|Flag||Coat of Arms|
|Prime minister||Donald Tusk|
|Area||120,728 sq mi|
|GDP 2007||$413.3 billion|
|GDP per capita||$10,858 (2006)|
Poland is a large country in central/eastern Europe. It has suffered many hardships before and after World War I and II appearing and disappearing as a nation at various points in its history. Emerging as a nation again after World War I, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the start of World War II. Given nationhood again at the end of the war, it was under the shroud of being a Soviet satellite controlled by a communist regime. Poland finally became liberated. The exact date of the end of communism in Poland is hard to difine, but it is often accepted as July 4, 1989 (the date of the elections won by the Solidarność movement. Pope John Paul II was from Poland and was a major part in bringing down communism in Poland. Among the nations under Soviet domination, Poland was unique in continuing to keep its strong Catholic roots even in the face of persecution. The capital of Poland is Warsaw.
- 1 People
- 2 Government and Political Conditions
- 3 Defense
- 4 Economy
- 5 History
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Poland today is ethnically almost homogeneous (98% Polish), in contrast with the period before and during World War II, when there were significant ethnic minorities--4.5 million Ukrainians, 3 million Jews, 1 million Belorussians, and 800,000 Germans. The majority of the Jews were murdered during the German occupation in World War II, and many others emigrated in the succeeding years.
Most Germans left Poland at the end of the war, while many Ukrainians and Belorussians lived in territories incorporated into the then-U.S.S.R. Small Ukrainian, Belorussian, Slovakian, and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders, and a German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole.
- Population (July 2006): 38.5 million.
- Annual growth rate: Unchanging.
- Ethnic groups: Polish 98%, German, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Lithuanian.
- Religions: Roman Catholic 90%, Eastern Orthodox, Uniate, Protestant, Judaism.
- Language: Polish.
- Education: Literacy--98%.
- Health (2006): Infant mortality rate--7.2/1,000. Life expectancy--males 71 yrs., females 79 yrs.
- Work force: 17.2 million. Industry and construction--29%; agriculture--16%; services--54%.
Currently, there is a movement in Poland to completely ban abortion, however there is an opposite movement to allow abortion to greater extent than it is now. Most political forces in the parliament are in favor of keeping abortion law as it is (allowing abortion when the women's life or health is threatened, when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, when the fetus is irreversibly damaged). The attempts to change constitution so that it would be stated that life would be protected from the moment of conception to natural death failed.
Government and Political Conditions
The current government structure consists of a council of ministers led by a Prime Minister, typically chosen from the majority coalition in the bicameral legislature's lower house (Sejm). The president, elected every five years for no more than two terms, is the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The judicial branch plays a minor role in decision-making.
The parliament consists of the 460-member Sejm and the 100-member Senat, or upper house. The new constitution and the reformed administrative division (as of 1999) required a revision of the election ordinance (passed in April 2001). The most important changes were liquidation of a national list (all deputies are elected by voters in electoral districts) and introduction of a new method of calculating seats (the modified St. Lague method replaced the d'Hondt method, thus eliminating the premium for the top parties). The law stipulated that with the exception of guaranteed seats for small ethnic parties, only parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote could enter parliament.
Parties represented in the newly elected (October 2007) Sejm are Civic Platform (PO), Law and Justice (PiS), the Left and Democrates (LiD) - the alliance between Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Democratic Party (PD), and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). There is also on representative of the German Minority and some non-allied members of Parliament
Principal Government Officials
- President--Lech Kaczynski (PiS)
- Prime Minister--Donald Tusk (PO)
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration--Grzegorz Schetyna (PO)
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy--Waldemar Pawlak (PSL)
Poland became an associate member of the EU and its defensive arm, the Western European Union, in 1994. In a June 2003 national referendum, the Polish people approved EU accession by an overwhelming margin, and Poland gained full membership on May 1, 2004.
Changes since 1989 have redrawn the map of central Europe, and Poland has had to forge relationships with seven new neighbors. Poland has actively pursued good relations, signing friendship treaties replacing links severed by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. The Poles have forged special relationships with Lithuania and particularly Ukraine in an effort to firmly anchor these states to the West.
