Poland

This article discusses the country of Poland. For other meanings, see Poland (disambiguation)

The Republic of Poland, a country in Central Europe, lies between Germany to the west, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Ukraine and Belarus to the east, and Lithuania and Russia (in the form of the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave) to its north, as well as the Baltic Sea. Its location and accessible terrain has meant that the land has seen many wars fought over it and its borders have shifted considerably over the centuries.

Rzeczpospolita Polska
(In Detail)
National motto: Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna(Polish: God, Honour, Homeland)
Official language Polish
Capital Warsaw
Largest City Warsaw
PresidentAleksander Kwasniewski
Prime ministerLeszek Miller
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 68th
312,685 km˛
2.6%
Population
 - Total (2000)
 - Density
Ranked 30th
38,633,912
123.5/km²
Independence
 - Date
Regained
November 11, 1918
Currency Zloty (PLN)
Time zone UTC +1
National anthem Mazurek Dabrowskiego
Internet TLD.PL
Calling Code48

Table of contents
1 Name
2 History
3 Politics
4 Voivodships
5 Geography
6 Economy
7 Demographics
8 Culture
9 International rankings
10 Miscellaneous topics
11 External Links

Name

The official name of Poland in Polish is "Rzeczpospolita Polska".

"Rzeczpospolita" exactly translates the Latin phrase res publica (republic): "rzecz" -- thing, matter, concern, affair, "pospolita" -- common, i.e., "common matter", "common thing".

The name of the country, "Polska", and the name of the nationality, Poles, come from the Polanes tribe who established the Polish state in the 10th century (Greater Poland). The origin of their name is unknown. It may derive from the word pole = a field, or it may mean the heroes, or it may derive from the tribal name Goplanie - people living around Goplo lake - the cradle of Poland mentioned as Glopeani having 400 strongholds in ca. 845 (Bavarian Geographer).

See: Wiktionary: name 'Poland' translated into other languages

History

Main article: History of Poland

The ancient nation of Poland formed around the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century while it united with Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The citizens of Poland took pride in their ancient freedoms and parliamentary system, though only Szlachta enjoyed their use and benefits (see "The Noble Republic" article). Since that time Poles have regarded freedom as their most important value. Poles often call themselves the Nation of the free people.

In mid-17th century the rebellion of cossacks led by Bohdan Chmielnicki ushered in the turbulent time of The Deluge. Numerous wars against Turkey, Russia, Sweden, Transylvania and Brandenburg-Prussia ultimately in came to an end in 1699. During the following 80 years, the waning of the central government and deadlock of the institutions weakened the nation, leading to dependency on Russia. The Enlightenment in Poland fostered a growing national movement to repair the state, resulting in the first constitution in Europe. The process of reforms ceased with the partitions of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1772, 1793 and 1795 that ultimately completely dissolved Poland. Poles resented their shrinking freedoms and several times rebelled against their oppressors ( see List of Polish Uprisings).

After the Napoleonic wars, a reconstituted Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw, ruled by the Russian tsar as a Congress Kingdom possessed a liberal constitution. However, the Russian tsars soon reduced Polish freedoms and Russia eventually de facto annexed the country. Later in the 19th century, Austrian-ruled Galicia (Eastern Europe) became the Polish oasis of freedom. During World War I all countries agreed on the restitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in point 13 of his Fourteen Points. Shortly after the surrender of Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic. A new threat of Soviet aggression arose in the 1919 (Polish-Soviet War) but Poland succeeded in defending its independence.

This republic lasted until the start of World War II in 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union split Polish territory between them. Poland suffered greatly in this period (see General Government). Among all the nations in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens. Towards the end of the war, the Soviet Union changed from liberators into occupiers and Poland became a Soviet satellite state after the war. Poland's borders shifted westwards; pushing the eastern border to the Curzon line and the western border to the Oder-Neisse line. After the shift Poland emerged smaller by 76 000 km sq or by 20% of its pre-war size. Millions of Polish people, dispossessed of their homes in the east, moved westwards into territory previously held by Germany. From these "new" lands, millions of Germans were expelled.

Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union, called "Solidarity" that became a political force over time. It eroded the dominance of the Communist Party; by 1989 it had triumphed in parliamentary elections, and a Solidarity candidate eventually won the presidency.

A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust (according to the criteria of neoliberal economics) in Central Europe. Despite the regression in levels of social and economic human rights standards, some improvements in other human rights standards occurred. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999.

Following a massive advertising campaign by the government in favour of joining the European Union, Polish voters voted yes to the EU in a referendum in June 2003. Poland will officially join the European Union on 1 May 2004.

Politics

Main article: Politics of Poland

Polish government structure consists of the Council of Ministers led by a prime minister. The president appoints the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minster, typically from the majority coalition in the bicameral legislature's lower house. The president, elected by popular vote every 5 years, serves as the head of state.

