Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative provinces, covering an area of 312,696 km2 (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. Poland has a population of nearly 38.5 million people and is the fifth-most populous member state of the European Union. Warsaw is the nation's capital and largest metropolis. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.
Poland's territory extends from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Sudetes and Carpathian Mountains in the south. The country is bordered by Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) 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 1569 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 one million square kilometers or 400,000 square miles in area) and most populous nations of 16th and 17th century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system that adopted Europe's first modern constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.
With the end of the prosperous Polish Golden Age, the country was partitioned by neighboring 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 invaded Poland by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Approximately six million Polish citizens, including three million of the country's Jews, perished during 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 democratic republic.
Poland is a developed market, and a middle power; 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. The country has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 15 of which are cultural.
Poland is a member state of the Schengen Area, European Union, European Economic Area, Council of Europe, United Nations, NATO, OSCE, WTO, OECD, Three Seas Initiative, Visegrád Group.
The history of Poland spans over a thousand years, from medieval tribes, Christianization, and monarchy; through Poland's Golden Age, expansionism and becoming one of the largest European powers; to its collapse and partitions, two world wars, communism, and the restoration of democracy.
The roots of Polish history can be traced to ancient times when the territory of present-day Poland was settled by various tribes including Celts, Scythians, Germanic clans, Sarmatians, Slavs, and Balts. However, it was the West Slavic Lechites, the closest ancestors of ethnic Poles, who established permanent settlements in the Polish lands during the Early Middle Ages. The Lechitic Western Polans, a tribe whose name means "people living in open fields", dominated the region, and gave Poland - which lies in the North-Central European Plain - its name.
The first ruling dynasty, the Piasts, emerged in the 10th century AD. Duke Mieszko I is considered the de facto creator of the Polish state and is widely recognized for his adoption of Western Christianity in 966 CE. Mieszko's dominion was formally reconstituted as a medieval kingdom in 1025 by his son Bolesław I the Brave, known for military expansion under his rule. The most successful and the last Piast monarch, Casimir III the Great, presided throughout economic prosperity and territorial aggrandizement before his death in 1370 without male heirs. The period of the Jagiellonian dynasty in the 14th–16th centuries brought close ties with Lithuania, a cultural Renaissance in Poland, and continued territorial expansion as well as Polonization that culminated in the establishment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, one of Europe's largest countries.
The Commonwealth was able to sustain the levels of prosperity achieved during the Jagiellonian period, while its political system matured as a unique noble democracy with an elective monarchy. From the mid-17th century, however, the huge state entered a period of decline caused by devastating wars and the deterioration of its political system. Significant internal reforms were introduced in the late 18th century, such as Europe's first Constitution of 3 May 1791, but neighboring powers did not allow the reforms to advance. The existence of the Commonwealth ended in 1795 after a series of invasions and partitions of Polish territory carried out by the Russian Empire in the east, the Kingdom of Prussia in the west, and the Habsburg Monarchy in the south. From 1795 until 1918, no truly independent Polish state existed, although strong Polish resistance movements operated. The opportunity to regain sovereignty only materialized after World War I, when the three partitioning imperial powers were fatally weakened in the wake of war and revolution.
The Second Polish Republic was established in 1918 and existed as an independent state until 1939, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. Millions of Polish citizens of different faiths or identities perished in the course of the Nazi occupation of Poland between 1939 and 1945 through planned genocide and extermination. A Polish government-in-exile nonetheless functioned throughout the war and the Poles contributed to the Allied victory through participation in military campaigns on both the eastern and western fronts. The westward advances of the Soviet Red Army in 1944 and 1945 compelled Nazi Germany's forces to retreat from Poland, which led to the establishment of a satellite communist country, known from 1952 as the Polish People's Republic.
As a result of territorial adjustments mandated by the Allies at the end of World War II in 1945, Poland's geographic center of gravity shifted towards the west and the re-defined Polish lands largely lost their historic multi-ethnic character through the extermination, expulsion, and migration of various ethnic groups during and after the war. By the late 1980s, the Polish reform movement Solidarity became crucial in bringing about a peaceful transition from a planned economy and a communist state to a capitalist economic system and a liberal parliamentary democracy. This process resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state, the Third Polish Republic, founded in 1989.
Poland covers an area of approximately 312,696 km2 (120,733 sq mi), of which 98.52% is dry land and 1.48% is water. Extending across several geographical regions, the country is the 9th-largest by area in Europe and 69th largest in the world. Topographically, Poland is diverse and has access to the sea, the mountains and open terrain. Although most of the central parts of the country are flat, there is an abundance of lakes, rivers, hills, swamps, beaches, islands and forests elsewhere.
In the north-west is the Baltic seacoast spanning from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdańsk. The coast is marked by several spits, coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes. The largely straight coastline is indented by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon.
The central and northern parts of the country lie within the North European Plain. Rising above these lowlands is a geographical region comprising four hilly districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age, notably the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of north-eastern Poland. The lake districts form a series of moraine belts along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea.
South of the Northern European Plain are the regions of Lusatia, Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys. The extreme south of Poland is mountainous; it runs from the Sudetes in the west to the Carpathian Mountains in the east. The highest part of the Carpathian massif is the Tatra Mountain range, along Poland's southern border.
Government and Politics
Poland is a representative democracy, with a president as the head of state. The government structure centers on the Council of Ministers, led by a prime minister. The president appoints the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minister, typically from the majority coalition in the Sejm. The president is elected by popular vote every five years. The current president is Andrzej Duda and the prime minister is Mateusz Morawiecki.