Poland became a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in March 1999 as part of the first wave of enlargement outlined at the July 1997 NATO Summit in Madrid. Poland's top national security goal is to further integrate with NATO and other west European defense, economic, and political institutions while modernizing and reorganizing its military. Polish military doctrine reflects the same defense posture as its Alliance partners.
Poland maintains a sizable armed force currently numbering about 140,572 troops divided among an army of 87,877, an air and defense force of 31,147, and a navy of 21,548. Poland relies on military conscription for the majority of its personnel strength. All males (with some exceptions) are subject to a 12-month term of military service. The Polish military continues to restructure and to modernize its equipment. The Polish Defense Ministry General Staff and the Land Forces staff have recently reorganized the latter into a NATO-compatible J/G-1 through J/G-6 structure. Although budget constraints remain a drag on modernization, Poland has been able to move forward with U.S. assistance on acquiring 48 F-16 multi-role fighters, C-130 cargo planes, HMMWVs, and other items key to the military’s restructuring.
Poland continues to be a regional leader in support and participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace Program and has actively engaged most of its neighbors and other regional actors to build stable foundations for future European security arrangements. Poland continues its long record of strong support for UN peacekeeping operations by maintaining a unit in Southern Lebanon, a battalion in NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR), and by providing and actually deploying the KFOR strategic reserve to Kosovo. Polish military forces have served in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Poland assumed command of a multinational division of stabilization forces in Iraq (MDN-CS) on September 3, 2003. Poland and its MND-CS partners have worked effectively since then to stabilize south central Iraq while working to train Iraqi forces to take over MND-CS responsibilities and operate independently. 
The Polish economy grew rapidly in the mid-1990s, slowed considerably in 2001 and 2002, and returned again to healthy growth rates in 2003. Poland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annualized rate of 5.2% in the first quarter of 2006. Faster growth has begun to reduce persistently high unemployment, from nearly 20% in the middle of 2004 to 16.5% in May 2006. Tight monetary policy and dramatic productivity growth have helped to hold down inflation, which was 2.1% in 2005. Likewise, Poland's current account deficit, which grew rapidly in the late 1990s, has since moderated to 1.4% of GDP in 2005. The 2005 budget deficit was 27.5 billion zloty, or 2.8% of GDP in 2005, and the current government pledged to restrain the 2006 and 2007 budgets at 30 billion zloty.
Throughout the 1990s, the United States and other Western countries supported the growth of a free enterprise economy by reducing Poland's foreign debt burden, providing economic aid, and lowering trade barriers. Poland graduated from U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance in 2000 and paid the balance of its U.S.-held Paris Club debt in 2005. Poland officially joined the European Union (EU) on May 1, 2004.
- GDP (2006): $265.4 billion.
- Real GDP growth (2006): 5.3%.
- Per capita GDP (2006): $14,100.
- Rate of inflation (2006): 1.3%.
- Natural resources: Coal, copper, sulfur, natural gas, silver, lead, salt.
- Agriculture: Products--grains, hogs, dairy, potatoes, horticulture, sugarbeets, oilseed.
- Industry: Types--machine building, iron and steel, mining, shipbuilding, automobiles, furniture, textiles and apparel, chemicals, food processing, glass, beverages.
- Trade (2006): Exports--$110.7 billion: furniture, cars, ships, coal, apparel. Imports--$113.2 billion: crude oil, passenger cars, pharmaceuticals, car parts, computers.
Agriculture employs 16.1% of the work force but contributes only 5% to the gross domestic product (GDP), reflecting relatively low productivity. Unlike the industrial sector, Poland's agricultural sector remained largely in private hands during the decades of communist rule. Most of the former state farms are now leased to farmer tenants. Lack of credit is hampering efforts to sell former state farmland. Currently, Poland's 2 million private farms occupy 90% of all farmland and account for roughly the same percentage of total agricultural production. These farms are small--8 hectares (ha) on average--and often fragmented. Farms with an area exceeding 15 ha accounted for only 9% of the total number of farms but cover 45% of total agricultural area. Over half of all farming households in Poland produce only for their own needs with little, if any, commercial sales.
