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History of Poland

Over the past millennium, the name Poland has been applied to a shifting territorial base. At one time, in the 16th century, Poland was the largest state in Europe after Russia. At other times there was no separate Polish state at all. Poland regained its independence in 1919, when it was confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles.

Traditional histories of Poland written at later times begin with the Polanian tribe ruled by Duke Mieszko I. His country would generations later become Poland, but there was no such thing as a Polish nation[?] at that time, only a mostly unrelated assortment of Slavic tribes[?] speaking different dialects. The northern tribes (of today's Poland) spoke different dialects, such as (Pomeranian).

Some historians even question whether Mieszko was Slavic and suggest that he was Scandinavian. There is some evidence to support this claim - in one of the earliest written documents about Mieszko (Dagome Iudex), he appears under name Dagome, which could be Scandinavian name Dago, and some Scandinavian-looking military equipment has been found in Poland that is dated to approximately the lifetime of Mieszko. Whether Mieszko was Slavic (Polan) or Scandinavian is still subject of debate between historians. (See summary of arguments at Scandinavian connections to Mieszko I).

Mieszko became duke of the Polanian tribes around 962 and adopted Christianity in 966 following his marriage to the Czech princess Dobrava. The first written record seems to be the Index List of property given to the pope by Oda von Haldensleben and her husband mentioned as Dagome (who is most probably identical with Mieszko), known from summary made by a monk in the 11th century and herein mentioned as Dagome Iudex.

Poland's nobility (in Polish Szlachta) started to identify themselves with the country during the Fragmentation (Rozbicie dzielnicowe) period (1138-1320) when Poland was divided into a number of principalities under the terms of Boleslaus III's bequest to his sons.

On numerous occasions Poland's existence as a country was endangered, first, when the Polanian dukes tried to conquer lands in the 10th-13th centuries from Bohemia (Czechs), from Pomeranian, Prussian and Germans, and later, in the 17th century and afterwards, by Swedes, Russians, Prussians and Austrians.

The restoration of royal power under Ladislaus I (1320) and dynastic union (1386) with the grand duchy of Lithuania to the north-east paved the way for the extension of Polish power far to the east and the creation (Lunlin union, 1569) of a unified Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth[?] (Rzeczpospolita) stretching from the Baltic and the Carpathians to present-day Belarus and western Ukraine. In the north-west, the Teutonic Knights, in control of Prussia since the 13th century, were forced after their defeat by a combined Polish-Lithuanian force at Tannenberg (1410) to surrender part of their territory and to accept Polish suzerainty in the 1466 Treaty of Torun (see Thirteen Years' War).

During this period Poland became the home to Europe's largest Jewish population, as royal edicts guaranteeing Jewish safety and religious freedom from the 13th century contrasted with bouts of percecution in western Europe, especially following the Black Death of 1348-1349, blamed by some in the West on Jews themselves. Much of Poland suffered relatively little from the outbreak, while Jewish immigration brought valuable manpower and skills for the rising state. The greatest increase in Jewish numbers occurred in the 18th century (Imperial Elector of Saxony rule), when Jews came to make up 7% of the population.

The "golden age" of Polish achievement ended spectacularly in the 17th century, however, in a series of destructive wars with Sweden, Russia and Turkey. During the 18th century the Polish crown itself became subject to the manipulations of Russia, Sweden, Prussia, France and Austria. Poland's weakness was exacerbated by an unworkable constitution which allowed each noble or gently representative in the Sejm (Diet, or Congress) to veto legislation. The Liberum veto[?] greatly weakened the central authority of Poland and paved the way for its destruction.

Polish independence ended in a series of partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) undertaken by Russia, Prussia and Austria, with Russia gaining most of the commonwealth's territory including nearly all of the former Lithuania. Austria gained the populous southern region henceforth named Galicia, as well as the area to its north-east, named Lodomeria by its new Habsburg rulers. Prussia acquired the western lands from the Baltic to Krakow, as well as Warsaw and territories to the north-east. After the suppression by her neighbours of a national uprising (1794) led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Poland disappeared as an independent country.

