According to estatelearning, Poland is located in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Ukraine and Belarus to the east, and Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) to the northeast. Poland has a total land area of 312,679 square kilometers. The capital city of Poland is Warsaw and its official language is Polish. The estimated population of Poland is 38 million people with a variety of ethnic backgrounds including Slavic, German and Jewish influences. Poland offers plenty for tourists with its many historical sites, cultural attractions, stunning landscapes and vibrant cities. From its picturesque lakeside towns to its bustling cities like Krakow and Warsaw, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful country!
Poland’s history begins with the first formation of the states in the area which today is Poland around 800 CE. Poland became Christian in the late 900s and got his own ecclesiastical province around the year 1000. In the late Middle Ages went Poland into a union with Lithuania that lasted 200 year.
In the 1600s, the country was hit hard by the many wars in Europe, and lost more land. During this period, the Polish state power was also weakened, and Russia gained greater influence over the country. This eventually led to the three divisions of Poland in the 18th century, where the land was divided into three and the territories given to Russia, Prussia and Austria respectively. After the Napoleonic Wars, Poland resurrected as a kingdom, but under Russian supremacy.
In 1918 Poland became an independent republic. During World War II, Poland was occupied by Germany. Large parts of the country were bombed, many people killed and Polish culture tried to eradicate. Polish Jews were sent to concentration camps following the Warsaw uprising. After the war, Poland became part of the Eastern Bloc and in practice ruled by the Soviet Union. The Poles fought against the free regime, and in the 1980s they gained greater independence through the trade union Solidarity. In 1989, Poland again became an independent state.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Poland on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Poland.
Early settlement and state formation
Written sources cannot determine how long Slavic settlement has existed in present-day Poland, and there is disagreement over the interpretation of the archaeological and linguistic material. Slavic immigration to Poland probably happened in the 600-700 AD.
The first state formation on Polish soil occurred in the 8th century. Old trade routes between the Baltic and the Balkans (the “amber road”) and from Germany to the east crossed Polish territory and promoted the development of local tribal principals. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Poland. One of the largest was the Wislans around 875, but it quickly came under Moravian rule.
A more lasting political rally took place among the Poles (the eras), from which Poland and the Poles later got their name. They lived in the area around the river Warta, an area later called the Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) and with Poznań as the largest city today.
The first prince to emerge clearly in the sources is Mieszko 1 from about 960. He belonged to the Piast dynasty, named after the mythical Piast. In order to stand stronger against German-Roman emperor Otto 1, Mieszko allied himself with the Czechs. In 966 he was baptized and went in to Christianize his kingdom. That year is traditionally regarded as the foundation of Poland as a state with Gniezno as its capital until the capital in 1038 was moved to Kraków.
Within a few decades, Mieszko submerged the coastal area of the Baltic Sea, the Wislin’s Little Pole (Małopolska) with Kraków in the south and Silesia (Śląsk). Both Mieszko and his successors made sure that Poland did not enter into an ecclesiastical relationship with Germany, and the country became its own church province from 1000, when the bishop of Gniezno became archbishop.
In 1025, Prince Bolesław 1 “the brave” was crowned king, and Poland (Polonia) was gradually adopted as the name of the kingdom. Kraków was the capital for over 500 years from 1038 to 1596, when the capital was moved to Warsaw. A number of wars led to both conquests and divisions of land, and there were increased tendencies for regional fragmentation. Bolesław 3 “The Leaningful” shared the deathbed (1138) kingdom between his four sons. The regime led to much controversy, and Poland remained divided until 1320. During this time, the country was also exposed to new threats from outside, especially from the German Order of the 1220s and through the Mongol invasion in 1241. Among other things, the coastal areas towards the Baltic Sea were lost to The German Order.
Poland was reassembled by Władysław 1 “the shortest” in the years leading up to 1320. His successor Kasimir (Kazimierz) 3 “the great” (1333-1370) gained a stable relationship with Bohemia and the German order by giving up the Polish demands in Silesia and East Pomerania, and instead expanded the kingdom to the southeast with Galicia (Red Ruthenia). He undertook major reforms in the judiciary and administration, encouraged trade and urban growth, strengthened religious tolerance, and established Poland’s first university in Kraków (the Jagellonian University) in 1364.
