not a smooth and instantaneous process for the rest of the population as evident from the pagan reaction of the 1030s.
Poland 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 Christianity, as the rightful religion of his realm, under the auspices of the Latin Church with the Baptism of Poland in 966. 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, and Wrocław. However, the pagan unrest led to the transfer of the capital to Kraków in 1038 by Casimir I the Restorer.
In 1109, Prince Bolesław III Wrymouth defeated the King of Germany Henry V at the Battle of Hundsfeld, stopping the German incursion into Poland. The clash between Bolesław III and Henry V was documented by Gallus Anonymus in his 1118 chronicle. In 1138, Poland fragmented into several smaller duchies when Bolesław 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 that led to centuries of warfare with the Knights. In 1264, the Statute of Kalisz or the General Charter of Jewish Liberties introduced numerous right for the Jews in Poland, leading to a nearly autonomous "nation within a nation".
In the middle of the 13th century, the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty (Henry I the Bearded and Henry II the Pious, ruled 1238–1241) nearly succeeded in uniting the Polish lands, but the Mongols invaded the country from the east and defeated the combined Polish forces at the Battle of Legnica where Duke Henry II the Pious died. 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 for improving the country's infrastructure. He also extended royal protection to Jews, and encouraged their immigration to Poland. 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 create 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 a series of concessions to the nobility and establishing their legal status as superior to that of the townsfolk. When Casimir the Great died in 1370, leaving no legitimate male heir, the Piast dynasty came to an end.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Poland became a destination for German, Flemish and to a lesser extent Walloon, Danish and Scottish migrants. Also, Jews and Armenians began to settle and flourish in Poland during this era (see History of the Jews in Poland and Armenians in Poland).
The Black Death, a plague that ravaged Europe from 1347 to 1351, did not significantly affect Poland, and the country was spared from a major outbreak of the disease. The reason for this was the decision of Casimir the Great to quarantine the nation's borders.
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 Lithuanian-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 the struggle of Poland and Lithuania with the Teutonic Knights continued and culminated at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, where a combined Polish-Lithuanian army inflicted a decisive victory against them. In 1466, after the Thirteen Years' War, King Casimir IV Jagiellon gave royal consent to the Peace of Thorn, which created the future Duchy of Prussia under Polish suzerainty. The Jagiellon dynasty 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-Lithuania one million of its population between the years of 1494 and 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. This tolerance allowed the country to avoid most of the religious turmoil that spread over Europe during the 16th century.
The European Renaissance evoked in late Jagiellon Poland (under kings Sigismund I the Old and Sigismund II Augustus) a sense of urgency in the need to promote a cultural awakening, and during this period Polish culture and the nation's economy flourished. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, an astronomer from Toruń, published his epochal work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) and thereby became the first proponent of a predictive mathematical model confirming the heliocentric theory, which became the accepted basic model for the practice of modern astronomy. Another major figure associated with the era is the classicist poet Jan Kochanowski.
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 Warsaw Confederation (1573) guaranteed religious freedom for the Polish nobility (szlachta) and townsfolk (mieszczanie). However, the peasants (chłopi) were still subject to severe limitations imposed on them by the nobility. The establishment of the Commonwealth coincided with a period of stability and prosperity in Poland, with the union thereafter becoming a 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 into areas of modern-day Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Poland 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, a Polish army under the command of Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski seized Moscow after winning the Battle of Klushino. In 1611, the Tsar of Russia paid homage to the King of Poland.
After the signing of Truce of Deulino, Poland had in the years 1618–1621 an area of about 1 million km2 (390,000 sq mi).
From the middle of the 17th century, the nobles' democracy, suffering from internal disorder, gradually declined, thereby leaving the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention. Starting in 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 of Poland, which marched through the Polish heartlands and ruined the country's population, culture and infrastructure—around four million of Poland's eleven million inhabitants died in famines and epidemics throughout the 17th century. However, under John III Sobieski the Commonwealth's military prowess was re-established, and in 1683 Polish forces played a major role in the Battle of Vienna against the Ottoman Army, commanded by Kara Mustafa, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire.
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 Rebellion 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 urban population increased.