Poland is a net exporter of confectionery, processed fruit and vegetables, meat, and dairy products. Processors often rely on imports to supplement domestic supplies of wheat, feed grains, vegetable oil, and protein meals, which are generally insufficient to meet domestic demand. However, Poland is the leading producer in Europe of potatoes and rye and is one of the world's largest producers of sugarbeets. Poland also is a significant producer of rapeseed, grains, hogs, and cattle. Attempts to increase domestic feed grain production are hampered by the short growing season, poor soil, and the small size of farms.
Pressure to restructure the agriculture sector intensified as Poland prepared to accede to the European Union, which is unwilling to subsidize the vast number of subsistence farms that do not produce for the market. The changes in agriculture are likely to strain Poland's social fabric, tearing at the heart of the traditional, family-based small farm as the younger generation drifts toward the cities. Nonetheless, dramatically increasing agricultural exports to the EU-15 (38% growth in 2005) and payments to farmers from Brussels following accession have enriched Polish commercial farmers and dramatically increase support for EU membership in Poland’s rural areas.
Before World War II, Poland's industrial base was concentrated in the coal, textile, chemical, machinery, iron, and steel sectors. Today it extends to fertilizers, petrochemicals, machine tools, electrical machinery, electronics, and shipbuilding.
Poland's industrial base suffered greatly during World War II, and many resources were directed toward reconstruction. The communist economic system imposed in the late 1940s created large and unwieldy economic structures operated under a tight central command. In part because of this systemic rigidity, the economy performed poorly even in comparison with other economies in central Europe.
In 1990, the Mazowiecki government began a comprehensive reform program to replace the centralized command economy with a market-oriented system. While the results overall have been impressive, many large state-owned industrial enterprises, particularly the railroad and the mining, steel, and defense sectors, have remained resistant to the change and downsizing required to survive in an open market economy.
Economic Reform Program and Direct Foreign Investment
The economic reforms introduced in 1990 removed price controls, eliminated most subsidies to industry, opened markets to international competition, and imposed strict budgetary and monetary discipline. Poland was the first former centrally planned economy in central Europe to end its recession and return to growth in the early 1990s. The private sector now accounts for over two-thirds of GDP.
In early 2002, the government announced a new set of economic reforms known as the Hausner Plan, designed in many ways to complete the process launched in 1990. The package acknowledged the need to improve Poland's investment climate, particularly the conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises, and better prepare the economy to compete as a European Union (EU) member. The government also aimed to improve Poland's public finances to prepare for eventual adoption of the euro. Though the government was able to enact only portions of the Hausner Plan, those successes coupled with successful monetary efforts to strengthen the zloty, have put Poland within reach of the National Bank’s goal of Euro accession in 2008-2009.
As a result of Poland's growth and investment-friendly climate, the country has received over $85 billion in direct foreign investment (DFI) since 1990, with roughly $7 billion in 2004 alone. According to a recently publish report by Ernst and Young, Poland is tied with Germany as the most attractive destination for foreign investment in Europe. The availability of cheap land and a large, relatively skilled labor force are among Polish strengths. However, the government continues to play a strong role in the economy, as seen in excessive red tape and the high level of politicization in many business decisions. Investors complain that state regulation is not transparent or predictable, and the economy suffers from a lack of competition in many sectors, notably telecommunications.
With the collapse of the ruble-based COMECON trading bloc in 1990, Poland scrambled to reorient its trade. As early as 1996, 70% of its trade was with EU-15 members, and neighboring Germany today is Poland's dominant trading partner. Most of Poland's imports are capital goods needed for industrial retooling and for manufacturing inputs, rather than imports for consumption. Therefore, a deficit is expected and should even be regarded as positive at this point. Poland, a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and European Union, applies the EU’s common external tariff to goods from other countries--including the U.S.
