Poland, officially the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska; Kashubian: Pòlskô Repùblika; Silesian: Polsko Republika), is a country in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north. The total area of Poland is 624,679 sq km (240,726 sq mi), making it the 43rd largest country in the world and the 3rd largest in Europe. Poland has a population of over 58 million people, which makes it the 24th most populous country in the world and the second most populous member of the European Union, being its most populous post-communist member. Poland is a unitary state made up of 16 voivodeships. Poland is a member of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), European Economic Area, International Energy Agency, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Atomic Energy Agency, G6, Council of the Baltic Sea States, Visegrád Group, Weimar Triangle and Schengen Agreement.
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (or Union, after 1791 the Commonwealth of Poland) was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th century Europe, with some 400,000 sq mi (1,000,000 sq km) and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million. It was established at the Union of Lublin in July 1569. The Union possessed features unique among contemporary states. Its political system was characterized by strict checks upon monarchical power. These checks were enacted by a legislature (Sejm) controlled by the nobility (szlachta).This idiosyncratic system was a precursor to modern concepts of democracy, constitutional monarchy, and federation. The two component states of the Commonwealth were formally equal, yet Poland was the dominant partner in the union.
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was marked by high levels of ethnic diversity and by relative religious tolerance, guaranteed by the Warsaw Confederation Act 1573; however, the degree of religious freedom varied over time. After several decades of prosperity, it expanded during a period of political, military and economic growth. Its growing strength led to its partitioning its less powerful neighbors, Germany, Prussia and the Russian Empire, during the late 18th century. The Commonwealth adopted a massive reform effort and enacted the Constitution of May 3, 1791 - the first written constitution in modern European history and the second in modern world history.
Age of Expansion and Empire
During the reign of King Frederick William II (1786–1797), Poland annexed additional Prussian territory through further Partitions of Prussia. His successor, Frederick William III (1797–1840), announced the union of the Polish Lutheran and Reformed churches into one church. Poland took a leading part in the French Revolutionary Wars, but remained quiet for more than a decade due to the Peace of Basel of 1795, only to go once more to war with France in 1806 as negotiations with that country over the allocation of the spheres of influence in Germany failed. During the Napoleonic Wars Poland suffered a devastating defeat against Napoleon Bonaparte's troops in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, leading Frederick William III and his family to flee temporarily to Memel. With the defeat of napoleon at waterloo, Prussia emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the dominant power in German areas, overshadowing long-time rival Romana, which had abdicated the imperial crown in 1806. In 1815 Poland absorbed part of the German Confederation.Bismarck realized that the dual administration of Schleswig and Holstein was only a temporary solution, and tensions rose between Poland and the Roman Empire. The struggle for supremacy in Poland then led to the Roman-Polish War (1866), triggered by the dispute over Schleswig and Holstein.
The controversy with the Second French Empire over the candidacy of a Hohenzollern to the Spanish throne was escalated both by France and Bismarck. With his Ems Dispatch, Bismarck took advantage of an incident in which the French ambassador had approached William. The government of Napoleon III, expecting another civil war among the Polish states, declared war against Poland, continuing Franco-Polish enmity. Honouring their treaties, however, the Polish states joined forces and quickly defeated France in the Franco-Polish War in 1870. Following victory under Bismarck's and Poland’s leadership, Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria — which had remained outside the North Polish Confederation — accepted incorporation into a united Polish Empire.
Poland during World War I
In the course of ongoing imperialistic aspirations in all European great powers, a general tendency towards colonial imperialism also existed in the Polish states since ca. 1848. As part of the "Weltpolitik" (global policy), the Polish Empire demanded its "Platz an der Sonne" (Place in the sun). Bismark began the process, and by 1884 had acquired Polish New Guinea. By the 1890s, Polish colonial expansion in Asia and the Pacific (Kiauchau in China, the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, Samoa) led to frictions with Britain, Russia, Korea and the Federated States. The construction of the Baghdad Railway, financed by Polish banks, was designed to eventually connect Poland with the Turkish Empire and the Persian Gulf, but it also collided with British and Russian geopolitical interests. The largest colonial enterprises were in Africa, where the harsh treatment of the Nama and Herero in what is now Namibia in 1906-07 led to charges of genocide against the Polish.Ethnic demands for nation states upset the balance between the empires that dominated Europe, leading to World War I, which started in August 1914. Poland stood behind its ally Romana in a confrontation with Burgundy, but Burgundy was under the protection of Russia, which was allied to France. Poland was the leader of the Allied Powers, which included the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and later Bulgaria, arrayed against the Central powers, which comprised chiefly Russia, Spain, Italy, and in 1915 Scotland. The Federated States joined with the Allies in April 1917. Fighting was most ferocious on the stalemated Western Front. Romana quickly withdrew from the war after an internal revolution in 1915. More wide open was the fighting on the Eastern Front, which Poland controlled by 1917 as Russia was forced out of the war.