The royal election of 1764 resulted in the elevation of Stanisław II August (a Polish aristocrat connected to the Czartoryski family faction of magnates) to the monarchy. However, as a one-time personal admirer 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 political relationship with his Russian sponsor. This led to the formation of the 1768 Bar Confederation, a szlachta rebellion directed against the Polish king and his Russian sponsors, which aimed 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 Prussia, Russia and Austria 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. Corporal punishment of children was officially prohibited in 1783.
The Great Sejm convened by Stanisław II 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 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 18-century British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke summed up the partitions: "No wise or honest man can approve of that partition, or can contemplate it without prognosticating great mischief from it to all countries at some future time."
Era of insurrections
Poles rebelled several times against the partitioners, particularly near the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. An unsuccessful attempt at defending Poland's sovereignty took place in 1794 during the Kościuszko Uprising, where a popular and distinguished general Tadeusz Kościuszko, who had several years earlier served under Washington in the American Revolutionary War, led Polish insurrectionists against numerically superior Russian forces. Despite the victory at the Battle of Racławice, his ultimate defeat ended Poland's independent existence for 123 years.
In 1807, Napoleon I of France temporarily recreated a Polish state as the satellite Duchy of Warsaw, after a successful Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 against Prussian rule. But, after the failed Napoleonic Wars, Poland was again split between the victorious powers at the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The eastern part was ruled by the Russian tsar as Congress Poland, which had a liberal constitution. However, over time the Russian monarch reduced Polish freedoms, and Russia annexed the country in virtually all but name. Meanwhile, the Prussian controlled territory of Poland came under increased Germanization. Thus, in the 19th century, only Habsburg-ruled Austrian Poland, and particularly the Free City of Kraków, allowed free Polish culture 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. In 1830, the November Uprising began in Warsaw when, led by Lieutenant Piotr Wysocki, young non-commissioned officers at the Officer Cadet School in Warsaw 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 Prussia and there laid down their arms. After the defeat, the semi-independent Congress Poland lost its constitution, army and legislative assembly, and was integrated more closely with the Russian Empire.
During the Spring of Nations (a series of revolutions which swept across Europe), Poles took up arms in the Greater Poland Uprising of 1848 to resist Prussian rule. Initially, the uprising manifested itself in the form of civil disobedience but eventually turned into an armed struggle when the Prussian military was sent in to pacify the region. Eventually, after several battles the uprising was suppressed by the Prussians, and the Grand Duchy of Posen was more completely incorporated into Prussia.
In 1863, a new Polish uprising against Russian rule began. The January Uprising started out 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 and 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. Congress Poland was rapidly industrialised towards the end of the 19th century, and successively transformed into the Empire's wealthiest and most developed subject.
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 Greater Poland, Silesia and Eastern Pomerania controlled by Prussia (later becoming a part of the German Empire); areas which eventually, thanks largely to the Greater Poland Uprising of 1918 and Silesian Uprisings, were reconstituted as a part of the Second Polish Republic, becoming the country's most prosperous regions.
Second Polish Republic
Following 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 (1919–21) 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. 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 Ignacy Paderewski (who would later become prime minister) returned home to help; a significant 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 a painter and right-wing nationalist Eligiusz Niewiadomski.
In 1926, a May coup, led by the hero of the Polish independence campaign Marshal Józef Piłsudski, turned rule of the Second Polish Republic over to the nonpartisan Sanacja (Healing) movement in an effort to prevent radical political organizations on both the left and the right from destabilizing the country.[d] The movement functioned with relative stability until Piłsudski's death in 1935. Following Marshall Piłsudski's death, Sanation split into several competing factions. By the late 1930s, due to increased threats posed by political extremism inside the country, the Polish government became increasingly heavy-handed, banning a number of radical organizations, including communist and ultra-nationalist political parties, which threatened the stability of the country.
As a subsequent result of the Munich Agreement in 1938, Czechoslovakia ceded to Poland the small 350 sq mi Zaolzie region. The area was a point of contention between the Polish and Czechoslovak governments in the past and the two countries fought a brief seven-day war over it in 1919.
