History of Poland
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|History of Poland|
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The History of Poland is rooted in the arrival of the Slavs, who gave rise to permanent settlement and historic development on Polish lands. During the Piast dynasty Christianity was adopted in 966 and medieval monarchy established. The Jagiellon dynasty period brought close ties with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, cultural development and territorial expansion, culminating in the establishment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569.
The Commonwealth in its early phase constituted a continuation of the Jagiellon prosperity, with its remarkable development of a sophisticated noble democracy. From the mid-17th century, the huge state entered a period of decline caused by devastating wars and deterioration of the country's system of government. Significant internal reforms were introduced during the later part of the 18th century, but the reform process was not allowed to run its course, as the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy through a series of invasions and partitions terminated the Commonwealth's independent existence in 1795.
From then until 1918 there was no independent Polish state. The Poles engaged intermittently in armed resistance until 1864. After the failure of the last uprising, the nation preserved its identity through educational uplift and the program called "organic work", intended to modernize the economy and society. The opportunity for freedom appeared only after World War I, when the partitioning imperial powers were defeated by war and revolution.
The Second Polish Republic was established and existed from 1918 to 1939. It was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II. Millions of Polish citizens perished in the course of the Nazi occupation. The Polish government in exile kept functioning and through the many Polish military formations on the western and eastern fronts the Poles contributed to the Allied victory. Nazi Germany's forces were compelled to retreat from Poland as the Soviet Red Army advanced, which led to the creation of the People's Republic of Poland.
The country's geographic location was shifted to the west and Poland existed as a Soviet satellite state. Poland largely lost its traditional multi-ethnic character and the communist system was imposed. By the late 1980s Solidarity, a Polish reform movement, became crucial in causing a peaceful transition from a communist state to the capitalist system and parliamentary democracy. This process resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state.
Prehistory and protohistory 
Members of the Homo genus have lived in the glaciation disrupted environment of north Central Europe for a long time. In prehistoric and protohistoric times, over the period of at least 500,000 years, the area of present-day Poland went through the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age stages of development, along with the nearby regions. Settled agricultural people have lived there for the past 7500 years, since their first arrival at the outset of the Neolithic period. Following the earlier La Tène and Roman influence cultures, the Slavic people have been in this territory for over 1500 years. They organized first into tribal units, and then combined into larger political structures.
Piast dynasty 
During the Piast dynasty rule (10th–14th century), Poland was formed and established as a state and a nation. The historically recorded Polish state begins with the rule of Mieszko I in the second half of the 10th century. Mieszko chose to be baptized in the Western Latin Rite in 966. Mieszko completed the unification of the West Slavic tribal lands fundamental to the new country's existence. Following its emergence, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the population to Christianity, created a strong kingdom and integrated Poland into the European culture.
Mieszko's son Bolesław I Chrobry established a Polish Church province, pursued territorial conquests and was officially crowned in 1025, becoming the first King of Poland. This was followed by a collapse of the monarchy and restoration under Casimir I. Casimir's son Bolesław II the Bold became fatally involved in a conflict with the ecclesiastical authority, and was expelled from the country. After Bolesław III divided the country among his sons, internal fragmentation eroded the initial Piast monarchy structure in the 12th and 13th centuries. One of the regional Piast dukes invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Baltic Prussian pagans, which caused centuries of Poland's warfare with the Knights and then with the German Prussian state. The Kingdom was restored under Władysław I the Elbow-high, strengthened and expanded by his son Casimir III the Great. The western provinces of Silesia and Pomerania were lost after the fragmentation, and Poland began expanding to the east. The consolidation in the 14th century laid the base for, after the reigns of two members of the Angevin dynasty, the new powerful Kingdom of Poland that was to follow.
Jagiellon dynasty 
Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), the Jagiellon dynasty (1386–1572) formed the Polish–Lithuanian union. The partnership brought vast Lithuania-controlled Rus' areas into Poland's sphere of influence and proved beneficial for the Poles and Lithuanians, who coexisted and cooperated in one of the largest political entities in Europe for the next four centuries. In the Baltic Sea region, Poland's struggle with the Teutonic Knights continued and included the Battle of Grunwald (German: Battle of Tannenberg; Lithuanian: Battle of Žalgiris) (1410) and in 1466 the milestone Peace of Thorn under King Casimir IV Jagiellon; the treaty created the future Duchy of Prussia. In the south, Poland confronted the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Tatars, and in the east helped Lithuania fight the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Poland was developing as a feudal state, with predominantly agricultural economy and an increasingly dominant landed nobility component. The Nihil novi act, adopted in 1505 by the Sejm, the Polish parliament, transferred most of the legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility. Protestant Reformation movements made deep inroads into the Polish Christianity, which resulted in unique at that time in Europe policies of religious tolerance. The European Renaissance currents evoked in late Jagiellon Poland (kings Sigismund I the Old and Sigismund II Augustus) an immense cultural and scientific flowering, of which the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus is the best known representative. Poland's and Lithuania's territorial expansion included the far north region of Livonia.
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth 
Establishment (1569–1648) 
The Union of Lublin of 1569 established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a more closely unified federal state. The Union was largely run by the nobility, through the system of central parliament and local assemblies, but led by elected kings. The formal rule of the nobility, who were proportionally more numerous than in other European countries, constituted an early democratic system ("a sophisticated noble democracy"), in contrast to the absolute monarchies prevalent at that time in the rest of Europe. The beginning of the Commonwealth coincided with the period of Poland's great power, advancements in civilization and prosperity. The Polish–Lithuanian Union had become an influential player in Europe and a vital cultural entity, spreading the Western culture eastward. In the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a huge state in central-eastern Europe, with an area approaching one million square kilometers. The Catholic Church embarked on an ideological counteroffensive and Counter-Reformation claimed many converts from Protestant circles. The Union of Brest split the Eastern Christians of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth, assertive militarily under King Stephen Báthory, suffered from dynastic distractions during the reigns of the Vasa kings Sigismund III and Władysław IV. The Commonwealth fought wars with Russia, Sweden and the Ottoman Empire and dealt with a series of Cossack uprisings. Allied with the Habsburg Monarchy, it did not directly participate in the Thirty Years' War.
Decline (1648–1764) 
Beginning in the middle of the 17th century, the nobles' democracy, subjected to devastating wars, falling into internal disorder and then anarchy, gradually declined, making the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention. From 1648, the Cossack Khmelnytsky Uprising engulfed the south and east, and was soon followed by a Swedish invasion, which raged through core Polish lands. Warfare with the Cossacks and Russia left Ukraine divided, with the eastern part, lost by the Commonwealth, becoming the Tsardom's dependency. John III Sobieski, fighting protracted wars with the Ottoman Empire, revived the Commonwealth's military might once more, in process helping decisively in 1683 to deliver Vienna from a Turkish onslaught. From there, it all went downhill. The Commonwealth, subjected to almost constant warfare until 1720, suffered enormous population losses as well as massive damage to its economy and social structure. The government became ineffective because of large scale internal conflicts (e.g. Lubomirski's Rokosz against John II Casimir and rebellious confederations), corrupted legislative processes and manipulation by foreign interests. The nobility class fell under control of a handful of powerful families with established territorial domains, the urban population and infrastructure fell into ruin, together with most peasant farms. The reigns of two kings of the Saxon Wettin dynasty, Augustus II and Augustus III, brought the Commonwealth further disintegration. The Great Northern War, a period seen by the contemporaries as a passing eclipse, may have been the fatal blow destined to bring down the Noble Republic. The Kingdom of Prussia became a strong regional power and took Silesia from the Habsburg Monarchy. The Commonwealth-Saxony personal union however gave rise to the emergence of the reform movement in the Commonwealth, and the beginnings of the Polish Enlightenment culture.
Reforms and loss of statehood (1764–1795) 
During the later part of the 18th century, the Commonwealth attempted fundamental internal reforms. The reform activity provoked hostile reaction and eventually military response on the part of the neighboring powers. The second half of the century brought improved economy and significant growth of the population. The most populous capital city of Warsaw replaced Danzig (Gdańsk) as the leading trade center, and the role of the more prosperous urban strata was increasing. The last decades of the independent Commonwealth existence were characterized by intense reform movements and far-reaching progress in the areas of education, intellectual life, art, and especially toward the end of the period, evolution of the social and political system.