Union with Lithuania
After a brief staff union with Hungary (1370–1382), Poland in 1386 entered into a long-standing union with Lithuania (staff union until 1569, then the real union), when the Lithuanian great prince Jogaila (Polish Jagiełło) married the Polish heir to Hedvig, was crowned king Władysław 3 and initiated the Jagellonian dynasty that ruled for almost 200 years (until 1572).
Poland – Lithuania was the strongest power in eastern Central Europe in the 1400s and early 1500s. The German order was defeated at Tannenberg (Grunwald) in 1410, and after new wars, Poland recovered coastal areas on the Baltic Sea that were lost at the beginning of the 13th century at the peace in Toruń (1466). For a time, Poland-Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The influence was also shown by neighboring countries being ruled by members of the Jagelonian royal family (Bohemia 1471–1526, Hungary 1490–1526).
At the same time, the Polish royal power was weakened inward, as the nobility in the 15th century increased its power over the king. After the Jagellonian dynasty died out in 1572, the nobility freely chose the king, so that in reality a nobility was created with a chosen king at the top. The increasing power of the land-owning nobility was also shown by the peasants from around the year 1500 being bound to the earth and almost to be regarded as the property of the landlords (“the other quality of life “).
In the 16th century, humanism and the Reformation left their mark on Poland. Books were printed in Polish, and several Protestant denominations took root. The authorities advocated religious tolerance, and from 1573 all religious communities were equal. However, it was not long before the counter-Reformation led by the Jesuits began, and by the end of the 1600s Poland had become an almost pure Catholic country.
The beginning of the 17th century was marked by wars with Sweden, Russia (Moscow was occupied by the Poles in 1610-1612) and the Ottoman Empire. From the mid-1600s, Prussia – Brandenburg also became a dangerous challenger. In the second part of the 17th century, Poland – Lithuania lost considerable land in Ukraine and the Baltic Sea. Several of the wars in the 1600s and early 1700s led to major devastation in Polish territory. Thus, the Poles often refer to Sweden’s invasion of Poland in 1655–1660 as the “flood”. Poland was also severely devastated during the Great Nordic War (1700-1721).
Precisely during this period, the weakening of state power became more evident. Not only was the power of the nobility great in relation to the king’s. But by the introduction of the liberal veto around 1660, the right of every incoming nobleman to stop a decision in parliament (hence the term ” Polish parliament “), it often became impossible to pass laws or secure the state’s finances. Therefore, Poland became more and more paralyzed at the same time as it became easier for foreign forces to exploit the contradictions between noble factions through alliances. In particular, Russia prevailed in Polish politics throughout the 18th century. One of the goals was to prevent reforms that could make Poland a more efficient state, and thus perhaps a danger to Russia.
Divisions of Poland
The increased Russian influence created unrest among other great powers, and led to the first division of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria (1772). Austria got Galicia, Prussia got West Prussia and Russia parts of Belarus. The nobility now saw the need for reform, and a relatively liberal constitution (1791) was drafted, advanced for its time.
Some of the most powerful nobles asked Russia for help in preventing liberal development, which led to Poland’s second division (1793), between Russia and Prussia. Poles now reacted with rebellion, led by Tadeusz Kościuszko, a general who had participated in the American War of Independence. It was defeated by Russian and Prussian forces, and Poland’s third division (between Russia, Prussia and Austria) was a fact in 1795. Poland had ceased to exist as a state. About half of the territory had gone to Russia.
The Napoleonic wars gave many Poles hope for a quick rebirth of the Polish state, and many Poles joined Napoleon’s service. At the peace in Tilsit in 1807, Napoleon established the Grand Duchy of Warsaw as a French vassal state. It consisted of the Prussian acquisitions of the Polish divisions, and from 1809 also some of the Austrians. Following Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the Vienna Congress converted most of the Grand Duchy into “the Kingdom of Poland” with the Russian tsar as king (” Congress-Poland “), but with its own government and army. Tsar Aleksander 1 gave a relatively liberal constitution, but soon began to act authoritatively, which was reinforced by the successor Nikolai 1 from 1825.