Polish voters elect a bicameral parliament consisting of a 460-member lower house (Sejm) and a 100-member Senate (Senat). The Sejm is elected under proportional representation according to the d'Hondt method, a method similar to that used in many parliamentary political systems. The Senat, on the other hand, is elected under the first-past-the-post voting method, with one senator being returned from each of the 100 constituencies.
With the exception of ethnic minority parties, only candidates of political parties receiving at least 5% of the total national vote can enter the Sejm. When sitting in a joint session, members of the Sejm and Senat form the National Assembly (the Zgromadzenie Narodowe). The National Assembly is formed on three occasions: when a new president takes the oath of office; when an indictment against the President of the Republic is brought to the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu); and when a president's permanent incapacity to exercise his duties due to the state of his health is declared. To date, only the first instance has occurred.
The judicial branch plays an important role in decision-making. Its major institutions include the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy); the Supreme Administrative Court (Naczelny Sąd Administracyjny); the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny); and the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu). On the approval of the Senat, the Sejm also appoints the ombudsman or the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) for a five-year term. The ombudsman has the duty of guarding the observance and implementation of the rights and liberties of Polish citizens and residents, of the law and of principles of community life and social justice.
Poland's economy and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is currently the sixth largest in the European Union by nominal standards, and the fifth largest by purchasing power parity. It is also one of the fastest growing within the Union. Around 60% of the employed population belongs to the tertiary service sector, 30% to industry and manufacturing, and the remaining 10% to the agricultural sector. Although Poland is a member of EU's single market, the country has not adopted the Euro as legal tender and maintains its own currency – the Polish złoty (zł, PLN).
Poland is the regional economic leader in Central Europe, with nearly 40 per cent of the 500 biggest companies in the region (by revenues) as well as a high globalisation rate The country's largest firms compose the WIG20 and WIG30 indexes, which is traded on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. According to reports made by the National Bank of Poland, the value of Polish foreign direct investments reached almost 300 billion PLN at the end of 2014. The Central Statistical Office estimated that in 2014 there were 1,437 Polish corporations with interests in 3,194 foreign entities.
Having a strong domestic market, low private debt, low unemployment rate, flexible currency, and not being dependent on a single export sector, Poland is the only European economy to have avoided the recession of 2008. The country is the 20th largest exporter of goods and services in the world and its most successful exports include machinery, furniture, food products, clothing, shoes, cosmetics and video games. Exports of goods and services are valued at approximately 56% of GDP, as of 2020Poland's largest trading partners include Germany, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, France and Italy. In September 2018, the unemployment rate was estimated at 5.7%, one of the lowest in the European Union In 2019, Poland passed a law that would exempt workers under the age of 26 from income tax.
The Polish banking sector is the largest in the region, with 32.3 branches per 100,000 adults. The banks are the largest and most developed sector of the country's financial markets. They are regulated by the Polish Financial Supervision Authority. Poland's banking sector has approximately 5 national banks, a network of nearly 600 cooperative banks and 18 branches of foreign-owned banks. In addition, foreign investors have controlling stakes in nearly 40 commercial banks, which make up 68% of the banking capital.
Products and goods manufactured in Poland include: electronics, buses and trams (Solaris, Solbus), helicopters and planes (PZL Świdnik, PZL Mielec), trains (Pesa, Newag), ships (Gdańsk Shipyard, Szczecin Shipyard), military equipment (FB "Łucznik" Radom, Bumar-Łabędy, Jelcz), medicines (Polpharma, Polfa), food (Tymbark, Hortex, E. Wedel), clothes (LLP), glass, pottery (Bolesławiec), chemical products and others. Well-known brands and companies include Alior Bank, Orlen&Lotos Group, Inglot Cosmetics, Plus, Play, Brainly, Netguru, GOG.com, CD Projekt, Trefl and Allegro. Poland is also one of the world's biggest producers of copper, silver, coal, furniture, automotive parts and soft drink.
The culture of Poland is closely connected with its intricate 1,000-year history and forms an important constituent in western civilization. The Poles take great pride in their national identity which is often associated with the colours white and red, and exuded by the expression biało-czerwoni ("whitereds"). National symbols, chiefly the crowned white-tailed eagle, are often visible on clothing, insignia and emblems. The appreciation of Poland's traditions and cultural heritage is commonly known as Polonophilia.
With origins in the customs of the tribal Lechites, over time the culture of Poland has been influenced by its connection to Western culture and trends, as well as developing its own unique traditions such as Sarmatism. The people of Poland have traditionally been seen as hospitable to artists from abroad and eager to follow cultural and artistic trends popular in foreign countries, for instance, the 16th- and 17th-century tradition of coffin portraits (portret trumienny) was only observed in Poland and Roman Egypt. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Polish focus on cultural advancement often took precedence over political and economic activity. These factors have contributed to the versatile nature of Polish art.
The architectural monuments of great importance are protected by the National Heritage Board of Poland. Over 100 of the country's most significant tangible wonders were enlisted onto the Historic Monuments Register, with further 17 being recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Poland is renowned for its brick Gothic castles, granaries and churches as well as diversely-styled tenements, market squares and town halls. The majority of Polish cities founded on Magdeburg Law in the Middle Ages evolved around central marketplaces, a distinguishable urban characteristic which can be observed to this day. Medieval and Renaissance cloth halls were once an abundant feature of many towns.
Town Hall Tower in Poland
Copernicus Science Centre in Poland