The royal election of 1764 resulted in the elevation of Stanisław August Poniatowski, a refined and worldly aristocrat connected to a major magnate faction, but hand-picked and imposed by Empress Catherine II of Russia, who expected Poniatowski to be her obedient follower. The King accordingly spent his reign torn between his desire to implement reforms necessary to save the state, and his perceived necessity of remaining in subordinate relationship with his Russian sponsors.
The Bar Confederation of 1768 was a szlachta rebellion directed against Russia and the Polish king, fought to preserve Poland's independence and in support of szlachta's traditional causes. It was brought under control and followed in 1772 by the First Partition of the Commonwealth, a permanent encroachment on the outer Commonwealth provinces by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria. The "Partition Sejm" under duress "ratified" the partition fait accompli, but in 1773 also established the Commission of National Education, a pioneering in Europe government education authority.
The long-lasting sejm convened by Stanisław August in 1788 is known as the Great, or Four-Year Sejm. The Sejm's landmark achievement was the passing of the May 3 Constitution, the first in modern Europe singular pronouncement of a supreme law of the state. The reformist but moderate document, accused by detractors of French Revolution sympathies, soon generated strong opposition coming from the Commonwealth's upper nobility conservative circles and Catherine II, determined to prevent a rebirth of the strong Commonwealth. The nobility's Targowica Confederation appealed to the Empress for help and in May 1792 the Russian army entered the territory of the Commonwealth. The defensive war fought by the forces of the Commonwealth ended when the King, convinced of the futility of resistance, capitulated by joining the Targowica Confederation. The Confederation took over the government, but Russia and Prussia in 1793 arranged for and executed the Second Partition of the Commonwealth, which left the country with critically reduced territory, practically incapable of independent existence.
The radicalized by the recent events reformers, in the still nominally Commonwealth area and in exile, were soon working on national insurrection preparations. Tadeusz Kościuszko was chosen as its leader; the popular general came from abroad and on March 24, 1794 in Cracow (Kraków) declared a national uprising under his supreme command. Kościuszko emancipated and enrolled in his army many peasants, but the hard-fought insurrection, strongly supported also by urban plebeian masses, proved incapable of generating the necessary foreign collaboration and aid. It ended suppressed by the forces of Russia and Prussia, with Warsaw captured in November. The third and final partition of the Commonwealth was undertaken again by all three partitioning powers, and in 1795 the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth effectively ceased to exist.
Despite the long history of close relations between Poland and Prussia, the Prussians treated their new Polish lands as conquered territory rather than as a recovered long-lost province. The response of the Polish leadership is a matter of historical debate. Literary scholars found that the dominant emotion of the first decade was despair, producing a moral desert, ruled by violence and treason. On the other hand historians have looked for signs of resistance to foreign rule. Apart from those who went into exile the nobility took oaths of loyalty to their new rulers, and served as officers in their armies.
Partitioned Poland 
Armed resistance (1795–1864) 
While there was no separate Polish state at all, the idea of Polish independence was kept alive throughout the 19th century and led to more Polish uprisings and other warfare against the partitioning powers. Military efforts after the Partitions were first based on Polish alliances with post-revolutionary France. Henryk Dąbrowski's Polish Legions fought in French campaigns outside of Poland, hoping that their involvement and contribution result in liberation of their Polish homeland. The Polish national anthem - Dąbrowski's Mazurka - was written in praise of his actions by Józef Wybicki in 1797. The Duchy of Warsaw, a small, semi-independent Polish state, was created in 1807 by Napoleon Bonaparte, following his defeat of Prussia. The Duchy's military forces, led by Józef Poniatowski, participated in numerous campaigns, including the Polish–Austrian War of 1809, the French invasion of Russia in 1812, and the German campaign of 1813.
After the defeat of Napoleon, a new European order was established at the Congress of Vienna. Adam Czartoryski, at one time a close associate of Emperor Alexander I of Russia, became the leading advocate for the Polish national cause. The Congress implemented a new partition scheme, which took into account some of the gains realized by the Poles during the Napoleonic period. The Duchy of Warsaw was replaced with the Kingdom of Poland, a residual Polish state in personal union with the Russian Empire, ruled by the Russian tsar. East of the Kingdom, large areas of the former Commonwealth remained directly incorporated into the Empire; together with the Kingdom they were part of the Russian partition. There was a Prussian partition, with a portion of it separated as the Grand Duchy of Posen, and an Austrian partition. The newly created Republic of Kraków was a tiny state under a joint supervision of the three partitioning powers. "Partitions" were the lands of the former Commonwealth, not actual administrative units.
The increasingly repressive policies of the partitioning powers led to Polish conspiracies, and in 1830 to the November Uprising in the Kingdom. The uprising developed into a full-scale war with Russia, but the leadership was taken over by the Polish conservative circles reluctant to challenge the Empire, and hostile to broadening the independence movement's social base through measures such as land reform. Despite the significant resources mobilized and self-sacrifice of the participants, a series of missteps by several successive unwilling or incompetent chief commanders appointed by the Polish government ultimately led to the defeat of the insurgents by the Russian army.
After the fall of the November Uprising, thousands of former Polish combatants and other activists emigrated to Western Europe, where they were initially enthusiastically received. This element, known as the Great Emigration, soon dominated the Polish political and intellectual life. Together with the leaders of the independence movement, the exile community included the greatest Polish literary and artistic minds, including the Romantic poets Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Cyprian Norwid, and composer Frédéric Chopin. In the occupied and repressed Poland, some sought progress through self-improvement activities known as organic work; others, in cooperation with emigrant circles, organized conspiracies and prepared for the next armed insurrection.
The planned national uprising, after authorities in the partitions had found out about secret preparations, ended in a fiasco in early 1846. In its most significant manifestation, the Kraków Uprising of February 1846, patriotic action was combined with revolutionary demands, but the result was the incorporation of the Republic of Kraków into the Austrian partition. Austrian authorities took advantage of peasant discontent by inciting the villagers against noble-dominated insurgent units; it led to the Galician slaughter, a violent anti-feudal rebellion, beyond the intended scope of the provocation. A new wave of Polish military and other involvement, in the partitions and in other parts of Europe, soon took place in the context of the 1848 Spring of Nations revolutions. In particular, the events in Berlin precipitated the Greater Poland Uprising, where peasants in Prussia, who were by then largely enfranchised, played a prominent role.
Despite the limited liberalization measures allowed in Congress Kingdom under the rule of Alexander II, a renewal of popular liberation activities took place in 1860-1861. During the large scale demonstrations in Warsaw the Russian forces inflicted numerous casualties on the civilian participants. The "Red", or left-wing conspiracy faction, which promoted peasant enfranchisement and cooperated with Russian revolutionaries, became involved in immediate preparations for a national uprising. The "White", or right-wing faction, inclined to cooperate with the Russian authorities, countered with partial reform proposals. Aleksander Wielopolski, the conservative leader of the Kingdom's government, in order to cripple the manpower potential of the Reds, arranged for a partial selective conscription of young Poles for the Russian army, which hastened the outbreak of the hostilities. The January Uprising, joined and led after the initial period by the Whites, was fought by partisan units against an overwhelming enemy advantage. The warfare lasted from January 1863 to the spring of 1864, when Romuald Traugutt, the dedicated last supreme commander of the insurgence, was captured by the tsarist police.
On March 2, 1864, the Russian authority — compelled by the uprising to compete for the loyalty of Polish peasants — officially published an enfranchisement decree in the Kingdom, along the lines of an earlier insurgent land reform proclamation. The act created the conditions necessary for the development of the capitalist system on central Polish lands. At the time when the futility of armed resistance without external support was realized by most Poles, the various segments of the Polish society were undergoing deep and far-reaching social, economic and cultural transformations.
Formation of modern Polish society under foreign rule (1864–1914) 
Following the failure of the last of the national uprisings, the January Uprising of 1863, the Polish nation, subjected within the territories under the Russian and Prussian administrations to still stricter controls and increased persecution, preserved its identity in nonviolent ways. After the Uprising Congress Poland, downgraded in official usage from the Kingdom of Poland to the Vistula Land, was more fully integrated into Russia proper, but not entirely obliterated. The Russian and German languages were respectively imposed in all public communication and the Catholic Church was not spared from severe repression. On the other hand the Galicia region in western Ukraine and southern Poland, economically and socially backward, but under the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy rule increasingly allowed limited autonomy, experienced gradual relaxation of authoritarian policies and even a Polish cultural revival. Positivism replaced Romanticism as the leading intellectual, social and literary trend.