From 1830 to the end of the First World War
In 1830 riots broke out (1831 in Lithuania), but the social basis was narrow; the rebel kingdom said no to the farmers’ demand to abolish the quality of life. The rebellion therefore received modest support in the people. The army suffered a decisive defeat at Ostrołęka in 1831. Several thousand of the rebel leaders fled abroad, mostly to France. In Russian Poland, harsh punishments were carried out: executions, deportations to Siberia, confiscations of noble property, closure of the University of Warsaw and Russification of schools and the judiciary. The Constitution and most of the autonomy disappeared, even though Congress-Poland formally existed until 1863, when a new uprising broke out. In the Prussian part of Poland, too, there was a more anti-Polish policy after 1830-1831, although there had been no revolt there.
In 1846, a revolt broke out in Galicia. It was knocked down by the Austrian army. Kraków, which had had some autonomy as a republic from 1815, was incorporated in Austria. The authorities also successfully appealed to the Ukrainian farmers against the Polish landowners. In general, however, the Poles who were under Austrian rule had greater national freedom than in the Russian and Prussian parts of Poland. Several Poles had government posts in Vienna, and Polish gained official language status in Galicia in 1861. The universities of Kraków and Lvov (Polish Lwów) also attracted Polish students from the other districts.
Conditions for the Poles in Prussia (from 1871 Germany) were more nationally similar to the situation in Russia than in Austria. There was extensive Germanization in both the school and other parts of society. In the 1880s, the authorities began colonizing Germans in the Polish territories to weaken the Polish character there. However, the greater degree of legality in German society and a higher economic and educational level gave the Poles in Germany better opportunities to defend their positions than in Russia.
When Alexander 2 took office as Russian tsar in 1855, there were also expectations of reform in Poland. But even though the University of Warsaw was reopened, few real changes came, and in January 1863, a riot broke out in an attempt to enroll young oppositionists in the Russian army. But now Poland did not have its own army as in 1830. Although there was much sympathy for the cause of the Poles abroad, no one would intervene. The rebellion, which took the form of guerrilla war, was put down in 1864.
The last remnants of Congress-Poland as a state unit disappeared, and Poland was characterized by an even stronger repression than in 1831 (executions, deportations to Siberia, confiscations, Russification). Russia also sought to take advantage of the social contradictions between landlords and farmers. The Russian peasant reform of 1861 (peasant liberation) was carried out in the Polish territories in 1864, just before the uprising was over, and gave the farmers in Russian Poland better conditions than the farmers in Russia had received.
The development of industry in the Russian part of Poland had the advantage of removing the customs boundaries of the large Russian market (although the purchasing power there was modest), and until about 1890 Poland had the most dynamic industrial development in the Russian Empire. The railway development also went faster than further east. The economic progress, coupled with the defeat of the heroic (often called romantic) rebel tradition, led to a change of attitude in leading Polish circles. The so-called “positivists” or “realists” believed that the Poles nationally could achieve more by expanding industry and commerce, cities and railways, eradicating illiteracy and so on. “Salvation through self-improvement” was a slogan. The political consequence was loyal behavior towards the Tsarist regime in the hope of a form of self-government as a reward.
As lasting political parties began to emerge in the 1890s, Roman Dmowski, in the National Democratic Movement, advocated a “modern” and aggressive nationalism that should be different from both the revolt tradition and the reconciliation policy. It also had features of anti-Semitism. Gradually, Dmowski pointed out Germany as the greatest threat to the Polish nation, and Russia could then be a protector against Germany. The most important thing was to achieve self-government, not independence from Russia.
The Polish Socialist Party (PPS) was founded in 1893 and had Józef Piłsudski as one of its leaders. For the PPS, national liberation was as important as the struggle for socialism; Polish workers would still be oppressed even if Russia became socialist. A smaller and more left-wing party (Social Democracy in Poland and Lithuania, SDKPiL), where Rosa Luxemburg was one of the leaders, put the fight for socialism first. Polish independence was not an end in itself; only a socialist revolution could put an end to national and other oppression.
