1. A republic in central Europe; the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939 started World War II; Also called: Polska.
2. Village in New York (USA); zip code 13431.
3. Village in Ohio (USA); zip code 44514.
Country in E Europe, bounded N by the Baltic Sea, NE by Lithuania, E by Belarus and Ukraine, S by the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, and W by Germany.
Under the revised constitution adopted 1990–91, Poland has a two-chamber legislature, comprising a 460-member lower assembly, the Sejm (parliament), and a 100-member upper chamber, the Senate. Deputies are elected for four-year terms by means of proportional representation at the district, county, and national levels in free, multiparty contests. The Sejm passes bills, adopts the state budget and economic plan, and appoints a 24-member executive council of ministers, headed by a chair, or prime minister. The Senate has the power of veto in specified areas, which can be overridden by a two-thirds Sejm vote. The president, directly elected for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms in a two-round majority contest, has responsibility for military and foreign affairs and has the authority to appoint the prime minister, dissolve parliament, call referenda, veto bills, and impose martial law. There are 49 provinces under appointed governors and 2,348 elected local councils.
In the 10th century the Polish tribes were first united under one Christian ruler, Mieczyslaw. Mongols devastated the country 1241, and thereafter German and Jewish refugees were encouraged to settle among the Slav population. The first parliament met 1331, and Casimir the Great (1333–1370) raised the country to a high level of prosperity. Under the Jagiellonian dynasty (1386–1572) Poland became a great power, the largest country in Europe when it was united with Lithuania (1569–1776). Elected kings followed the death of the last Jagiello, a reactionary nobility wielded much power, and Poland's strength declined. But Stephen Báthory defeated Ivan the Terrible of Russia 1581, and in 1683 John III Sobieski forced the Turks to raise their siege of Vienna. In the mid-17th century a war against Russia, Sweden, and Brandenburg ended in the complete defeat of Poland, from which it was never allowed to recover.
Wars with the Ottoman Empire, dissension among the nobles, quarrels at the election of every king, the continuance of serfdom, and the persecution of Protestants and Greek Orthodox Catholics laid the country open to interference by Austria, Russia, and Prussia, ending with partition 1772, and again 1793, when Prussia and Russia seized further areas. A patriotic uprising led by Tadeusz Kosciusko was defeated, and Russia, Austria, and Prussia occupied the rest of the country 1795. The Congress of Vienna rearranged the division 1815 and reconstituted the Russian portion as a kingdom under the tsar. Uprisings 1830 and 1863 led to intensified repression and an increased attempt to Russify the population.
Poland was revived as an independent republic 1918 under the leadership of Józef Pilsudski, who took advantage of the USSR's internal upheaval to advance into Lithuania and the Ukraine before the Polish troops were driven back by the Red Army. Poland and the USSR then agreed on a frontier east of the Curzon Line. Politically, the initial post-independence years were characterized by instability, 14 multiparty coalition governments holding power 1918–26. Pilsudski seized complete power in a coup and proceeded to govern in an increasingly authoritarian manner until his death 1935. He was succeeded by a military regime headed by Edward Smigly-Rydz.
World War II.
In April 1939 the UK and France concluded a pact with Poland to render military aid if it was attacked, and at the beginning of Sept Germany invaded (see World War II). During the war, western Poland was incorporated into the Nazi Reich, while the remainder, after a brief Soviet occupation of the east (1940–41), was treated as a colony. The country endured the full brunt of Nazi barbarism: a third of the educated elite were “liquidated” and, in all, 6 million Poles lost their lives, half of them Jews slaughtered in concentration camps.
A treaty between Poland and the USSR Aug 1945 (ratified 1946) established Poland’s eastern frontier at the Curzon Line. Poland lost 181,350 sq km/70,000 sq mi in the east to the USSR but gained 101,000 sq km/39,000 sq mi in the west from Germany. After elections, a “people’s republic” was established 1947, and Poland joined Comecon 1949 and the Warsaw Pact 1955, remaining under close Soviet supervision, with the Soviet marshal Rokossovsky serving as minister for war 1949–56. A harsh Stalinist form of rule was instituted under the leadership of Boleslaw Bierut (1892–1956), involving rural collectivization, the persecution of Catholic church opposition, and the arrest of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski 1953.
In 1956, serious strikes and riots, leading to 53 deaths, broke out in Poznan in opposition to Soviet “exploitation” and food shortages. The more pragmatic Wladyslaw Gomulka took over as leader of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP) (Communist Party), reintroduced private farming, and released Cardinal Wyszynski.