"Organic work" social activities consisted of self-help organizations that promoted economic advancement and worked on improving competitiveness of Polish-held business entities, industrial, agricultural, or other. New commercial methods and ways of generating higher productivity were discussed and implemented through trade associations and special interest groups, while Polish banking and cooperative financial institutions made necessary business loans available. The other major area of organic work concern was education and intellectual development of the common people. Many libraries and reading rooms were established in small towns and villages, and numerous printed periodicals reflected the growing interest in popular education. Scientific and educational societies were active in a number of cities.
Economic and social changes, such as land reform and industrialization, combined with the effects of foreign domination, altered the centuries old social structure of the Polish society. Among the newly emergent strata were wealthy industrialists and financiers, distinct from the traditional, but still critically important landed aristocracy. The intelligentsia, an educated, professional or business middle class, often originated from gentry alienated from their rural possessions (many smaller serfdom-based agricultural enterprises had not survived the land reforms) and from urban people. Industrial proletariat, the new underprivileged class, were usually poor peasants or townspeople forced by deteriorating conditions to migrate and search for work in urban centers in countries of their origin or abroad. Millions of residents of the former Commonwealth of various ethnic backgrounds worked or settled in Europe and in North and South America.
The changes were partial and gradual, and the degree of the fast-paced in some areas industrialization and capitalist development on Polish lands lagged behind the advanced regions of western Europe. The three partitions developed different economies, and were economically integrated with their mother states more than with each other.
In the 1870s-1890s, large scale socialist, nationalist and agrarian movements of great ideological fervor and corresponding political parties became established in partitioned Poland and Lithuania. The main minority ethnic groups of the former Commonwealth, including Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Belarusians and Jews, were getting involved in their own national movements and plans, which met with disapproval on the part of those ethnically Polish independence activists, who counted on an eventual rebirth of the Commonwealth.
Around the start of the 20th century the Young Poland cultural movement, centered on Galicia and taking advantage of the conducive to liberal expression milieu there, was the source of Poland's finest artistic and literary productions. Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a pioneer radiation scientist, who did her groundbreaking research in Paris.
The Revolution of 1905 arose new waves of Polish unrest, political maneuvering, strikes and rebellion, with Roman Dmowski and Józef Piłsudski active as leaders of the nationalist and socialist factions respectively. As the authorities reestablished control within the Empire, the revolt in the Kingdom, placed under martial law, had withered as well, leaving tsarist concessions in the areas of national and workers' rights, including Polish representation in the newly created Russian Duma. Some of the acquired gains were however rolled back, which coupled with intensified Germanization in the Prussian partition, left the Austrian Galicia as the most amenable to patriotic action territory.
World War I 
World War I and the political turbulence that was sweeping Europe in 1914 offered the Polish nation hopes for regaining independence. On the outbreak of war the Poles found themselves conscripted into the armies of Germany, Austria and Russia, and forced to fight each other in a war that was not theirs. In 1917 France formed the Blue Army comprising about 100,000 Poles, including men captured from German and Austrian units as well as 20,000 volunteers from the U.S. Dmowski, operating from Paris as head of the Polish National Committee (KNP), became the spokesman for Polish nationalism in the Allied camp.
Piłsudski's paramilitary units stationed in Galicia were turned into the Polish Legions, and as a part of the Austro-Hungarian Army fought on the Russian front until 1917, when it was disbanded. Piłsudski was arrested by the Germans and became a heroic symbol of Polish nationalism.
In all about two million Poles served in the war, counting both sides, and about 450,000 died. Much of the fighting on the Eastern Front took place in Poland, and civilian casualties and devastation were high.
During the course of the war the area of Congress Poland became occupied by the Central Powers, with Warsaw captured by the Germans on 5 August 1915. In the Act of 5th November 1916, the Kingdom of Poland (Królestwo Regencyjne) was recreated by Germany and Austria on formerly Russian-controlled territory. This new puppet state existed until November 1918, when it was replaced by the newly established Republic of Poland. The independence of Poland had been campaigned for in the West by Dmowski and Ignacy Paderewski. At the initiative of Woodrow Wilson, Polish independence was officially endorsed in June 1918 by the Allies. On the ground in Poland in October–November the final upsurge of the push for independence was taking place, with Ignacy Daszyński heading a short-lived Polish government in Lublin from November 6. Germany, now defeated, was forced by the Allies to stand down its large military forces in Poland. It released imprisoned Piłsudski, who arrived in Warsaw on November 10.
Second Polish Republic (1918–1939) 
Securing national borders 
After more than a century of foreign rule Poland was given its independence by the powers at the end of World War I. The rebirth of Poland was one of the outcomes of the negotiations that took place at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Treaty of Versailles set up an independent nation with an outlet to the sea, but left some of the boundaries to be decided by plebiscites (East Prussia plebiscite and Upper Silesia plebiscite took place). The largely German Free City of Danzig was granted a separate status that guaranteed its use as a port by Poland.
Other boundaries were settled by warfare and subsequent treaties. Most important was the Polish–Soviet War of 1919-1921. Piłsudski had entertained far-reaching anti-Russian cooperative designs for Eastern Europe, and in 1919 the Polish forces pushed eastward into Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine (previously a theater of the Polish–Ukrainian War), taking advantage of the Russian preoccupation with the civil war. By June 1920, the Polish armies were past Vilnius, Minsk and (allied with the Directorate of Ukraine) reached Kiev, but then a massive Soviet counteroffensive pushed the Poles out of most of Ukraine and on the northern front arrived at the outskirts of Warsaw. A Soviet triumph and the quick end of Poland seemed inevitable. However the Poles scored a stunning victory at the Battle of Warsaw in August, 1920. The Soviets pulled back and left to Polish rule swaths of territory occupied largely by Belarusians or Ukrainians. The new eastern boundary was finalized by the Treaty of Riga in 1921.
The defeat of the Russian armies forced Lenin and the Soviet leadership to abandon for the time being their strategic objective of linking up with the German and other European revolution-minded comrades (Lenin's hope of generating support for the Red Army in Poland had already failed to materialize). Piłsudski's seizure of Vilnius (Wilno) in October 1920 poisoned Polish–Lithuanian relations for the remainder of the interwar period. Piłsudski's planned East European federation of states (inspired by the tradition of the multiethnic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and including a hypothetical multinational successor state to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) was incompatible, at the time of rising national movements, with his assumption of Polish domination and with the encroachment on the neighboring peoples' lands and aspirations; as such it was doomed to failure.[a] A larger federated structure was also opposed by Dmowski's National Democrats. Their representative at the Peace of Riga talks opted for leaving Minsk, Berdychiv, Kamianets-Podilskyi and the surrounding areas on the Soviet side of the border, not wanting to allow population shifts National Democrats considered politically undesirable, including what would be a reduced proportion of citizens who were ethnically Polish.
The Peace of Riga settled the eastern border, preserving for Poland, at the cost of partitioning the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Lithuania and Belarus) and Ukraine, a good portion of the old Commonwealth's eastern lands. Ukrainians ended up with no state of their own and felt betrayed by the Riga arrangements; their resentment gave rise to extreme nationalism and anti-Polish hostility. The territories in the east won by 1921 would form the basis for a swap arranged and carried out by the Soviets in 1943-1945, who at that time compensated the reemerging Polish state for its eastern lands lost to the Soviet Union with conquered areas of eastern Germany.
The successful outcome of the Polish–Soviet War gave Poland a false sense of being a major and self-sufficient military power, and the government a justification for trying to resolve international problems through imposed unilateral solutions. The interwar period's Polish territorial and ethnic policies contributed to bad relations with most of Poland's neighbors and to uneasy cooperation with the more distant centers of power, including France, Britain and the League of Nations.
Democratic politics 
The rapidly growing population of Poland within the new boundaries was ¾ agricultural and ¼ urban, with Polish being the primary language of ⅔ of the inhabitants. The minorities had very little voice in the government. A constitution was adopted in 1921. Due to the insistence of the National Democrats, worried about the potential power of Piłsudski if elected, it introduced limited prerogatives for the presidency.