In the year after it joined the EU, Poland experienced an overall growth in exports of 30%. This growth was not confined to trade among EU partners: while exports to EU countries rose by 27%, exports to developing countries rose by 46%, and exports to Russia rose an unexpected 77%. Poland’s trade balance continued to improve, with export growth significantly outpacing import growth. Opportunities for trade and investment continue to exist across virtually all sectors. The American Chamber of Commerce in Poland, founded in 1991 with seven members, now has more than 300 members. Strong economic growth potential, a large domestic market, EU membership, and political stability are the top reasons U.S. and other foreign companies do business in Poland.
Poland's written history begins with the reign of Mieszko I, who accepted Christianity for himself and his kingdom in AD 966. The Polish state reached its zenith under the Jagiellonian dynasty in the years following the union with Lithuania in 1386 and the subsequent defeat of the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald in 1410. The monarchy survived many upheavals but eventually went into a decline, which ended with the final partition of Poland by Prussia, Russia, and Austria in 1795.
Independence for Poland was one of the 14 points enunciated by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Many Polish Americans enlisted in the military services to further this aim, and the United States worked at the postwar conference to ensure its implementation.
However, the Poles were largely responsible for achieving their own independence in 1918 and keeping it shortly thereafter against Red aggression from Bolshevik Russia. Authoritarian rule predominated for most of the period before World War II. On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov nonaggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones. On September 1, 1939, Hitler ordered his troops into Poland. On September 17, Soviet troops invaded and then occupied eastern Poland under the terms of this agreement. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Poland was completely occupied by German troops.
The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a government in exile, first in Paris and later in London, which was recognized by the Soviet Union. During World War II, 400,000 Poles fought under Soviet command, and 200,000 went into combat on Western fronts in units loyal to the Polish government in exile.
In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke relations with the Polish government in exile after the German military announced that they had discovered mass graves of murdered Polish army officers at Katyn, in the U.S.S.R. (The Soviets claimed that the Poles had insulted them by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports.) In July 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Poland and established a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" at Lublin.
Resistance against the Nazis in Warsaw, including uprisings by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and by the Polish underground, was brutally suppressed. As the Germans retreated in January 1945, they leveled the city.
During the war, about 6 million Poles were killed, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labor. More than 3 million Jews (all but about 100,000 of the Jewish population) were killed in death camps like those at Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Treblinka, and Majdanek.
Following the Yalta Conference in February 1945, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed in June 1945; the U.S. recognized it the next month. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the Communist Party. The communists then established a regime entirely under their domination.
Communist Party Domination
In October 1956, after the 20th ("de-Stalinization") Soviet Party Congress in Moscow and riots by workers in Poznan, there was a shakeup in the communist regime. While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime of First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka liberalized Polish internal life.
In 1968, the trend reversed when student demonstrations were suppressed and an "anti-Zionist" campaign initially directed against Gomulka supporters within the party eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population. In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, triggered by a price increase for essential consumer goods, reflected deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions in the country. Edward Gierek replaced Gomulka as First Secretary.
Fueled by large infusions of Western credit, Poland's economic growth rate was one of the world's highest during the first half of the 1970s. But much of the borrowed capital was misspent, and the centrally planned economy was unable to use the new resources effectively. The growing debt burden became insupportable in the late 1970s, and economic growth had become negative by 1979.
In October 1978, the Bishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Polish Catholics rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.
In July 1980, with the Polish foreign debt at more than $20 billion, the government made another attempt to increase meat prices. A chain reaction of strikes virtually paralyzed the Baltic coast by the end of August and, for the first time, closed most coalmines in Silesia. Poland was entering into an extended crisis that would change the course of its future development.
The Solidarity Movement
On August 31, 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, led by an electrician named Lech Walesa, signed a 21-point agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecin and in Silesia. The key provision of these agreements was the guarantee of the workers' right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. After the Gdansk agreement was signed, a new national union movement--"Solidarity"--swept Poland.