A further outbreak of strikes and rioting in Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin 1970 followed sudden food-price rises. This led to Gomulka's replacement as PUWP leader by the Silesia party boss Edward Gierek, whose program aimed at raising living standards and consumer-goods production. The country's foreign debt grew, and food prices again triggered strikes and demonstrations 1976. Opposition to the Gierek regime, which was accused of corruption, mounted 1979 after a visit to his homeland by the recently elected Pope John Paul II.
rise of Solidarity.
Strikes in Warsaw 1980, following a poor harvest and meat-price increases, rapidly spread across the country. The government attempted to appease workers by entering into pay negotiations with unofficial strike committees, but at the Gdansk shipyards demands emerged for permission to form free, independent labor unions.
The government conceded the right to strike, and in Gdansk 1980 the Solidarity (Solidarnosc) union was formed under the leadership of Lech Walesa. In 1980 the ailing Gierek was replaced as PUWP leader by Stanislaw Kania, but unrest continued as the 10-million-member Solidarity campaigned for a five-day working week and established a rural section.
With food shortages mounting and PUWP control slipping, Kania was replaced as PUWP leader 1981 by the prime minister, General Wojciech Jaruzelski; the Soviet army was active on Poland's borders; and martial law was imposed Dec 1981. Labor-union activity was banned, the leaders of Solidarity arrested, a night curfew imposed, and a Military Council of National Salvation established, headed by Jaruzelski. Five months of severe repression ensued, resulting in 15 deaths and 10,000 arrests. The US imposed economic sanctions.
In June 1982, curfew restrictions were eased, prompting further serious rioting in Aug. In Nov Walesa was released, and in Dec 1982 martial law was suspended (lifted 1983). The pope visited Poland 1983 and called for conciliation. The authorities responded by dissolving the Military Council and granting an amnesty to political prisoners and activists. In 1984, 35,000 prisoners and detainees were released on the 40th anniversary of the People's Republic, and the US relaxed its economic sanctions.
The Jaruzelski administration pursued pragmatic reform, including liberalization of the electoral system. Conditions remained tense, however, strained by the continued ban on Solidarity and by a threat (withdrawn 1986) to try Walesa for slandering state electoral officials. Economic conditions and farm output slowly improved, but Poland's foreign debt remained huge. During 1988 the nation's shipyards, coalmines, ports, and steelworks were paralyzed by a wave of Solidarity-led strikes for higher wages to offset the effect of recent price rises. With its economic strategy in tatters, the government of prime minister Zbigniew Messner resigned, being replaced Dec 1988 by a new administration headed by the reformist communist Mieczyslaw F Rakowski, and the PUWP's politburo was infused with a new clutch of technocrats.
After six weeks of PUWP–Solidarity–church negotiations, a historic accord was reached April 1989 under which Solidarity was relegalized, the formation of opposition political associations tolerated, legal rights conferred on the Catholic church, the state’s media monopoly lifted, and a new “socialist pluralist” constitution drafted.
In the subsequent national assembly elections, held June 1989, Solidarity captured all but one of the Sejm and Senate seats for which they were entitled to contest (most seats were reserved for PUWP-backed candidates). Jaruzelski was elected president by parliament July 1989.
In Sept 1989 a “grand coalition” was formed with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, editor of Solidarity’s newspaper, as prime minister. Jaruzelski continued as president, and was reelected in July. The new government, which attracted generous financial aid from Western powers, proceeded to dismantle the command economy and encourage the private sector. A tough austerity program approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was also instituted to solve the problem of hyperinflation, which ran at 550% in 1989.
In Jan 1990 the PUWP voted to disband and re-formed as the Social Democracy Party. Censorship was abolished in April. During 1990 living standards in Poland fell by 40% and the number of unemployed rose to over 1 million. In July 1990, 40 members of the 259-strong Solidarity caucus, under the leadership of Zbigniew Bujak and Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, established the Citizens' Movement–Democratic Action Party (ROAD) to provide a credible alternative to the Walesa-oriented Solidarity Center Citizens' Alliance (SCA) established in May.
split in Solidarity.
