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Panorama of Kraków, former capital of Poland

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Poland is a country in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north. It is an ancient nation whose history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century when it united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to form the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements in the late 18th century, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned Poland amongst themselves. It regained independence as the Second Polish Republic in the aftermath of World War I only to lose it again when it was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. The nation lost over six million citizens in the war, following which it emerged as the communist People's Republic of Poland under strong Soviet influence within the Eastern Bloc. A westward border shift followed by forced population transfers after the war turned a once multiethnic country into a mostly homogeneous nation state. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union called Solidarity (Solidarność) that over time became a political force which by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of NATO and the European Union.

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From Polish history

Constitution of 3 May 1791 by Jan Matejko
Constitution of 3 May 1791 is a large Romantic oil painting by Jan Matejko. It was painted in 1891 to commemorate the centenary of the Polish Constitution of 1791, a milestone in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the high point of the Polish Enlightenment. Set in the late afternoon of 3 May 1791, the canvas shows a procession from Warsaw's Royal Castle, where the Constitution has just been adopted by the Great Sejm, to St. John's Collegiate Church. While the procession was a historical event, Matejko took many artistic liberties, such as including persons who were not in fact present or had died earlier, because he intended the painting to be a synthesis of the final years of the Commonwealth. Like many works by the same artist, the picture presents a grand scene populated with numerous historic figures, including King Stanislaus Augustus; Marshals of the Great Sejm, Stanisław Małachowski and Kazimierz Nestor Sapieha; and co-authors of the Constitution such as Hugo Kołłątaj and Ignacy Potocki. Altogether, some twenty individuals have been identified by modern historians. Originally displayed in Lviv, the work now hangs at the Royal Castle of Warsaw.
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Behemoth promotional photograph
Credit: Krzysztof Sadowski

A promotional photograph of Behemoth, a blackened death metal band founded in 1991 in Gdańsk. The band's musical style is characterized by distinctive drum work, multi-layered vocals and Middle Eastern influences. Poland has developed a vibrant heavy metal scene since the 1980s, with other notable ensembles in this genre including Turbo, Kat, Vader, and Decapitated.

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Textile manufacturing plant in the Warsaw Ghetto

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Stanisław Lem
Stanisław Lem (1921–2006) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical writer, best known for his novel Solaris. His works explore philosophical themes; speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humankind's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books. His works have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon claimed that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.
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Courtyard of the Lublin Castle

Lublin is the largest city in eastern Poland. Dating back to early Middle Ages, the city played an important role in the nation's history. It was the site of the Lublin Union which established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, and of the Lublin Committee which introduced the communist regime in Poland in 1944; seat of a major yeshiva and the Jewish Council of Four Lands in the 16th–18th centuries, but also of the Majdanek extermination camp during the Holocaust. Its colleges include the Marie Curie University, as well as the Catholic University of Lublin where Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, gave lectures in ethics. Since Lublin's biggest employer, the state-owned truck manufacturer FSC, was acquired by the South Korean Daewoo and then entered bankruptcy in 2001, the city has been struggling to improve its economic performance and standards of living, making it one of the main beneficiaries of EU development funds.

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Władysław Bartoszewski

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