What followed was the Second Republic's short (1921–1926) and turbulent period of constitutional order and parliamentary democracy. The legislature remained fragmented and lacking stable majorities, governments changed frequently, corruption was commonplace. The open-minded Gabriel Narutowicz was constitutionally elected president by the National Assembly in 1922, but deemed by the nationalist right wing a traitor pushed through by the votes of alien minorities, was assassinated.
Poland had suffered under a plethora of economic calamities and experienced waves of strikes and a worker revolt in 1923, but there were also signs of progress and stabilization. Władysław Grabski's economically competent government accomplished critical reform of finances and lasted for almost two years. The achievements of the democratic period, such as the establishment, strengthening and expansion of the various governmental and civil society structures and integrative processes necessary for normal functioning of the reunited state and nation, were too easily overlooked. Lurking on the sidelines was the disgusted army upper corps, not willing to subject itself to civilian control, but ready to follow its equally dissatisfied, at that time retired, legendary chief.
Piłsudski's coup and the Sanation Era 
On May 12, 1926, Piłsudski staged a military overthrow of the Polish government, confronting President Stanisław Wojciechowski and overpowering the troops loyal to him. Hundreds died in fratricidal fighting. Piłsudski was supported by several leftist factions, who ensured the success of his coup by blocking during the fighting the railway transportation of government forces.[l]
The authoritarian "Sanation" regime that Piłsudski was to lead for the rest of his life and that stayed in power until 1939 was neither leftist, nor overtly fascist. Political institutions and parties were allowed to function, which was combined with electoral manipulation and strong-arming of those not willing to cooperate into submission. Eventually persistent opponents of the regime, many of the leftist persuasion, were subjected to long staged trials and harsh sentences, or detained in camps for political prisoners. Rebellious peasants, striking industrial workers and nationalist Ukrainians became targets of ruthless military pacification, other minorities were also harassed. Piłsudski, conscious of Poland's precarious international situation, signed non-aggression pacts with the Soviet Union in 1932 and with Nazi Germany in 1934. Piłsudski kept personal control of the army, but it was poorly equipped, poorly trained and had poor planning. His only war plan was a defensive war against a Soviet invasion.
Social and economic trends 
The mainstream of the Polish society was not affected by the repressions of the Sanation authorities; many enjoyed the relative stability and the economy improved between 1926 and 1929, when it became caught up in the global Great Depression. Independence had stimulated the development of thriving culture and intellectual achievement was high, but the Great Depression brought low prices for farmers and unemployment for workers. Social tensions increased, such as rising antisemitism. The reconstituted Polish state had had only 20 years of relative stability and uneasy peace between the two wars. A major economic transformation and national industrial development plan led by Minister Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, the main architect of the Gdynia seaport project, was in progress at the time of the outbreak of the war.
Ther population grew steadily, reaching 35 million in 1939. However the interwar period's overall economic situation was stagnant. There was little money for investment inside Poland, and few foreigners were interested in investing there. The total industrial production had barely increased between 1913 and 1939, but because of the population growth, the per capita output actually decreased by 18%.
Final years 
The regime of Piłsudski's "colonels", left in power after the Marshal's death in 1935, had neither the vision nor resources to cope with the deteriorating situation in Europe. The foreign policy was the responsibility of Józef Beck. He had numerous schemes but alienated most of the neighbors (not blamed for the worsening relations with Germany). The government undertook opportunistic hostile actions against Lithuania and Czechoslovakia. At home increasingly alienated minorities threatened unrest and violence and were suppressed. Extreme nationalist circles were getting more outspoken. One of the groups, the Camp of National Unity, was connected to the new strongman, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły.
In March 1939, the Polish government rejected the German offer of an alliance and Hitler abrogated the Polish-German pact. Instead Poland entered into a military alliance with Britain and France. However the western powers were weaker than Nazi Germany and their vocal assurances of imminent military action was a bluff that did not deter Hitler. The mid-August British-French talks with the Soviets on forming an anti-Nazi defensive military alliance had failed, in part over Warsaw's refusal to allow the Red Army to operate on Polish territory.[b] On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones.
World War II and its violence 
Invasions and resistance 
On September 1, 1939 Hitler ordered his troops into Poland. Poland had signed a pact with Britain (as recently as August 25) and France and the two western powers soon declared a war on Germany, but remained rather inactive and extended no aid to the attacked country. On September 17, the Soviet troops moved in and took control of most of the areas of eastern Poland having majority Ukrainian and Belarusian populations under the terms of the German-Soviet agreement. While the nation's military forces were fighting the invading armies, Poland's top government officials and military high command fled the country; both arrived at the Romanian border in mid-September.
Weinberg argues that the most significant Polish contribution to the Allied war effort was sharing its code-breaking results. This allowed the British to break "Enigma", the main German military code, giving it a major advantage in combat. However, some Polish historians have argued that fighting the initial "September Campaign" of World War II was the most significant Polish contribution to the allied war effort. The nearly one million Polish soldiers mobilized significantly delayed Hitler's attack on Western Europe, planned for 1939. When the Nazi offensive did happen, the delay caused it to be less effective, a possibly crucial factor in the case of the defense of Britain.
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 Polish government in exile, first in Paris and later in London, which was recognized by the Soviet Union (diplomatic relations, broken since September 1939, were resumed in July 1941). During World War II, about 400,000 Poles joined the underground Polish Home Army, about 200,000 went into combat on western fronts in units loyal to the Polish government in exile, and about 300,000 fought under the Soviet command in the last stages of the war.
In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke the deteriorating 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 USSR. The Soviets claimed that the Poles had committed a hostile act by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports.
As the Jewish ghetto in occupied Warsaw was being liquidated by the Nazi SS units, in 1943 the city was the scene of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The eliminations of the ghettos took place in Polish cities and uprisings were fought there against impossible odds by desperate Jewish insurgents, whose people were being removed and exterminated.
Soviet advance 1944-45, Warsaw Uprising 
At the time of the western Allies' increasing cooperation with the Soviet Union, the standing and influence of the Polish government in exile were seriously diminished by the death of its most prominent leader — Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski — on July 4, 1943.
In July 1944, the Soviet Red Army and the People's Army of Poland controlled by the Soviets entered Poland, and through protracted fighting in 1944 and 1945 destroyed the German army, losing 600,000 of their soldiers.
The greatest single instance of armed struggle in the occupied Poland and a major political event of World War II was the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The uprising, in which most of the Warsaw population participated, was instigated by the underground Armia Krajowa (Home Army) and approved by the Polish government in exile, in an attempt to establish a non-communist Polish administration ahead of the approaching Red Army. The uprising was planned with the expectation that the Soviet forces, who had arrived in the course of their offensive and were present on the other side of the Vistula River, would help in battle over Warsaw. However, the Soviets had never agreed and they stopped their advance at the Vistula. The Germans brutally suppressed the forces of the pro-Western Polish underground.[m]
The bitterly fought uprising lasted for two months and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilians killed and expelled. After a hopeless surrender on the part of the Poles (October 2), the Germans carried out Hitler's order to destroy the remaining infrastructure of the city. The Polish First Army, fighting along the Soviet Red Army, entered Warsaw on 17 January 1945.[n]
Changing boundaries, war losses, extermination of Jews 
As a consequence of the war and by the decision of the Soviet leadership, agreed to by the United States and Britain beginning with the Tehran Conference (late 1943), Poland's geographic location was fundamentally altered.[c] Stalin's proposal that Poland should be moved very far to the west was readily accepted by the Polish communists, who were at that time at the early stages of forming the post-war government. In July 1944, a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" was established in Lublin, which caused protests by Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk and the Polish government in exile.
By the time of the Yalta Conference (February 1945), seen by many Poles as the pivotal point when the nation's fate was sealed by the Great Powers, the communists had established a provisional government in Poland. The Soviet position at the Conference was strong, corresponding to their advance on the German battlefield. The three Great Powers gave assurances for the conversion of the communist provisional government, by including in it democratic forces from within the country and currently active abroad (the Provisional Government of National Unity and subsequent democratic elections were the agreed stated goals), but the London-based government in exile was not mentioned.