Following the French emperor Napoleon I's defeat of Prussia, a Polish state was again set up in 1807 under French tutelage as the Grand Duchy of Warsaw[?], occupying the areas taken by Prussia in the last two partitions. Upon Austria's defeat in 1809, Lodomeria was added, giving the new state a population of some 3.75 million, a quarter of that of the former commonwealth. Polish nationalists were to remain among the staunchest allies of the French as the tide of war turned against them, inaugurating a relationship that continued into the twentieth century.

With Napoleon's defeat, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 converted most of the grand duchy into a Kingdom of Poland[?] ruled by the Russian Tsar: the Poznan district in the west was returned to Prussia, while the city of Krakow and a small surrounding area became an independent republic. After the defeat of the November Uprising (Powstanie Listopadowe) of 1830, the Kingdom of Poland[?] was merged with Russia (1832), and in 1846 Austria annexed Krakow following a revolutionary upheaval there.

Poland ceased to exist until World War I, when a Polish government was created (November 1916) under German tutelage. After World War I and the collapse of the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Poland became an independent republic (November 1918), subsequently gaining large areas to the east in war against Russia's communist government (April-October 1920). On March 18, 1921, under terms of the Versailles Treaty, Poland received back large parts of land lost during the three Partitions, among them part of Gdansk Pomerania, which became known as the Polish Corridor plus the harbor, post office and customs office of the city of Gdansk (See Peace of Riga[?]). After a period of government under shifting coalitions, war hero Gen. Jozef Pilsudski seized power in May 1926, ruling from behind the scenes until his death nine years later.

In 1935 Pilsudski, worried by the rise of power in Nazi Germany, tried to create a Polish, English and French coalition and start a preventative war with Germany, to abolish the Nazi regime. His proposals fell upon deaf ears, however, and Britain, at least, continued to follow a course that would eventually become a formal policy of appeasement.

Meanwhile, attempts by Germany to negotiate return of Gdansk (Danzig) to Germany or to gain access to an "extraterritorial highway" through the middle of the Polish territory were successively rejected by Poland, and were seen - rightly or wrongly - as "peaceful aggression" against Polish independence by one of the former Partitioning Powers. This and other conflicts (some of them staged like "Radio Gliwice") were used by the Nazi regime as an excuse to start World War II by attacking Westerplatte in Gdansk, the Polish military outpost.

Poland lost its independence again in September 1939 after German invasion and the Soviet seizure of the eastern territories won by Poland in 1920. During World War II the country lost an estimated six million dead, including the overwhelming majority of her three million-strong Jewish population, exterminated in pursuit of Nazi racial policies. The country suffered enormous physical destruction, with much of Warsaw in ruins by the time of its independence (January 1945). On January 5, 1945 the Soviet Union recognized the new pro-Soviet government of Poland.

At the end of the war, the Soviet government insisted on retaining Poland's former eastern territories (now western Ukraine and western Belarus), compensating Poland with return of Silesia, Pomerania and most of East Prussia, from which millions of Germans were forcibly removed to Germany.

Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of an independent trade union "Solidarity" (Solidarnosc) that over time became a political force and in 1989-1990 swept elections to both parliament and the presidency, displacing the communist party from government. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, boosting hopes for early admission to the EU. Poland joined NATO in March 1999.

A Polish People's Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was created under communist party rule after a brief period of coalition government. With the approaching collapse of the USSR, power passed in 1989 to the opposition led by the Solidarity trade union movement.

Poland is now a member of NATO and an associate member of the European Union, of which it seeks full membership.

Table of contents

The Middle Ages

The early history of Poland begins in the 10th century A.D.

Little is known about the origins of tribes that later formed Poland. It is inferred that West Slav tribes came into lands between the Oder and Vistula River from areas of the upper and middle regions of the Dnieper[?] River.

The Slav tribes lived from cultivation of crops and were generally farmers. They contested with the similar Germanic tribes for land. The causes for their migration were probably seeking of more fertile soils and the constant attacks on Eastern Europe by waves of people and armies from far East, such as Huns, Avars, Magyars and later Mongols, Tatars, Turks.

There were several tribes : Vistulanians[?], Obodritians[?], Lendians[?], Goplans[?] and others but the most prominent turned out to be Polanians[?] (Polans or in Polish Polanie).