The revolution wave in Russia in 1905 also spread to Russian Poland, first with extensive school strikes to get Polish as the language of instruction. PPS and SDKPiL encouraged general strike; 400,000 workers strike for four weeks. Then there were a lot of strikes and demonstrations, and hundreds of people were killed. Poland received some minor concessions from the tsar in 1905. But the introduction of the Duma as a legislative assembly in Russia in 1906 had no significant consequences for Poland’s position in Russia. As a result of the unrest in 1905-1906, PPS was split. Piłsudski emphasized his radical nationalism, and saw Russia as the greatest enemy, while the left became more internationalist.
When the First World War started, the Poles, on the basis of division, belonged on different sides. Many were loyal to the Tsar, who promised them inner self-government after the war. Piłsudski, on the other hand, fought with his “legions” on the side of the central forces against Russia. During 1915, the central powers conquered the Russian part of Poland. Certain forms of local self-government were introduced. At the same time, Germany was draining the country of financial resources and trying to mobilize labor and soldiers for the war. Although the Central Powers in 1916 promised to establish a Polish kingdom after the war, Piłsudski broke with them in 1917 and was arrested in July of that year. After the Russian Revolution, he saw the central powers as the greatest obstacle to Polish independence.
A Polish national committee in exile was led by Roman Dmowski and pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski, and a Polish legion was organized in France under General Józef Haller. The Great Britain and France had long been entrenched in Polish independence, but from New Year 1918 support was given to the idea, in part to curb the Bolshevik declarations of the right to self-determination for all nations, and US President Woodrow Wilson supported Polish independence from January 1918.
When the Central Powers surrendered in November 1918, Poland became an independent state. Józef Piłsudski was provisional head of state until 1922, while Ignacy Jan Paderewski became the country’s first prime minister and foreign minister after independence. On behalf of Poland, the Paderewski Treaty of Versailles signed and in 1920-1922 was the country’s ambassador to the League of Nations. The country’s borders were not established until 1921. They were partly followed by the Versailles peace in 1919 and referendums in some border regions, but were also the result of several wars with neighboring countries in the years 1918-1921. As a result of the Versailles peace, Poland gained access to the Baltic Sea, see the article Polish corridor.
The largest border change was with Soviet Russia in 1920. Polish forces then moved even farther east than Poland-Lithuania’s borders had been before the first division in 1772, but were then forced back by the Red Army almost to Warsaw. The reason was that in January 1920 Vladimir Lenin decided to attack what he regarded as “the bourgeois and capitalist Poland”. However, the Poles under Piłsudski led the offensive, and in August 1920, defeated the Red Army in the Battle of Wisła, in Poland known as the “Miracle of Wisła”. Following the peace in Riga in 1921, Poland covered almost 400,000 square kilometers with a population of 26 million, of which about 1/3 had a non-Polish ethnic background: Ukrainians, Belarusians and Germans.
Piłsudski signed an election law on November 28, 1918, giving women the right to vote. The first time women took part in parliamentary elections was in January 1919. As a result of this election, the proportion of women in parliament was less than two percent. In 1921, a liberal constitution was adopted with a two-chamber system. Piłsudski, who had been “head of state” from 1918, was little interested in the weak presidential position prescribed by the Constitution, and withdrew from active politics. In a difficult economic situation with strong inflation and unemployment, and after frequent government crises, Piłsudski chose to take power in a military coup in May 1926. He was then in effect the dictator of the country.until his death in 1935, although his formal status was Defense Minister. Some parliamentary forms were retained in the early years, but from 1930 the methods of opposition became more rigorous, although there was no alignment of spiritual life according to communist or Nazi patterns.