After the final (for all practical purposes) settlement at Potsdam, the Soviet Union retained most of the territories captured as a result of the 1939 German-Soviet pact (now western Ukraine, western Belarus and part of Lithuania around Vilnius). Poland was compensated with parts of Silesia including Breslau (Wrocław) and Grünberg (Zielona Góra), of Pomerania including Stettin (Szczecin), and of East Prussia, along with Danzig (Gdańsk), collectively referred to as the "Recovered Territories", which were incorporated into the reconstituted Polish state. Most of the German population there was expelled to Germany. 1.5-2 million Poles were expelled from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union. The vast majority of them were resettled in the former German territories.
Scientific and numerically correct estimation of the human losses suffered by Polish citizens during World War II does not seem possible because of the paucity of available data. Some conjectures can be arrived at and they suggest that assertions made in the past have been incorrect and motivated by political needs. To begin with, the total population of 1939 Poland and of the several nationalities/ethnicities present there are not accurately known, since the last population census took place in 1931.
Modern research indicates that during the war about 5 million Polish citizens were killed, including 3 million Polish Jews. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, at least 1.9 to two million ethnic Poles and 3 million Polish Jews were killed. Millions were deported to Germany for forced labor or to German extermination camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz. According to a recent estimate, between 2.35 and 2.9 million Polish Jews and about 2 million ethnic Poles were killed. The Nazis executed tens of thousands of members of the Polish intelligentsia during the AB Aktion and the Operation Tannenberg, and the Soviets did the same during the Katyn massacre.[j] Over 95% of the Polish Jewish losses (less directly also many of the rest)[d] and 90% of the ethnic Polish losses were caused by Nazi Germany; 5% of the ethnic Polish losses were caused by the Soviets and 5% by Ukrainian nationalists. This Jewish loss of life, together with the numerically much less significant waves of displacement during the war and emigration after the war, after the Polish October 1956 thaw and following the 1968 Polish political crisis, put an end to several centuries of large scale, well-established Jewish settlement and presence in Poland. The magnitudes of the (also substantial) losses of Polish citizens of German, Ukrainian, Belarusian and other nationalities are not known.
In 1940-1941, some 325,000 Polish citizens were deported by the Soviet regime. The number of Polish citizen deaths at the hands of the Soviets is estimated at less than 100,000. In 1943–1944, Ukrainian nationalists (OUN and Ukrainian Insurgent Army) massacred tens of thousands of Poles in Volhynia and Galicia.
Approximately 90% of Poland's war losses were the victims of prisons, death camps, raids, executions, annihilation of ghettos, epidemics, starvation, excessive work and ill treatment. There were one million war orphans and 590,000 war disabled. The country lost 38% of its national assets (Britain lost 0.8%, France 1.5%). Nearly half the prewar Poland was expropriated by the Soviet Union, including the two great cultural centers of Lwów and Wilno. Many Poles could not return to the country for which they had fought because they belonged to the "wrong" political group, or came from prewar eastern Poland incorporated into the Soviet Union (see Polish population transfers (1944–1946)), or having fought in the West were warned not to return because of the high risk of persecution. Others were pursued, arrested, tortured and imprisoned by the Soviet authorities for belonging to the Home Army (see anti-communist resistance in Poland (1944–1946)), or persecuted because of having fought on the western front.
With Germany's defeat, as the reestablished Polish state was shifted west to the area between the Oder–Neisse and Curzon lines, the Germans who had not fled were expelled. Of those who remained, many chose to emigrate to post-war Germany. According to a recently quoted estimate, of the 200-250 thousand Jews who escaped the Nazis, 40-60 thousand had survived in Poland. More had been repatriated from the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and the February 1946 population census showed ca. 300,000 Jews within the new borders.[e] Of the surviving Jews, many chose or felt compelled to emigrate. Of the Ukrainians and Lemkos living in Poland within the new borders (about 700,000), close to 95% were forcibly moved to Soviet Ukraine (see Repatriation of Ukrainians from Poland to the Soviet Union), and in 1947 to the new territories in northern and western Poland under Operation Vistula. In all the mutual violence in the 1940s (during and after the war), about 70,000 Poles and about 20,000 Ukrainians were killed.
Because of the changing borders and of mass movements of people of various nationalities, sponsored by governments and spontaneous, the emerging communist Poland ended up with a mainly homogeneous, ethnically Polish population (97.6% according to the December 1950 census). The remaining members of the minorities were not encouraged, by the authorities or by their neighbors, to emphasize their ethnic identity.
People's Republic of Poland (1945–1989) 
Post-war struggle for power 
In June 1945, as an implementation of the February Yalta Conference directives, according to the Soviet interpretation, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed; it was soon recognized by the United States and many other countries. A communist rule and Soviet domination were apparent from the beginning: sixteen prominent leaders of the Polish anti-Nazi underground were brought to trial in Moscow in June 1945. In the immediate post-war years, the emerging communist rule was challenged by people and groups not reconciled with it and many thousands perished in the fight or were pursued by the security forces and executed.
A national referendum arranged for by the communist Polish Workers' Party was used to legitimize its dominance in Polish politics and claim widespread support for the party's policies. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the communists. Some democratic and pro-Western elements, led by Stanisław Mikołajczyk, the former Prime Minister in Exile, participated in the Provisional National Unity Government and the 1947 elections, but were ultimately eliminated through electoral fraud, intimidation and violence. In times of radical change, they attempted to preserve some degree of mixed economy. The Polish government in exile remained in continuous existence until 1990, although its influence was degraded.
Under Stalinism 
A Polish People's Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was created (so named only in the communist constitution of 1952), effectively under the communist Polish United Workers' Party rule, after the brief period of coalition "National Unity" government.
The ruling party itself was a result of the forced amalgamation (December 1948) of the communist Polish Workers' Party and the historically non-communist, more popular Polish Socialist Party (the party, reestablished in 1944 by its left wing, had been from that time allied with the communists). The ruling communists, who in post-war Poland preferred to use the term "socialism",[f] needed to include the socialist junior partner to broaden their appeal, claim greater legitimacy and eliminate competition on the left. The socialists, who were losing their organization, had to be subjected to political pressure, ideological cleansing and purges in order to become suitable for the unification on the "Workers' Party"'s terms. The socialist pro-communist leaders were the prime ministers Edward Osóbka-Morawski and Józef Cyrankiewicz.
During the most oppressive Stalinist period, terror, justified by the necessity to eliminate the reactionary subversion, was widespread. Many thousands of perceived opponents of the regime were arbitrarily tried and large numbers executed. The People's Republic was led by discredited Moscow's operatives such as Bolesław Bierut, Jakub Berman and Konstantin Rokossovsky. In 1953 and later, despite a partial thaw after Stalin's death, the persecution of the independent Polish Catholic Church intensified and its head, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, was detained.
Larger rural estates and agricultural holdings as well as post-German property were redistributed through land reform and industry was nationalized beginning in 1944. Communist-introduced restructuring and imposition of work-space rules encountered active worker opposition already in 1945-1947. The Three-Year Plan (1947–1949) continued with the rebuilding, socialization and restructuring of the economy. The rejection of the Marshall Plan (1947), however, made the aspirations of catching-up with the West European standard of living unrealistic.
The government's economic high priority was the development of militarily useful heavy industry. State-run institutions, collectivization and cooperative entities were imposed (the last category dismantled in the 1940s as not socialist enough, later reestablished), while even small-scale private enterprises were being eradicated. Stalinism introduced heavy political and ideological indoctrination in social life, culture and education.
Great strides, however, were made in the areas of universal public education (including elimination of adult illiteracy), health care and recreational amenities for working people. Many historic sites, including central districts of war-destroyed Warsaw and Gdańsk (Danzig), were rebuilt at a great cost. A majority of Poland's urban residents still live in apartment blocks built during the communist era.
In March 1956, after the 20th Soviet Party Congress in Moscow ushered in de-Stalinization, Edward Ochab was chosen to replace the deceased Bierut as the Polish Communist Party's First Secretary. Poland was rapidly overtaken by social restlessness and reformist undertakings; thousands of political prisoners were released and many people previously persecuted were officially rehabilitated. Riots by economically distressed workers in Poznań ensued in June, giving rise to a new pattern in communist Poland's politics.
Amidst the continuing social and national upheaval, in October there was a further shakeup in the party leadership.[k] While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime led by the new Polish Party's First Secretary Władysław Gomułka began to liberalize internal life in Poland. The dependence on the Soviet Union was somewhat mollified and the state's relationships with the Church and Catholic lay activists were put on a new footing. Collectivization efforts were abandoned and agricultural land, unlike in other Comecon countries, had mostly remained a domain of private family farmers.
