Poland unforgettable memories

History and Today


Poland is a country of over thousand-year-old history best known in the world for the all-nation SOLIDARITY movement. Thanks to the SOLIDARITY Poland was the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to liberate itself from communism. Poland was also the first country to put up armed resistance to Nazi aggression in 1939.

Poland began to form its unitary and territorial entity in the 10th century under the Piast dynasty. The first historically documented leader Mieszko I, was baptized in 966 and this date is regarded as the beginning of the Polish nation. Catholic Christianity was then approved as the nation's official religion. However, throughout its history Poland was a very tolerant country. For example: the royal edicts guaranteeing Jewish safety and religious freedom, issued during the 13th century saved thousands of Jews, especially during the persecution intensified following the Black Death of 1348-1349, when some in the West blamed the outbreak of the plague on the Jews. The Black Death didn't reach Poland to the extend as it touched Europe. By the mid -16th century 80% of the world's Jews lived in Poland.

The next dynasty (Jagiellonian) ruled Poland in the years 1385 - 1569. The Jagiellonian era was dominated by the union of Poland with Lithuania. Polish queen Jadwiga married Jogaila, the pagan grand duke of Lithuania, who, after being baptized, became king of Poland under the name of Władysław II. The united country proved to be one of the most powerful empires in Europe for the next three centuries. In 1410, in the battle of Grunwald, a Polish - Lithuanian army defeated their common enemy, the Teutonic Knights. After the Thirteen Years' War (1454 - 1466) the Knight's state became a Polish vassal.

In 1569 in Lublin, Poland and Lithuania signed a treaty which created a single state, the largest in Europe, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569 - 1795). The state was ruled by a single elected monarch who governed with a common Senate and parliament (Sejm). In the times when absolute monarchies were gaining power in Europe the Polish quasi-democratic political system was unprecedented in the history of the old continent. The system called the Noble's democracy was a precursor of modern democracy and federation as well as the constitutional monarchy. Each elected king had to subscribe to King Henry's Articles which guaranteed religious freedom, free elections, the right of szlachta (the nobles) to form a legal rebellion against a king who violated their guaranteed freedoms. The king was a partner with the nobles and was constantly supervised by the senators.

The Commonwealth became Europe's foremost supplier of grain, which was shipped abroad from the Baltic port of Gdańsk.

From the 16th until the 18th century Poland suffered from permanent Tatar invasions. During that time about 3 million people were captured and enslaved by the Tatars. In the mid 17th century a Swedish invasion (called The Deluge) and Cossac's Chmielnicki Uprising destroyed the country and put an end to the golden age of Poland.

The Commonwealth's most famous achievement was a great victory over the Ottoman Empire in 1683 when king Jan III Sobieski defeated the Turks and drove them from the gates of Vienna with famous Polish heavy cavalry. In this way Europe was saved from the danger of Ottoman predominance.

The 18th century brought the decline of Polish splendour. Great freedom gained by the noble class changed into anarchy and the elected kings of alien origin were inclined to subordinate the interests of the Commonwealth to those of their own country and ruling house. The neighbouring superpowers made use of this situation which led to the partitions of Poland. The first partition of the country took place in 1772. The occupation manifesto was signed by Prussia, Austria and Russia. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lost about 30% of its territory.

However, Poles tried to save the country by reforming its economical and political systems during the Four Year Sejm (Great Sejm 1788 - 1792). In 1791 Sejm passed the Constitution of May 3, the world's second modern constitution (the first was the USA Constitution of 1776). Unfortunately the reforms instituted by the Great Sejm were annulled by the Targowica Confederation and the intervention of the Russian Empire. Finally the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned by its neighbors (1793 and 1795) and erased from the map.

The occupation lasted 123 years and it was the time of Russification and Germanization of the non-existing country. Polish poets, artists, writers, politicians, noblemen, many of whom were forced to emigrate (thus the term Great Emigration) became the revolutionaries of the 19th century. They organized three risings, in 1794, 1830 and 1863, all severely crushed by the occupants with serious punishments for the participants. Polish legions fought alongside Napoleon under the slogan of For our freedom and yours. Poles participated in the Spring of Nations (particularly Hungarian Revolution (1848)).