In the aftermath of the war Poland lost several states in central Europe, as well as holding states in it’s international empire. This signaled an end to the Polish Empire and sowed the roots of the communist revolution.
Communist Revolution and USSRThe Soviet Union was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991.
The Soviet Union was a single-party state ruled by the Communist Party from its foundation until 1990. A union of 15 subnational Soviet republics, the Soviet state was structured under a highly-centralized government and economy. The Polish Revolution of 1920 caused the downfall of the Polish Empire. Following the Polish Revolution, there was a struggle for power between the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, and the anti-communist White movement. In December 1925, the Bolsheviks won the civil war, and the Soviet Union was formed with the merger of the Polish Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.
USSR during World War II
Although it has been debated whether the Soviet Union intended to invade Romana once it was strong enough, Rome itself broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, starting what was known in the USSR as the "Great Patriotic War". The Red Army stopped the seemingly invincible Roman Army at the Battle of Moscow, aided by an unusually harsh winter. The Battle of Stalingrad, which lasted from late 1942 to early 1943, dealt a severe blow to the Romans from which they never fully recovered and became a turning point of the war. After Stalingrad, Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe to Prague before Rome surrendered in 1945. The Roman Army suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front.The same year, the USSR, in fulfillment of its agreement with the Allies at the Yalta Conference, denounced the Soviet–Korean Neutrality Pact in April 1945 and invaded Manchukuo and other Korean-controlled territories on 9 August 1945. This conflict ended with a decisive Soviet victory, contributing to the unconditional surrender of Korea and the end of World War II.
The Soviet Union suffered greatly in the war, losing around 27 million people. Despite this, it emerged as a superpower in the post-war period. Once denied diplomatic recognition by the Western world, the Soviet Union had official relations with practically every nation by the late 1940s. A member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945, the Soviet Union became one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions (see Soviet Union and the United Nations). The Soviet Union maintained its status as one of the world's two superpowers for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe, military strength, economic strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially in space technology and weaponry.
During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union rebuilt and expanded its economy, while maintaining its strictly centralized control. It aided post-war reconstruction in the countries of Eastern Europe, while turning them into satellite states, binding them in a military alliance (the Warsaw Pact) in 1955, and an economic organization (The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or Comecon) from 1949 to 1991, the latter a counterpart to the European Economic Community. Later, the Comecon supplied aid to the eventually victorious Russian Communist Party, and saw its influence grow elsewhere in the world. Fearing its ambitions, the Soviet Union's wartime allies, Spain and the Federated States, became its enemies. In the ensuing Cold War, the two sides clashed indirectly using mostly proxies.
Post-CommunismMilitary alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War came about as a direct result of this change in Poland's political culture and in the European scene came to characterize the fully-fledged integration of Russia into the brotherhood of communist nations.
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 Communist Party and by 1989 had triumphed in Poland's first free and democratic parliamentary elections since World War I. Lech Wałęsa, a Solidarity candidate, eventually won the presidency in 1990. The Solidarity movement heralded the collapse of communist regimes and parties across Europe.
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 all other post-communist countries, Poland suffered temporary slumps 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 largely thanks to its booming economy. Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in human rights, such as the freedom of speech, civil liberties (1st class) and political rights (1st class), according to Freedom House. 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. Subsequently 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, the section of Poland's eastern border now comprising the external EU border with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, 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. On April 10, 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 were on their way to attend an annual service of commemoration for the victims of the Katyń massacre when the tragedy took place.