Sophisticated cultural life, to varying degrees involved in intelligentsia's opposition to the totalitarian system, developed under Gomułka and his successors. The creative process had often been compromised by state censorship. Nevertheless, significant productions were accomplished in fields such as literature, theater, cinema and music, among others. Journalism of veiled understanding and native varieties of popular trends and styles of western mass culture were well represented. Uncensored information and works generated by émigré circles (the Paris-based Kultura magazine developed a conceptual framework for dealing with the issues of borders and neighbors of a future free Poland) were conveyed by a variety of channels, the Radio Free Europe being of foremost importance.
Stagnation and crackdown 
Several years of relative stabilization, accompanied by economic stagnation and curtailment of reforms and reformists, followed the legislative election of 1957. A nuclear weapon-free zone in Central Europe was proposed in 1957 by Adam Rapacki, Poland's foreign minister. Several prominent "revisionists" were expelled from the party in the 1960s.
In 1965, the Conference of Polish Bishops issued the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops. In 1966, the celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland led by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and other bishops turned into a huge demonstration of the power and popularity of the Polish Catholic Church.
The post-1956 liberalizing trend, in decline for a number of years, was reversed in March 1968, when student demonstrations were suppressed. Motivated in part by the Prague Spring movement by then in progress, the Polish opposition leaders, intellectuals, academics and students used a Warsaw historical-patriotic classic theater spectacle series and its forced termination as a springboard for protests, which soon spread to centers of higher education and turned nationwide. The authorities responded with a major crackdown on opposition activity, which included especially reorganization, firing of faculty and dismissals of students at universities and other institutions of learning. At the center of the controversy were also the few Znak Catholic deputies in the Sejm, who attempted to defend the students.
In an official speech, Gomułka raised an artificial issue of the role of Jewish activists in the ongoing events, giving ammunition to a nationalistic party faction opposed to his rule. Using the context of the 1967 military victory of Israel, some in the Polish communist leadership waged an antisemitic campaign against the remnants of the Polish Jewish community. The assimilated and secular, often well-placed people, were accused of actively sympathizing with an Israeli aggression (most Poles welcomed a defeat of a Soviet ally) and being disloyal. Branded "Zionists", they became a scapegoat and were blamed for the March unrest, which eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population (about 15,000 Polish citizens left the country).
With Gomułka regime's active support, after the Brezhnev Doctrine was informally announced, the Polish People's Army took part in the infamous Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
In December 1970, the governments of Poland and West Germany signed a treaty which normalized their relations and made possible meaningful cooperation in a number of areas of bilateral interest. The Federal Republic recognized the post-war de facto border between Poland and East Germany.
Worker revolts and Solidarity 
In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdańsk (Danzig), Gdynia, and Szczecin (Stettin), triggered by a government-announced price increase for essential consumer goods, reflected deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions in the country. The activity was centered on the industrial shipyard areas of the three coastal cities. Dozens of protesting workers and bystanders were killed in police and military actions, generally directed by Gomułka and under the command of Minister of Defense Wojciech Jaruzelski. In the aftermath, Edward Gierek replaced Gomułka as First Secretary of the Communist Party. The new regime was seen as more modern, friendly and pragmatic and enjoyed initially a degree of popular (and foreign) support.[g][o]
Gierek's years (1970-1980) brought wide-ranging, if ultimately unsuccessful government efforts to revitalize the economy on the one hand, and maturation of opposition circles, emboldened by the Helsinki Conference processes on the other. Another attempt to raise food prices resulted in the June 1976 protests. Jacek Kuroń was among the activists defending the accused rioters from Radom and other towns. The Workers' Defense Committee (KOR), established in response to the crackdown, consisted of dissident intellectuals willing to openly support industrial workers, farmers and students who were organizing, struggling with and persecuted by the authorities throughout the late 1970s.
In October 1978, the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics and others rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.
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.
On July 1, 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 coal mines in Silesia. Poland was entering into an extended crisis that would change the course of its future development.
On August 31, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, led by an electrician named Lech Wałęsa, 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 Gdańsk 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 Stanisław Kania as First Secretary.
Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the Party's authority following the Gdańsk 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, and in October 1981, was named First Secretary. At the first Solidarity national congress in September–October 1981, Lech Wałęsa was elected national chairman of the union.
Martial law and end of communism 
On December 12–13, the regime declared martial law, under which the army and ZOMO 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.
Having achieved some semblance of stability, the Polish regime in several stages relaxed and then rescinded martial law. By December 1982, martial law was suspended, and a small number of political prisoners, including Wałęsa, were released. Although martial law formally ended in July 1983 and a partial amnesty was enacted, several hundred political prisoners remained in jail.
In September 1986, general amnesty was declared and the government released nearly all political prisoners. Throughout the period the authorities continued to harass dissidents and Solidarity activists. Solidarity remained proscribed and its publications banned; independent publications were censored. However, with the economic crisis unresolved and societal institutions dysfunctional, both the ruling establishment and Solidarity-led opposition began looking for ways out of the stalemate, and exploratory contacts were being established.
The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May and August 1988. Under the reformist leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union was becoming increasingly destabilized and unwilling to apply military and other pressure to prop up allied regimes in trouble. In the late 1980s, the government was forced to negotiate with Solidarity in the Polish Round Table Negotiations. The resulting Polish legislative election in 1989 was a watershed event marking the fall of communism in Poland.
Third Polish Republic (1989–today) 
Transition and Solidarity government 
The "round-table" talks with the opposition began in February 1989. These talks produced the Round Table Agreement in April for partly open National Assembly elections. The failure of the communists at the polls resulted in a political crisis. The agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of a number of Solidarity deputies, elected General Wojciech Jaruzelski to that office. However, two attempts by the communists to form a government failed.
On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist/Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm (the national legislature) voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in post-war history, Poland had a government led by noncommunists, setting a precedent to be soon followed by many other communist-ruled nations.
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 communist Polish United Workers' Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland.
In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In November 1990, the German–Polish Border Treaty was signed.
In the early 1990s, Poland made great progress towards achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Wałęsa was elected president for a five-year term. In December Wałęsa became the first popularly elected President of Poland. Poland's first free parliamentary election was held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, and no single party received more than 13% of the total vote. In 1993 the Soviet Northern Group of Forces finally left Poland.
"Post-communist" and post-Solidarity governments; joining NATO and the European Union 
In 1997 parliamentary election, two parties with roots in the Solidarity movement — Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) — won 261 of the 460 Sejm seats and formed a coalition government. In April 1997, the new Constitution of Poland was finalized, and in July put into effect, replacing the previously used amended communist statute.
In the presidential election of 2000, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the incumbent former leader of the SLD, was re-elected in the first round of voting. After September 2001 parliamentary election, SLD (a successor of the communist party) formed a coalition with the agrarian Polish People's Party (PSL) and the leftist Labor Union (UP).
Poland joined the European Union in May 2004. Both President Kwaśniewski and the government were vocal in their support for this cause. The only party decidedly opposed to EU entry was the populist right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR).
After the fall of communism, the government policy of guaranteed full employment had ended and many large unprofitable state enterprises were closed or restructured. Beginning in 1989, the Balcerowicz Plan and liberal economic policies in general had been implemented with the support of the leading Solidarity figures.
The restructuring and other economic woes of the transition period caused the unemployment to be at times as high as 20%. With the EU access, the gradual opening of West European labor markets to Polish workers, combined with the domestic economic growth, led to marked improvement in the employment situation in Poland.
Civic Platform rivalry with Law and Justice; Civic Platform-led government from 2007 
September's 2005 parliamentary election was expected to produce a coalition of two center-right parties, PiS (Law and Justice) and PO (Civic Platform). During the bitter campaign PiS overtook PO, gaining 27% of votes cast and becoming the largest party in the Sejm, ahead of PO with 24%. In the presidential election in October the early favorite, Donald Tusk, leader of the PO, was beaten 54% to 46% in the second round by the PiS candidate Lech Kaczyński. Coalition talks ensued simultaneously with the presidential elections, but negotiations ended up in a stalemate and the PO decided to go into opposition. PiS formed a minority government which relied on the support of smaller populist and agrarian parties (Samoobrona, LPR) to govern. This became a formal coalition, but its deteriorating state made early parliamentary election necessary.