After Piłsudski’s death, Poland, until the outbreak of the war in 1939, was ruled by a “colonel” with Edward Śmigły-Rydz and Józef Beck at the head, the latter also as Foreign Minister. Poland’s foreign policy in the interwar period was long based on an alliance with France and Romania (1921). At the same time, Poland had a border dispute with Czechoslovakia, which was one of France’s allies in ” the little entente “. Poland also had a strained relationship with both the Soviet Union and Germany. In addition, the relationship with Lithuania was very difficult. In 1922 Poland annexed the ancient capital of Lithuania Vilnius(Wilno), which had a large Polish and Jewish population. The border between the two countries remained closed, and diplomatic relations were not established until Poland forced it through an ultimatum in 1938.
In 1932 Poland entered into a non-pact with the Soviet Union and a similar agreement with Germany in 1934. The latter agreement nevertheless allowed Poland to maintain the alliance with France; Piłsudski tried to keep a certain distance from Hitler. But when Germany, through the Munich Agreement, renounced the Sudet country from Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938, Poland took advantage of Czechoslovakia’s weakening and annexed the Czechoslovak part of Teschen (Czech Těšín, Polish Cieszyn).
Despite the 1934 agreement, in March 1939, Adolf Hitler demanded that Danzig (Gdańsk), which after World War I was a “free city” in customs union with Poland, be incorporated into Germany. He also demanded a “corridor” over Polish territory between East Prussia and the rest of Germany. Poland rejected the claims and received guarantees from the UK and France. In April, Germany terminated the non-attack agreement with Poland. When the USSR and Germany signed a non-attack agreement in August, the two agreed in a secret supplemental protocol to divide Poland between them.
On September 1, 1939, the Germans moved across the border to Poland, first at Westerplatte outside Gdańsk, and despite strong and courageous resistance, the Poles were defeated during September. Although Britain and France declared war on September 3, Poland received no military support. On September 17, the Soviet Union moved in from the east to take its part. The final dividing line was drawn on September 28; it was close to a border proposed by the United Kingdom between Poland and the Soviet State after World War I (the Curzon Line).
The Soviet Union let the Vilnius region fall into Lithuania (which was incorporated into the Soviet Union next summer), the rest of the Soviet conquests were incorporated into the Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet republics. Germany incorporated the northern and western parts of the German Empire, while the central and southern areas became a German general government. Powerful German bombing destroyed much of Warsaw. Thousands of Polish politicians and intellectuals were shot; Polish culture was to be eradicated. Poles were deported and German colonists took their place. In Warsaw and other major cities, the Germans gathered Jews from all over Poland in ghettos before being sent to extermination camps during the Warsaw uprising of December 1941.
Almost all the roughly three million Polish Jews were killed, many of them as a result of the life-threatening conditions in ghettos and labor camps. The Soviet Union, for its part, deported between one and two million people eastward under the worst conditions. The death toll was very high. Thousands of Polish officers who were interned were executed during the Katyńskogen massacre in May 1940.
In November 1939, a Polish exile government was established in France, which was transferred to London in June 1940 and led by General Władysław Sikorski. When he died in 1943, the farmer party leader Stanisław Mikołajczyk (until 1944) took over. The government organized Polish forces abroad. At the same time, a civil and military resistance movement arose early in Poland.
When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, a Polish-Soviet agreement was entered into, but because of the Soviet border requirements (the Curzon Line) the relationship continued to be cool. The discovery of the mass graves in Katyńskogen in April 1943 led to diplomatic breach. The Western Alliance’s cooperation with the Soviet Union caused the Poles also to be heard by their old allies, and at the November 1943 Tehran Conference, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the demand of Josef Stalins on the Curzon Line as a Polish-Soviet border. The uprising of the Polish home forces in Warsaw In August 1944, when the Soviet army did not help the Poles, relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated further.
When the Soviet forces needed the Germans westward, a communist-controlled liberation committee was established in Lublin in July 1944. From the turn of the year 1944 to 1945, the Soviet Union granted the status of provisional Polish government, which the Polish London government strongly opposed. On January 17, 1945, Soviet forces moved into Warsaw. In June 1945, the Lublin Liberation Committee was recognized by the Western powers for being expanded by some representatives from the exile government, including former Prime Minister Mikołajczyk. They had little influence. Another western condition for recognition was that free elections should be held. But when the government feared the outcome, they were constantly exposed.