Only after the World War I, on November 11, 1918, in Warsaw, Józef Piłsudski, was appointed Commander in Chief of Polish forces by the Regency Council and was entrusted with creating a national government for the newly independent country (created on the basis of the Treaty of Versailles). On that very day (November 11, 1918, which would become Poland's Independence Day), he proclaimed an independent Polish state, the Second Polish Republic.

Already in the first years of its existence a young Polish nation had to fight a battle to defend its independence. Lenin perceived Poland as the bridge that the Red Army would have to cross in order to conduct other European revolutions. Polish border in the East was not clearly defined and this led to the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, when the Soviet army nearly reached Warsaw. In midsummer 1920, the fall of Warsaw seemed certain but in mid-August the tide had turned again as the Polish forces gained an unexpected and decisive victory at the Battle of Warsaw (called the Miracle at the Vistula, especially as it took place on August 15th - the Assumption Day). After the Polish advance eastward, the Soviets sued for peace and the war ended with an armistice in October 1920. A formal peace treaty, the Peace of Riga, was signed on March 18th, 1921, dividing the disputed territories between Poland and Soviet Russia. The war determined the Soviet-Polish border for the period between the World Wars. According to some historians, the Polish-Soviet War largely determined the course of European history for the next twenty years or more. Soviet leaders abandoned the cause of international revolution. The Polish victory gained twenty years of independence not only for Poland, but at least for entire central Europe.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939 and the Soviet Union followed on September 17th. Warsaw capitulated on September 28th , 1939. As agreed in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Poland was divided into two zones, one occupied by Germany, the other under the control of the Soviet Union. During the WWII Poland lost over 6 million people and it is the highest percentage of citizens (of all the countries involved in the war). Polish troops fought all over the world, which constituted the fourth largest effort, after the Soviets, the British and the Americans. In 1945 Poland's borders were shifted, according to Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agreement, and the new Polish territory appeared 20% smaller than before the war. With the end of World War II Poland fell under the Soviet occupation which lasted until 1989.

Although the name of the country was People's Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa), and it was not officially one of the Soviet republics, most of the time persecution of communist opposition persisted. Labour turmoil and strikes in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" ("Solidarność"), which was an anti-communist social movement and over time became a political force. Its co-founder and leader was Lech Wałęsa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. The government tried to destroy the union by introducing martial law on December 13 th, 1981 which lasted till 1983 and was followed by several years of repression, but in the end it had to start negotiating with the union. By 1989 the Solidarity movement triumphed in parliamentary elections and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa became president of the Polish Republic. Pope John Paul II, (the only Polish pope in history) was a very powerful supporter of the union and was greatly responsible for its success. He is regarded as a direct reason that brought down communism in Eastern Europe. Lech Walesa, confirmed Pope's influence, saying: The Holy Father, through his meetings, demonstrated how numerous we were. He told us not to be afraid. Polish workers were closely associated with the Catholic Church, which can be seen in the photographs taken during strikes in the 1980s. On the walls of several factories, portraits of Virgin Mary or John Paul II were visible. The Solidarity movement brought about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. With the communist government rule overthrown Poland became what is constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic".

During the early 1990s the country transformed its economy into a market economy and became the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels, which it achieved by 1995 due to its booming economy. There were numerous improvements in human rights, such as free speech. In 1991, Poland became a member of the Visegrad Group, in 1996 the OECD member, and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 1999. Poland became a full member of the European Union in 2004, in 2007 entered the Schengen travel area, which means that all EU citizens travel without border controls.

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland

Poland Today


Poland is an example of a parliamentary democratic representative republic. The president is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. Together, president and the government create the executive power. The legislative power is in the hands of the Parliament, which consists of two chambers:

Members of Parliament are elected every four years in the national election and the president - every five years. Since 2005, this seat is occupied by Lech Kaczyński. After each parliamentary election the president designates Prime Minister, who usually comes from the winning party and is obliged to form a new government which must be accepted by the Parliament. The current Prime Minister of Poland is Donald Tusk, the leader of the Civic Platform party (Platforma Obywatelska) which is the major party in Sejm (since 2007).

The basis of the political system are defined in the Polish Constitution which was introduced in 1997.

The foreign citizens who need help in Poland should turn to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw (http://www.msz.gov.pl/) or to the Voivodeship Office in each voivodeship.

List of voivodeships and links to the offices:
and unfortunately not in English (just look for the contact data):