In the 2007 parliamentary election, the Civic Platform was most successful (41.5%), ahead of Law and Justice (32%), and the government of Donald Tusk, the chairman of PO, was formed. PO governed in a parliamentary majority coalition with the smaller Polish People's Party (PSL).
In the great worldwide economic downturn, triggered and exemplified in particular by the 2008 USA collapse and bailout of the banking system, the Polish economy weathered the crisis, in comparison with many European and other countries, relatively unscathed. However, worrisome signs, signalling upcoming difficulties, were present, and the European sovereign debt crisis, unraveling some of Europe's economies, was expected to negatively affect also the economy of Poland, not a member of the eurozone.
The social price paid by the Poles for the implementation of liberal free market economic policies had been the sharply more inequitable distribution of wealth and the associated impoverishment of large segments of the society. According to 2010 Eurostat data, 14% of Poles were "severely materially deprived", compared to the 8% EU average. This however represented the steepest of any European country drop in poverty rates over the previous several years (it had taken place since Poland joined the EU).[h]
Poland's president Lech Kaczyński and all aboard died in a plane crash on April 10, 2010 in western Russia, near Smolensk. President Kaczyński and other prominent Poles were on the way to the Katyn massacre anniversary commemoration.
In the second final round of the Polish presidential election on July 4, 2010, Bronisław Komorowski, Acting President, Marshal of the Sejm and a Civic Platform politician, defeated Jarosław Kaczyński by 53% to 47%.
The Smolensk tragedy brought into the open deep divisions within the Polish society and became a destabilizing factor in Poland's politics. A marked increase in nationalistic rhetoric and activity followed in its wake.
Poland's relations with its European neighbors tended to be good or improving, with Belarus being a sore point.[i] The Eastern Partnership summit, hosted in September 2011 by Poland, the holder of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, resulted in no agreement on near future expansion of the Union to include the several considered Eastern European and Caucasus states, formerly Soviet republics. The European Union membership for at least some of those countries, including Ukraine, had been a long-standing goal of Polish diplomacy. Poland also promoted NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, a plan seen by Russia as threatening to its security and not supported by a majority of Ukrainian voters. For a number of years, Poland and Russia remained in disagreement regarding the planned NATO missile defense system in Europe, in which Poland sought to be an active participant, and which Russia opposed.
The 2011 parliamentary election results were generally an affirmation of the current distribution of political forces. The Civic Platform won over 39% of the votes, Law and Justice almost 30%, Palikot's Movement 10%, the Polish People's Party and the Democratic Left Alliance over 8% each. The new element was the successful debut of the left-of-center movement of Janusz Palikot, a maverick politician, which resulted in decreased electoral appeal of the Democratic Left Alliance.
Poland's foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, delivered a speech on 28 November 2011 in Berlin, in which he emphatically appealed to Germany and other European Union countries for closer economic and political integration and coordination, to be accomplished through a more powerful central government of the Union. Sikorski felt that decisive action and substantial reform, led by Germany, were necessary to prevent a collapse of the euro and subsequent destabilization and possible demise of the European Union. His remarks, directed primarily at the German audience, encountered hostile reception in Poland from Jarosław Kaczyński and his conservative parliamentary opposition, who accused the minister of betraying Poland's sovereignty and demanded his ouster and trial. Sikorski identified in his speech several areas important to Polish traditionalists, which, he said, should permanently remain within the domain of individual national governments.
As of 9 December 2011 UE summit in Brussels, the British opposition prevented any changes to the EU Treaty. All the remaining UE governments, including the actively involved Polish delegation led by Prime Minister Tusk, indicated support for the new "fiscal compact" and greater coordination agreement, intended to impose financial discipline on member states and to cure the present instability in the eurozone. The agreed reforms would be implemented in the laws of individual states.
In January 2012, Poland's Prosecutor General's office initiated investigative proceedings against Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, the former Polish intelligence chief. Siemiątkowski was charged with facilitating the alleged CIA detention operation in Poland, where foreign suspects may have been tortured in the context of the War on Terror. The alleged constitutional and international law trespasses took place when Leszek Miller, presently member of parliament and leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, was Prime Minister (2001-2004), and he was also considered a possible subject of future legal action. Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the President of Poland at that time, acknowledged knowing about and consenting to (together with the Prime Minister) the secret "CIA prisons".
During the Russian Patriarch's visit to Poland on August 16–19, 2012, Kirill I, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Józef Michalik, President of the Catholic Conference of Polish Bishops, signed a historic Polish-Russian church message on reconciliation and mutual forgiveness.
Proposed legislation regarding limited legal status and rights for same-sex civil unions was defeated in all three different versions considered by the Sejm, the lower house of Polish parliament, on January 25, 2013.
See also 
- History of Austria
- History of Belarus
- History of the Czech Republic
- History of Europe
- History of the European Union
- History of Germany
- History of Lithuania
- History of Russia
- History of Slovakia
- History of Sweden
- History of Ukraine
- List of Kings of Poland
- List of Presidents of Poland
- List of Prime Ministers of Poland
- Military history of Poland
- Old Polish units of measurement
- Polish American
- Polish British
- Polish United Workers' Party
- Politics of Poland
- Poland and West-Slavs 800–950
- Poland 990–1040
- Poland 1040–1090
- Poland 1090–1140
- Poland 1140–1250
- Poland 1250–1290
- Poland 1290–1333
- Poland 1333–1350
- Poland 1350–1370
- Poland 1550
- Poland 1773
- Poland 2004
- Poland (flash version)
a.^ Piłsudski's family roots in the Polonized gentry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the resulting point of view (seeing himself and people like him as legitimate Lithuanians) put him in conflict with the modern Lithuanian nationalists (who in Piłsudski's lifetime redefined the scope of the "Lithuanian" connotation), by extension with other nationalists, and also with the Polish modern nationalist movement.
c.^ An establishment of Poland restricted to "minimal size", according to ethnographic boundaries (such as the ones shown on this 1920 map, or the lands common to both prewar Poland and postwar Poland), was planned by the Soviet People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in 1943-1944, and recommended by Ivan Maisky to Vyacheslav Molotov in early 1944 because of what Maisky saw as Poland's historically unfriendly disposition toward Russia and the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin opted for a larger version, allowing a "swap" (territorial compensation for Poland), which involved the eastern lands gained by Poland at the Peace of Riga of 1921 and now lost, and eastern Germany conquered form the Nazis in 1944-1945. In regard to the several disputed areas, including Stettin, "Zakerzonia" and Białystok (Białystok was claimed by the communists of the Byelorussian SSR), the Soviet leader made determinations favorable to Poland.
Other territorial and ethnic scenarios were also possible, generally with outcomes less advantageous to Poland than its present form.
d.^ Timothy Snyder spoke of about 100,000 Jews killed by Poles during the Nazi occupation, majority probably by members of the collaborationist Blue Police. This number would have likely been many times higher had Poland entered into an alliance with Germany in 1939, as advocated by some Polish post-war and post-1989 historians and others.
e.^ Some may have had falsely claimed the Jewish identity hoping for permissions to emigrate. The communist authorities, pursuing the concept of Poland of single ethnicity (in accordance with the recent border changes and expulsions), were allowing the Jews to leave the country. For a discussion of early communist Poland's ethnic politics, see Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations, chapters on modern "Ukrainian Borderland".
g.^ The Soviet leadership, which had previously ordered the Uprising in East Germany, the Hungarian Revolution and the Prague Spring crushed, now became worried about the demoralization of the Polish army, a crucial Warsaw Pact component, because of it being used against Polish workers. The Soviets withdrew their support for Gomułka, who insisted on the use of force; he and his close associates were ousted from the Polish politburo.
h.^ The shrinking poverty sphere has been possible because of the reduced unemployment and the influx of the European Union funds. Over two million Poles however have left the country to work abroad. According to some Polish academic researchers, the Eurostat data, based on the information collected by Central Statistical Office of Poland, does not fully reflect the scope of poverty in Poland. Poverty is becoming increasingly permanent in post-industrial urban areas and has highest levels among children. The two articles quoted agree on the greatest poverty rate reduction of any European country, both invoke Eurostat, but give widely divergent numerical figures.