The parliament, the National Assembly (Polish Zgromadzenie Narodowe), consisting of 460 members of the Lower House (Sejm) and 100 members of the Senate (Senat), is elected by a majority vote on a provincial basis to serve four-year terms. The current constitution dates from 1997, and stipulates that with the exception of two guaranteed seats for small ethnic parties, only political parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote can enter parliament.

The judicial branch plays a minor role in decision making and its major institutions are the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy) whose judges are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the National Council of the Judiciary for an indefinite period, and the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny), where judges are chosen by the Sejm for nine-year terms.

The Polish Ombudsman or the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) is appointed for a five-year term by the Sejm on approval of the Senate. Ombudsman's duty is to guard observance and implementation of the rights and liberties of the human being and of the citizen, the law and principles of community life and social justice.

Voivodships

Main article: Voivodships of Poland

Poland is divided into 16 administrative regions known as voivodships (województwa, singular - województwo):

Geography

Main article:
Geography of Poland

The Polish landscape consists almost entirely of the lowlands of the North European Plain at an average height of 173 m, though the Carpathian Mountains (including the Tatra mountains) and the Sudeten with its part Karkonosze form the southern border, where one also finds Poland's highest point, the Rysy, at 2,499 m. The plains are crossed by several large rivers, such as the Vistula (Wisla), the Odra, the Warta or the (Western) Bug. Poland also contains over 9,300 lakes, predominantly in the north of the country.

The Polish climate is temperate with cold, cloudy, moderately severe winters with frequent precipitation and mild summers with frequent showers and thundershowers.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Poland

Poland has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalising the economy and today stands out as one of the most successful and open examples of transition from communism to a market economy.

GDP growth had been strong and steady from 1993 to 2000 but fell back in 2001 with slowdowns in domestic investment and consumption. Slow progress during 2001 and 2002, combined with other factors, like a peak in the birth rate 20 years ago, has put the economy at the edge of recession, with about 18% unemployment and increasing wealth disparities. The prospect of closer integration with the European Union has put the economy back on track, with growth of 4.5% annually (as of 2003).

The privatisation of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed for the rapid development of an aggressive private sector, but without any development of consumer rights organisations.

In contrast, from a neoliberal point of view, Poland's large agricultural sector remains handicapped by structural problems, surplus labour, inefficient small farms, and a lack of investment. Restructuring and privatisation of "sensitive sectors" (e.g., coal, steel, railroads, and energy) has begun. Structural reforms in health care, education, the pension system, and state administration have resulted in larger than expected fiscal pressures. Further progress in public finance depends mainly on privatisation of Poland's remaining state sectors.

The transition has not finished, and public fears remain. Numerous and consistent street protests against the mismanagement and poor transition of the health care and the education systems have taken place. People also fear the possible damage that Polish agriculture may suffer as integration into the European Union proceeds.

The shock therapy policy in economics, advocated and promoted in Poland by, for example, Jeffrey Sachs and the Research Triangle Institute, has proven positive for some people has been positive, while for others it appears as a catastrophe.

The government's determination to enter the EU as soon as possible affected most aspects of its economic policies. Improving Poland's outsized current account deficit and reining in inflation remain priorities. Warsaw leads the region (what region?) in foreign investment and needs a continued large inflow.

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Poland

Poland formerly played host to many languages, cultures and religions. However, the outcome of World War II and the following shift westwards to the area between the Curzon line and the Oder-Neisse line gave Poland an appearance of homogeneity. Some 98% of today's population considers itself Polish, though there remain several minorities: Germanss, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Jews and Belarusians.

The Polish, a member of the West branch of the Slavic languages, functions as the official language of Poland. Most Poles (95%) adhere to the Roman Catholic faith, though only 75% count as practising Catholics. The non-Catholic 5% of the population consists mainly of Eastern Orthodox and Protestant religious minorities.

Culture

Main article: Culture of Poland

Other articles related to culture include:

Holidays
DateEnglish NameLocal NameRemarks
January 1 New Year's Day Nowy Rok
May 3 Constitution Day Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja
November 1 All Saints Day Święto Zmarłych
November 11 Independence Day Święto Niepodległości

International rankings

Miscellaneous topics

External Links


European Union:
Austria  |  Belgium  |  Denmark  |  Finland  |  France  |  Germany  |  Greece  |  Ireland
Italy  |  Luxembourg  |  Netherlands  |  Portugal  |  Spain  |  Sweden  |  United Kingdom

Countries acceding to membership on May 1, 2004:
Cyprus  |  Czech Republic  |  Estonia  |  Hungary  |  Latvia  |  Lithuania  |  Malta  |  Poland  |  Slovakia  |  Slovenia


Countries of the world  |  Europe  |  Council of Europe
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