Walesa accused the government of delaying political and economic reform and forcing workers to bear the brunt of the austerity program. In July 100 SCA deputies and senators petitioned Jaruzelski to stand down to make way for Walesa. In Sept the Sejm passed a bill establishing a presidential term of five years. In the first round of presidential elections, held 25 Nov 1990, the rupture within Solidarity was exposed by both Prime Minister Mazowiecki and Lech Walesa contesting for the position. Having run a populist campaign, Walesa topped the poll with a 40% vote share, and Mazowiecki, defending an unpopular government, finished in third position, with 18% of the vote, behind Stanislaw Tyminski, a previously obscure, right-wing, returned emigré Canadian entrepreneur, who captured 23% of the vote. In the second round, held 9 Dec, Walesa defeated Tyminski.
Walesa becomes president.
In Dec 1990 the defeated Mazowiecki resigned as prime minister. Walesa resigned the Solidarity chair and was sworn in as president. He chose for prime minister an economist and former Solidarity activist, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki (1951–), and the new government included the IMF-backed finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz and other ministers from the outgoing administration. They pledged to consolidate the free market they had introduced, and the first privatization share sales were held Jan 1991, with mixed success.
Poland's relations with the USSR deteriorated in early 1991 over the issue of Soviet troop withdrawals: there were some 50,000 stationed on Polish territory, and the Poles wanted them to leave by the end of the year, coinciding with withdrawals from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Told that it would take three years, Walesa refused to allow Soviet troops to pass through Poland on their way back to the USSR from other countries. In Oct 1991 a treaty was signed providing for the withdrawal of all Soviet combat troops by 15 Nov 1992 and the remainder by the end of 1993.
In June 1991 a treaty of good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation was signed with Germany, confirming the Oder–Neisse border and recognizing the rights of the 500,000-strong German minority in Poland to their own culture, language, and religion.
The IMF approved further major loans April 1991 in support of the Polish government's economic reform program. There was growing public discontent at the decline in living standards brought about by currency reform and the deepening recession. This led to industrial unrest as unemployment reached 1.5 million (8.4% of the working population) by June 1991.
Bielecki offered his resignation at the end of Aug 1991, complaining that he no longer enjoyed the support of a Sejm that still contained many communists. Parliament refused to accept either the resignation or the government's crucial proposed budget cuts. President Walesa urged it to confer emergency powers to enable the government to rule by decree until the general election. This plea was rejected, creating an impasse, although Bielecki agreed to stay as prime minister until the elections.
first multiparty election.
The Oct 1991 general election was Poland’s first post-communist, fully free, multiparty contest. No dominant party emerged from the voting, and Walesa proposed that he should combine the positions of president and prime minister for two years, heading a “national unity” grand coalition government. However, this failed to gain broad support. An attempt was then made to construct a left-of-center coalition led by Broneslaw Geremek.
This foundered, and in Dec 1991 Walesa reluctantly allowed Jan Olszewski, a former Solidarity defense lawyer and a representative of the SCA, to form a five-party, center-right coalition government. This government pledged to pursue a more gradual approach to market-oriented reform and, in particular, to slow down the privatization program by concentrating instead on helping ailing state industries.
In April 1992 Walesa called for greater powers as president. In June Olszewski was ousted on a vote of no confidence; Waldemar Pawlak succeeded him but failed to hold together a workable coalition. In July Walesa nominated Hanna Suchocka at the head of a center-right coalition as Pawlak's successor and Poland's first woman premier. Suchocka resigned May 1993, after narrowly losing a vote of confidence. In June 1993 Walesa formed the Nonparty Bloc to Support Reform as a successor to the SCA. In Oct, after an inconclusive general election, Pawlak was again appointed prime minister. In Feb 1995 Walesa, claiming dissatisfaction with the slow pace of economic reforms, nominated Jozef Oleksy to succeed Pawlak. Pawlak later resigned after losing a vote of no-confidence.
In 1993 Poland was formally invited to apply for European Community (now European Union) membership, and in 1994 it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “partnership for peace” program.
At the close of 1991 Poland's foreign debt stood at US $42 billion. GNP fell during 1990 and 1991 by 12% and 17% respectively and unemployment rose to more than 11%, with more than 2 million out of work; by March 1993 14% of the work force (2.6 million) were out of work. However, the annual rate of inflation fell from 684% in early 1990 to 60% at the end of 1991. Legislation allowing privatization of state-owned enterprises was passed 1993, and by 1994 more than 50% of GDP was produced by the private sector. GDP grew by 4% a year during 1993 and 1994, but unemployment remained at 16%.