The Polanians, first mentioned in the 10th century, were up until then a part of the Czech (Czech and Lech). Other tribes were the Vistulanians, Goplans. The Polanians tribes came into Silesia at the Oder river, where the German kings and emperors had affirmed the rule of the Moravian and Bohemian dukes. In the 960s the German emperor Otto I the Great affirmed the ducal title held by the Polanian leader Mieszko I. Mieszko I, born circa 930, and his son Boleslaw I Chrobry pledged allegiance to the emperors.

The German kings or emperors kept attackers at bay by marrying their daughters, granddaughters, nieces off to the most fiercest attackers, thereby having a former enemy become a family member on their side. This was the case with Mieszko and his son Boleslaw. Boleslaw I once converted, took it as a green light to go out and conquer land of all the neighbors in the name of Christianisation. One attempt was foiled, when Boleslaw's soldiers came in A.D. 997 north to the Baltic Sea in order to take over Prussia. During the massive expansion attempts of the Polanians into the neigbouring territories they consequently pushed away Popielid dynasty.

Lands under Duke Mieszko's rule as vassal of the emperor and as margrave encompassed Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Silesia and Pomerania. The lands totalled about 250,000 km2 in area, with a population of about 1 million.

Mieszko I married Dobrava[?], daughter of Bohemian Duke Boleslav I and was baptised into the Roman branch of Christianity in 966 AD. This event started widespread conversion to Christianity within Mieszko I realms and was also a fact of political significance. It marked the beginning of Poland as part of the Christian western world. Moreover he also allied with the Czech to try to keep the German land conquered or received as lien for themselves. He was christened by a Czech clergy and married to a Bohemian princess (widow Dubrawka von Boehmen).

In 967 the Polish ruler defeated German Count Wichman and his allies. In 972 at the Battle of Cedynia[?], Mieszko defeated Hodo of the Eastern Marche, which enabled him to take over West Pomerania , as margrave of the emperor. Mieszko I died in 972 and left his son and successor - Boleslaw I Chrobry a strong and thriving dukedom.

Boleslaw continued the work of his father. He was able to preserve the unity of the country by expelling Ode (Mieszko I's second wife) and her sons. At the Congress of Gniezno (1000) he was able to persuade Emperor Otto III (980-1002) to give his permission to set up a first Polish archbishopric.

After the untimely death of Otto III in 1002 at the age of 22, Boleslaw I conquered the imperial March of Meissen and also Lausitz (Latin Lusatia, Polish Łużyce), thereby trying to wrest imperial territory for himself during the disputes over the throne -- he and his father had both earlier backed Duke Henry II ("the Quarrelsome") of Bavaria against Otto, and he accepted the accession of the earlier Henry's son as the Emperor Henry I. Boleslaw conquered and made himself duke of Bohemia in 1003, but lost the territory the following year. He defeated the Russians and stormed Kiev in 1018.

He was forced to give the pledge of allegiance by the next emperor Henry I again, for the lands he held in fief. Henry died in 1024. A year later in 1025, shortly before his death, Boleslaw was crowned king. This event marked the full political and territorial independence of the Polish State. The future Polish rulers did not pledge allegiance to any of the neighbouring states or empires except specifically for those territories which they held in the west as fiefs of the Empire.

The rule of the Piast Dynasty

The name Piast dynasty was first coined in the 17th century for areas ruled by what then became known as Piasts.

Mieszko II was crowned in 1025 after his fatheris death. The many landlords, however, feared the single rule of the monarch. This situation led to conflicts in the country, in which Mieszko's brothers turned against him and the Emperor Conrad II forces attacked the country, seizing Lusatia. Years of chaos and conflict followed, during which Mieszko died (1034) in suspicious circumstances (1034) after forced abdication and a brief restoration.

The reign of Casimir I of Poland (1037-1058) was a short period of stability. Casimir unified the country, and was succeded by Boleslaus II, who took advantage of the conflict between emperor Henry III and Pope Gregory VI and made himself king in 1076. The landlords rebelled yet again and Boleslaus II had to abdicate in 1079. His brother Ladislas took over the throne and also had to abdicate in 1102, giving the power to his sons Zbigniew[?] and Boleslaw who reigned simultaneosly.