Following Germany’s capitulation in 1945, Poland, with allied consent (the Potsdam Conference in August 1945), took over the East German territories east of a line along the rivers Oder and Neisse, with the exception of the northern part of eastern Prussia which became Soviet. The scheme was to apply only to a peace agreement, but still became Poland’s permanent western border in the post-war period. With the Oder – Neisse line, Poland took over approximately 102,000 square kilometers of former German territory, and with the Curzon line the country lost about 179,000 square kilometers to the Soviet Union. This is how Poland was “moved” westward on the map. Several millions of Germans were exiled to Germany from the old East German territories. Their place was largely taken by Poles from the remote eastern regions.
Communist government 1945–1989
The Communist-dominated and Soviet-backed government launched comprehensive socialization measures from 1946. The political opposition was pursued with arrests and other means.
When the elections were finally held in January 1947, the government’s “democratic bloc” officially got 80 percent of the vote. Mikołajczyk’s peasant party, which was the strongest opposition, got 10 percent – but would probably win in free elections. The United States and the United Kingdom protested, believing that the Potsdam Free Election Agreement was broken, but the Soviet Union rejected the protests. In October 1947, Mikołajczyk fled to London. There were also armed resistance groups based on wartime domestic forces who opposed the transition to communist dictatorship, but they were defeated. In December 1948, the relatively communist-friendly Socialist Party, as the last legal alternative to the Communists, became, after the purge of “right-wing” forced co-operation with the Communist Party into a “United Labor Party” (PZPR).
Władysław Gomułka was Secretary-General of the Communist Party, but lost his post following the Soviet intervention in 1948. Among other things, he had wished for a more Polish path to socialism. In July 1952, a new “People’s Democratic” constitution was adopted following the Soviet pattern. An in-depth conflict with the Roman Catholic Church ended with the church’s primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, being interned in 1953.
After Nikita Khrushchev took over power in the Soviet Union and in 1956 settled with Stalin, there was growing unrest in Poland. Amnesty was granted to thousands of political prisoners. In June, strikes and large demonstrations broke out in Poznań. The workers made both economic and political demands. Over 70 people were killed by security forces. Władysław Gomułka was now appointed party leader (first secretary), an election which Khrushchev accepted after first protesting. Gomułka promised to suspend the forced collectivization of agriculture and to facilitate censorship. Cardinal Wyszyński was released.
Gomułka was in power in 1956-1970. His board gradually became more authoritarian, and the financial problems arose. In 1968, students and intellectuals demonstrated in Warsaw, but the authorities quickly gained control. In December 1970, food prices were increased to correct bias in the economy. It triggered large worker demonstrations at the shipyard in Gdańsk, but also in other cities, especially in northern Poland. Around 100 people were killed and over 1,000 injured as security forces intervened. Although Gomułka gained a foreign policy victory in 1970, West Germany under Chancellor Willy Brandt recognized the Oder – Neisse line as a Polish-German border (East Germany had recognized it in 1950), the workers’ unrest led to Gomułka having to step down.
Gomułka was followed by Edward Gierek, who initially focused on higher living standards through increased production of consumer goods. He also posed more favorably to the Catholic Church. To begin with, real wages rose. But the investment in the export industry produced small results, also due to the economic downturn in the West, and the economic situation again became difficult. In June 1976, food prices rose sharply, leading to major labor demonstrations and unrest across Poland. In order to avoid a general uprising, the price increases were withdrawn as early as the next day. Fewer were killed than in 1970, but many were imprisoned.
While the workers had failed to engage in the student struggle in 1968, and the intellectuals failed to support the workers in 1970, from the fall of 1976, connections between these environments grew through the KOR (Workers Defense Committee). Illegal publications of political literature flourished, and many working environments were made aware that the next wave of labor unrest took a completely different course than before. Another important factor was the election of Pope Cardinal Karol Wojtyła to Pope in 1978 (John Paul 2) and his visit as Pope in Poland in June 1979, a triumphal proclamation that demonstrated the authority of the Church and thus put the party’s external power authority in relief.