i.^ Following the presidential election of Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, Poland's and European Union's relations with Ukraine have also entered a period of difficulty.
j.^ "All the currently available documents of Nazi administration show that, together with the Jews, the stratum of the Polish intelligentsia was marked for total extermination. In fact, Nazi Germany achieved this goal almost by half, since Poland lost 50 percent of her citizens with university diplomas and 35 percent of those with a gimnazium diploma."
k.^ Decisive political events took place in Poland shortly before the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Władysław Gomułka, a reformist leader at that time, was reinstated to the Polish Politburo and the Eighth Plenum of the party's Central Committee was announced to convene on October 19, 1956, all without seeking the Soviet approval. The Soviet Union responded with military moves and intimidation and its "military-political delegation", led by Nikita Khrushchev, quickly arrived in Warsaw. Gomułka tried to convince them of his loyalty but insisted on the reforms that he considered essential, including a replacement of Poland's Soviet-trusted minister of defense, Konstantin Rokossovsky. The disconcerted Soviets returned to Moscow, the Polish Plenum elected Gomułka First Secretary and removed Rokossovsky from the Politburo. On October 21, the Soviet Presidium followed Khrushchev's lead and decided unanimously to "refrain from military intervention" in Poland, a decision likely influenced also by the ongoing preparations for the invasion of Hungary. The Soviet gamble paid off because Gomułka in the coming years turned out to be a very dependable Soviet ally and an orthodox communist.
l.^ The delayed reinforcements were coming and the government military commanders General Tadeusz Rozwadowski and Władysław Anders wanted to keep on fighting the coup perpetrators, but President Stanisław Wojciechowski decided to surrender to prevent the imminent widening of civil war. The coup brought to power the "Sanation" regime under Józef Piłsudski and Edward Rydz-Śmigły after Piłsudski's death. The Sanation regime persecuted the opposition within the military and in general. Rozwadowski died imprisoned, according to some accounts murdered. At the time of Rydz-Śmigły's command, the Sanation camp embraced the ideology of Roman Dmowski, Piłsudski's nemesis. Rydz-Śmigły did not allow General Władysław Sikorski, an anti-Sanation enemy, to participate as a soldier in the September 1939 defense of the country. During World War II in France and Britain the Polish government in exile became dominated by anti-Sanation politicians. The perceived Sanation followers were in turn persecuted (in exile) under prime ministers Sikorski and Stanisław Mikołajczyk.
m.^ General Zygmunt Berling of the Soviet-allied First Polish Army attempted in mid-September a crossing of the Vistula and landing at Czerniaków to aid the insurgents, but the operation was defeated by the Germans and its participants suffered heavy losses.
o.^ One of the party leaders Mieczysław Rakowski, who abandoned his mentor Gomułka following the 1970 crisis, saw the demands of the demonstrating workers as "exclusively socialist" in character, because of the way they were phrased. Most people in communist Poland, including opposition activists, did not question the supremacy of "socialism" or the socialist idea; misconduct by party officials, such as not following the provisions of the constitution, was blamed. This assumed standard of political correctness was increasingly challenged in the years that followed, when pluralism became a frequently used concept.
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- Heart of Europe. A Short History of Poland by Norman Davies, p. 145
- Richard Overy (2010), The Times Complete History of the World, Eights Edition, p. 236, map
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 1-3
- Mirosław Maciorowski, Kresowianie nie mieli wyboru, musieli jechać na zachód (The Kresy inhabitants had no choice, had to move west), conversation with Professor Grzegorz Hryciuk. Gazeta Wyborcza Wrocław newspaper wroclaw.gazeta.pl, 2010-12-20
- Norman Davies: W 1939 r. Polacy się świetnie spisali (In 1939 the Poles performed exceedingly well): Włodzimierz Kalicki talks with Norman Davies, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2009-08-24
- Timothy Snyder, Polacy wobec Holocaustu (Poles and the Holocaust), Gazeta Wyborcza 2012-09-07
- Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations, p. 89
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 23
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 18, 64-65
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 57-59, 187, 196
- Marcin Wojciechowski, Ukraina odpływa ku Rosji (Ukraine sails away toward Russia), Gazeta Wyborcza, 2012-05-12
- Aleksander Gella. Development of Class Structure in Eastern Europe: Poland and Her Southern Neighbours. SUNY Press. 1989. p. 182.
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 114-116
- Jerzy Kirchmayer – Powstanie Warszawskie (The Warsaw Uprising), 6th edition, Książka i Wiedza, Warszawa 1970, p. 381-396
- J.P. (2010-07-31). "The Warsaw Rising: Was it all worth it?". The Economist. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
- Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (2004-06-04). "The Warsaw Rising 1944: Perception and Reality". warsawuprising.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 193
- Poland under Communism: A Cold War History, A. Kemp-Welch, p. 215
Further reading 
More recent general history of Poland books in English
- Biskupski, M. B. The History of Poland. Greenwood, 2000. 264 pp. online edition
- The Cambridge History of Poland, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1941 (1697–1935), 1950 (to 1696). New York: Octagon Books, 1971 online edition vol 1 to 1696, old fashioned but highly detailed
- Davies, Norman. God's Playground. A History of Poland. Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795, Vol. 2: 1795 to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-19-925339-0 / ISBN 0-19-925340-4.
- Davies, Norman. Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. Oxford University Press, 1984. 511 pp. excerpt and text search
- Frucht, Richard. Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe: From the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism Garland Pub., 2000 online edition
- Oskar Halecki. History of Poland, New York: Roy Publishers, 1942. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993, ISBN 0-679-51087-7
- Kenney, Padraic. “After the Blank Spots Are Filled: Recent Perspectives on Modern Poland,” Journal of Modern History Volume 79, Number 1, March 2007 pp 134–61, historiography
- Stefan Kieniewicz, History of Poland, Hippocrene Books, 1982, ISBN 0-88254-695-3
- Kloczowski, Jerzy. A History of Polish Christianity. Cambridge U. Pr., 2000. 385 pp.
- Lerski, George J. Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood, 1996. 750 pp. online edition
- Leslie, R. F. et al. The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge U. Press, 1980. 494 pp.
- Lewinski-Corwin, Edward Henry. The Political History of Poland (1917), well-illustrated; 650pp online at books.google.com
- Lukowski, Jerzy and Zawadzki, Hubert. A Concise History of Poland. Cambridge U. Press, 2nd ed 2006. 408pp. excerpts and search
- Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski. Poland: An Illustrated History, New York: Hippocrene Books, 2000, ISBN 0-7818-0757-3
- Pogonowski, Iwo Cyprian. Poland: A Historical Atlas. Hippocrene, 1987. 321 pp.
- Anita J. Prazmowska. A History of Poland, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2004, ISBN 0-333-97254-6
- Radzilowski, John. A Traveller's History of Poland, Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Books, 2007, ISBN 1-56656-655-X
- Roos, Hans. A History of Modern Poland (1966)
- Sanford, George. Historical Dictionary of Poland. Scarecrow Press, 2003. 291 pp.
- Wróbel, Piotr. Historical Dictionary of Poland, 1945-1996. Greenwood, 1998. 397 pp.
- Zamoyski, Adam. The Polish Way. A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and their Culture. J. Murray, 1987. 422 pp.; heavily illustrated excerpt and text search
Published in Poland 
- History of Poland, Aleksander Gieysztor et al. Warsaw: PWN, 1968
- History of Poland, Stefan Kieniewicz et al. Warsaw: PWN, 1979
- An Outline History of Poland, by Jerzy Topolski. Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, 1986, ISBN 83-223-2118-X
- An Illustrated History of Poland, by Dariusz Banaszak, Tomasz Biber, Maciej Leszczyński. Poznań: Publicat, 2008, ISBN 978-83-245-1587-5
- Poland: History of Poland, by Stanisław Kołodziejski, Roman Marcinek, Jakub Polit. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Ryszard Kluszczyński, 2005, 2009, ISBN 83-7447-018-6
- Movie (on-line)
- Halecki, Oscar. "BORDERLANDS OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION A History of East Central Europe" (PDF). Oscar Halecki. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- History of Poland, in paintings
- History of Poland on Historycy.org forum
- Commonwealth of Diverse Cultures: Poland's Heritage
- "Poland, Christianity in" The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1910) vol 9 pp 104-8