World War II
World War II began with the Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, followed by the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September. On 28 September 1939, Warsaw fell. As agreed in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Poland was split into two zones, one occupied by Nazi Germany, the other by the Soviet Union. In 1939–41, the Soviets deported hundreds of thousands of Poles. The Soviet NKVD executed thousands of Polish prisoners of war (inter alia Katyn massacre) ahead of the Operation Barbarossa. German planners had in November 1939 called for "the complete destruction of all Poles" and their fate as outlined in the genocidal Generalplan Ost.
Polish intelligence operatives proved extremely valuable to the Allies, providing much of the intelligence from Europe and beyond, and Polish code breakers were responsible for cracking the Enigma cypher.[e]
Poland made the fourth-largest troop contribution in Europe[f] and its troops served both the Polish Government in Exile in the west and Soviet leadership in the east. Polish troops played an important role in the Normandy, Italian and North African Campaigns and are particularly remembered for the Battle of Monte Cassino. In the east, the Soviet-backed Polish 1st Army distinguished itself in the battles for Warsaw and Berlin.
The wartime resistance movement, and the Armia Krajowa (Home Army), fought against German occupation. It was one of the three largest resistance movements of the entire war,[g] and encompassed a range of clandestine activities, which functioned as an underground state complete with degree-awarding universities and a court system. The resistance was loyal to the exiled government and generally resented the idea of a communist Poland; for this reason, in the summer of 1944 it initiated Operation Tempest, of which the Warsaw Uprising that begun on 1 August 1944 is the best known operation.
Nazi German forces under orders from Adolf Hitler set up six German extermination camps in occupied Poland, including Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz. The Germans transported millions of Jews from across occupied Europe to be murdered in those camps.
Altogether, 3 million Polish Jews – approximately 90% of Poland's pre-war Jewry – and between 1.8 and 2.8 million ethnic Poles were killed during the German occupation of Poland, including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish intelligentsia – academics, doctors, lawyers, nobility and priesthood. During the Warsaw Uprising alone, over 150,000 Polish civilians were killed, most were murdered by the Germans during the Wola and Ochota massacres. Around 150,000 Polish civilians were killed by Soviets between 1939 and 1941 during the Soviet Union's occupation of eastern Poland (Kresy), and another estimated 100,000 Poles were murdered by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) between 1943 and 1944 in what became known as the Wołyń Massacres. Of all the countries in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: around 6 million perished – more than one-sixth of Poland's pre-war population – half of them Polish Jews. About 90% of deaths were non-military in nature.
In 1945, Poland's borders were shifted westwards. Over two million Polish inhabitants of Kresy were expelled along the Curzon Line by Stalin. The western border became 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 other people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews.
At 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. This action 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 influence over Poland was met with armed resistance from the outset which continued into the 1950s.
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. In the European scene, it came to characterize the full-fledged integration of Poland into the brotherhood of communist nations.
The new communist government took control with the adoption of the Small Constitution on 19 February 1947. The Polish People's Republic (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. Collectivization in the Polish People's Republic failed. 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 Eastern 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.
1990s to 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 other post-communist countries, Poland suffered declines 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 thanks largely to its booming economy.
Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in human rights, such as freedom of speech, internet freedom (no censorship), civil liberties (1st class) and political rights (1st class), as ranked by Freedom House non-governmental organization. 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, a section of Poland's eastern border now constitutes the external EU border with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. That border 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.
In an effort to strengthen military cooperation with its neighbors, Poland set up the Visegrád Battlegroup with Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, with a total of 3,000 troops ready for deployment. Also, in eastern Poland, it formed the LITPOLUKRBRIG battle groups with Lithuania and Ukraine. These battle groups will operate outside of NATO and within the European defense initiative framework.
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 was on their way to attend an annual service of commemoration for the victims of the Katyń massacre when the tragedy took place.
In 2011, the ruling Civic Platform won parliamentary elections. Poland joined the European Space Agency in 2012, as well as organised the UEFA Euro 2012 (along with Ukraine). In 2013, Poland also became a member of the Development Assistance Committee. In 2014, the Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, was chosen to be President of the European Council, and resigned as prime minister. The 2015 and 2019 elections were won by the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), resulting in increased friction between Poland and the EU. President Andrzej Duda was narrowly re-elected in the 2020 presidential election.