The continuing difficult economic situation and the growing confidence gap between the population and the party created a new big strike wave in the summer of 1980. The concrete starting point was a price increase on meat from July 1, which was followed by a number of smaller, local strikes. In August, a new strike began at the country’s largest shipyard, the Lenin shipyard in Gdańsk. Lech Wałęsa, who had been dismissed as a ship electrician in 1976 at this shipyard, entered the shipyard on August 14, 1980, where he was elected head of the workers’ strike. The same happened in other large industrial cities. A joint strike committee for the whole of Poland was set up with Wałęsa in the lead, and negotiations began with the authorities. After the replacement of Prime Minister Edward Babiuch with Józef Pińkowski, and most of the workers’ demands were met, the strikes were stopped on 31 August 1980.
A 21-point agreement between the strike committee and the government broke with several of the common principles of the communist regime in Eastern Europe. Free and self-governing unions (which admittedly had to accept the “party’s leading role” in society) were allowed, they should have the right to strike, and freedom of speech and printing should become real. Some of the points were about economic and social conditions. In September, the strike committees formed the independent trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) with Lech Wałęsa as the first leader. In the same month, Gierek, who had fallen ill, was replaced as party leader with Stanisław Kania.
In October 1980, the government formally approved Solidarity, which quickly gained ten million members. A similar peasant organization with about three million members, “Peasant Solidarity”, was approved in May 1981. The economic situation became increasingly difficult, and there was much criticism in the Soviet and Eastern European press of Solidarity’s free position. The criticism was accompanied by military exercises along Poland’s borders, and many feared Soviet intervention. In February 1981, Defense Minister General Wojciech Jaruzelski took over as prime minister and in October Jaruzelski also replaced party leader Kania. In Solidarity, more radical forces were advancing, and that was when Wałęsa was re-elected to Congress in September. Throughout the autumn, tensions between the authorities and Solidarity continued to rise.
On December 13, 1981, Jaruzelski declared a state of emergency (“state of war”) and introduced military administration of the country. Solidarity management and thousands of others were arrested. Censorship and travel restrictions were introduced, the right to strike was abolished. A lot of people had to make loyalty statements to keep the job. In 1982, several strikes and demonstrations were carried out as protests, but they were beaten down before they became large. In October 1982, the authorities declared that Solidarity was dissolved (prohibited). The restrictions gradually eased over the autumn, and several Solidarity leaders, including Wałęsa, were released in November. Officially, the state of emergency was abolished in July 1983, but a number of special laws were introduced that gave the authorities good control.
The Catholic Church had stood on Solidarity’s side, but at the same time tried to avoid any play that could lead to new oppression. A second visit by Pope John Paul in the summer of 1983 could be interpreted as a cautious desire for governmental approach. However, political tension persisted. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Wałęsa in the fall of 1983 underlined the support of the opposition in international opinion. The military regime tried in vain to order the economy, but productivity declined and foreign debt rose. Western economic sanctions were gradually lifted until 1987, and in 1986 amnesty was given to the political prisoners who had not yet been released. Jaruzelski became head of the Cabinet in 1985, handing over the post of Prime Minister to Zbigniew Messner. He was replaced in 1988 by Mieczysław Rakowski.
Mikhail Gorbachev reform policy in the Soviet Union from 1985 made it easier for Polish communists to seek economic reforms that could get the country out of the crisis. Several plans were put forward, but the lack of trust between the regime and the people made it difficult to accomplish anything. Price increases without wage compensation in the winter of 1988 led to a new strike wave from spring to summer. It peaked in August on the basis of the miners in the south. But the Lenin yard in Gdańsk was also occupied by the workers. Lech Wałęsa was left with. The demands were both economic and political, including that Solidarity had to become legal again. The authorities used hard funds to put an end to the unrest, but at the same time demonstrated that they were unable to control Poland. When Wałęsa and Solidarity demanded negotiations with the government, it agreed to it after hesitating for a long time. Legalization of Solidarity should be one of the topics. The strikes were then blown off.