The discontent underlying the strikes was intensified by revelations of widespread corruption and mismanagement within the Polish state and party leadership. In September 1980, Gierek was replaced by Stanislaw Kania as First Secretary.
Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the PZPR's authority following the Gdansk agreement, the Soviet Union proceeded with a massive military buildup along Poland's border in December 1980. In February 1981, Defense Minister Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski assumed the position of Prime Minister as well, and in October 1981, he also was named party First Secretary. At the first Solidarity national congress in September-October 1981, Lech Walesa was elected national chairman of the union.
On December 12-13, the regime declared martial law, under which the army and special riot police were used to crush the union. Virtually all Solidarity leaders and many affiliated intellectuals were arrested or detained. The United States and other Western countries responded to martial law by imposing economic sanctions against the Polish regime and against the Soviet Union. Unrest in Poland continued for several years thereafter.
In a series of slow, uneven steps, the Polish regime rescinded martial law. In December 1982, martial law was suspended, and a small number of political prisoners were released. Although martial law formally ended in July 1983 and a general amnesty was enacted, several hundred political prisoners remained in jail.
In July 1984, another general amnesty was declared, and 2 years later, the government had released nearly all political prisoners. The authorities continued, however, to harass dissidents and Solidarity activists. Solidarity remained proscribed and its publications banned. Independent publications were censored.
Roundtable Talks and Elections
The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May, and August 1988. In an attempt to take control of the situation, the government gave de facto recognition to Solidarity, and Interior Minister Kiszczak began talks with Lech Walesa on August 31. These talks broke off in October, but a new series, the "roundtable" talks, began in February 1989. These talks produced an agreement in April for partly open National Assembly elections. The June election produced a Sejm (lower house), in which one-third of the seats went to communists and one-third went to the two parties which had hitherto been their coalition partners. The remaining one-third of the seats in the Sejm and all those in the Senat were freely contested; virtually all of these were won by candidates supported by Solidarity.
The failure of the communists at the polls produced a political crisis. The roundtable agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of some Solidarity deputies, elected General Jaruzelski to that office. Two attempts by the communists to form governments failed, however.
On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist/Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in more than 40 years, Poland had a government led by non-communists.
In December 1989, the Sejm approved the government's reform program to transform the Polish economy rapidly from centrally planned to free-market, amended the constitution to eliminate references to the "leading role" of the Communist Party, and renamed the country the "Republic of Poland." The Polish United Workers' (Communist) Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. Most of the property of the former Communist Party was turned over to the state.
The May 1990 local elections were entirely free. Candidates supported by Solidarity's Citizens' Committees won most of the races they contested, although voter turnout was only a little over 40%. The cabinet was reshuffled in July 1990; the national defense and interior affairs ministers--holdovers from the previous communist government--were among those replaced.
In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In December, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.
The Republic of Poland
The Republic of Poland in the early 1990s made great progress toward achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Walesa was elected President for a 5-year term. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, at Walesa's request, formed a government and served as its Prime Minister until October 1991, introducing world prices and greatly expanding the scope of private enterprise.
Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, representing a full spectrum of political views. No single party received more than 13% of the total vote.
Since 1991, Poland has conducted five general parliamentary elections and four presidential elections--all free and fair. Incumbent governments have transferred power smoothly and constitutionally in every instance to their successors. The post-Solidarity center-right and post-Communist center-left have each controlled the parliament and the presidency since 1991. Most recently, Poles elected Law and Justice (PiS) candidate and Mayor of Warsaw Lech Kaczynski to a 5-year term as President. Kaczynski narrowly defeated Civic Platform (PO) candidate Donald Tusk and was sworn in December 23, 2005.
PiS was also the top vote-getter in September 25, 2005, parliamentary elections. After coalition talks with runner-up PO collapsed, PiS alone formed a minority government under Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. Frustrated by its inability to achieve its legislative program alone, PiS formed a formal coalition government with Self-Defense (SO) and the League of Polish Families (LPR) in April 2006. In July 2006, Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz resigned and was replaced by PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski as Prime Minister.
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