Transition to democracy
This paved the way for Lech Wałęsa to form the Alliance of Solidarity and an agreement with the Government on the first partially free elections in Poland, held on June 4, 1989. The election was the first phase of the country’s democratization process, which led to a free and independent Poland with participation in Euro-Atlantic cooperation organizations, including NATO, see the article Poland’s History after 1989.
History of Chronological overview of Poland’s
Chronological overview of Poland’s history:
|5th millennium BCE||Oldest agricultural crops|
|400-500-century CE.||Slavic immigration|
|800s||Significant national formation with the Polanes as the leading tribe|
|966||Poland officially switches to Christianity|
|1025||Kingdom under Bolesław 1|
|1100-1320||The Office of Dissension|
|1386||Personnel union with Lithuania. The Jagellonian dynasty|
|1569||Realunion with Lithuania|
|1600s||Decrease time, partly due to. pressure from and war with Russia, Sweden and the Ottoman Empire, partly due to internal weaknesses (including the free veto of the nobles in parliament)|
|1697||Staff union with Saxony|
|1772, 1793, 1795||Poland’s divisions: Austria, Prussia and Russia undermine the entire country|
|1807||Napoleon establishes the Grand Duchy of Warsaw|
|1815||“Congress-Poland”, a reduced Polish kingdom in personal union with Russia is established at the Vienna Congress|
|1830-1831||Insurgency is being suppressed by the Russians, who are depriving Poland of internal autonomy|
|1863-1864||New uprising is being knocked down. Russification. Farmer release as in Russia. Beginning industrialization|
|1917-1918||Poland becomes an independent republic|
|1921||Territorial expansion in the east after the war with Soviet Russia. Polish “corridor” to the Baltic Sea divides Germany into two. Alliance with France and Romania|
|1926-1935||Józef Pilsudski’s dictatorship|
|1932||Non-assault pact with the Soviet Union|
|1934||Non-assault pact with Germany|
|1939||Germany attacks and occupies the western part of the country; this initiates the Second World War. The Soviet Union occupies the eastern part. Exile government is set up in London. More than 1 / 5 of the population dies as a result of war|
|1944||Unsuccessful uprising in Warsaw|
|1944-1945||Poland is liberated by Soviet forces|
|1945||Unity government dominated by communists. Poland takes over parts of Germany, while the Soviet Union retains large areas in the east|
|1948||Communists take full control of the country|
|1952||People’s Democratic Constitution|
|1956-1970||Gomulka period: the government in Poland more liberal than otherwise in Eastern Europe|
|1970||West Germany recognizes Poland’s western border (the Oder – Neisse line). Uprising among students and workers leads to power change (Edward Gierek)|
|1976||Strong consumer price rise; new riots|
|1978||Polish cardinal Wojtyla elected pope (John Paul 2)|
|1980||New strike wave. A free trade union movement, Solidarity, is established under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa and has a strong influence in social life|
|1981||Wojciech Jaruzelsk i becomes prime minister, party and defense chief. Military state of emergency is introduced Dec. 13, many union leaders are interned, Solidarity banned|
|1983||The state of emergency is replaced by special laws|
|1988||New strike wave|
|1989||Round table conference between the authorities, the church and Solidarity. Solidarity is allowed and wins the election of the new Senate. Solidarity Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes prime minister of a non-communist majority coalition government|
|1990||Market economic and political reforms. Wałęsa is elected president. Poland is strongly involved in Germany’s collection and guarantees against territorial claims|
|1992-1993||Political turmoil with conflict between president and parliament|
|1993||The last Russian forces leave Poland|
|1997||Poland gets a new constitution which defines Poland as a parliamentary democracy|
|1999||Poland joins NATO|
|2003||Poland emerges as one of the US’s closest allies in Europe and participates with forces in the Iraq war|
|2004||Poland becomes a member of the EU|
|2005||Strong right turn in the elections to the president and the National Assembly|
|2007||Center government is formed by election to the National Assembly|
|2010||President dies in plane crash. Center candidate wins presidential election|
|2011||Donald Tusk from the Borger Alliance (PO) becomes the first prime minister to be re-elected after serving a full term|