It was Boleslaw who united the country in 1106 and defended it against the Holy Roman Empire later on. He became known as Boleslaus III Krzywousty. He managed to again conquer all the previously conquered territories, held for a short time, including Pomerania. Before his death in 1138 he split up the power in country between his sons. Following his theory of seniorate, Boleslaus III of Poland divided the country into five principalities Silesia, Greater Poland, Mazovia, Sandomir and Cracow. The first four provinces were divided among his four sons who became independent rulers. The fifth province, that of Cracow, was to be added to the senior among the Princes who, as the Grand Duke of Cracow, was the representative of the whole of Poland. No sooner did Boleslav die than his oldest son, Wladyslav, conceived the idea of restoring Poland's unity by depriving his brothers of their shares. He met with the determined opposition of the Church and the magnates, who clearly recognized, that a centralized power was detrimental to their interests and influence. The Archbishop of Gniezno hurled an anathema at Wladyslav and two powerful potentates organized an army against him. A civil war ensued which, despite the help received from outside and the interference of Friedrich Barbarossa, ended in the defeat of the Grand Duke of Cracow. This marks the beginning of the era of disintegration of the young Polish state and the decline of monarchical power in Poland. The principalities of Silesia, Greater Poland and Mazovia had become divided into smaller units, with further sub-divisions and occasional fusions. Separatist interests and jealousies led to almost incessant warfare.

The ruler of Cracow retained the title of Dux Poloniae, the Duke of Poland, but the security of his office depended upon his relations with the aristocracy and clergy. Casimir II of Poland (1177-1194) had been obliged to summon a council of nobles and clergy and to surrender certain of his rights and privileges. He was also compelled to promise to call such councils when important matters of state were to be decided upon. At the Council or Synod of Leczyca, held in 1180, the Church, under the threat of an interdict enjoined the Duke from the exercise of his right to the personal property of deceased bishops (Ius Spolii) and to certain levies for his officials and representatives. In return for these concessions or immunities the Council abolished the seniorate and vested in the line of Casimir the Just the perpetual right to the principality of Cracow. Thus the right of seniority in the Piast Dynasty gave way to the law of primogeniture in the line of Casimir the Just.
This right was frequently contested by armed interference. The authority of the Duke of Cracow was not adequately defined by law and was nil in actual practice. The heads of the smaller principalities were, in fact, independent rulers. They were free to establish alliances for defensive and offensive warfare, to make treaties and to maintain independent customs barriers, In other words, Poland of the 13th century was no longer one solid political entity. The sovereignty of the former state became diffused among a number of smaller independent political units, with only the common bonds of language, race, religion and tradition.

The princely power was theoretically unlimited. By the "grace of God" the princes were absolute lords of their dominions. Actually, the exercise of their power depended on the strength or weakness of the barons and clergy and on their own skill in playing off the interests of the one against those of the other. The barons and the clergy became very powerful in the 13th century. Both classes acquired large land holdings with jurisdiction over their subjects. The Church grew constantly stronger on account of its splendid organization, its accumulation of wealth and the moral control it exercised over the people. Then, too, it had become more independent since the adoption of the Gregorian reforms, which deprived the king of the power to appoint bishops. By their presence at the Councils of the Prince, called Colloquia they, in conjunction with the barons, exercised direct control over the affairs of the principality. The Colloquium was called at such times as state business demanded. In addition to the relatives of the prince, the barons and prelates were invited to attend it, and at these gatherings matters of foreign policies, as well as of internal administration, were determined. The granting of franchises, the fixing of taxes and matters of like nature were decided at these meetings, and at times the Colloquium also served as the Prince's Court. The Colloquium was the nucleus of what later developed into the Senate.

Synchronous with the metamorphosis in the structure of the Polish State and sovereignty was an economic and social impoverishment of the country. Harassed by civil strifes and foreign invasions, like that of the Mongols in 1241 the small principalities became enfeebled and depopulated. The incomes of the Princes began to decrease materially. This led them to take steps toward encouraging immigration from foreign countries. A great number of German peasants, who, during the interregnum following the death of Frederick II, suffered great oppression at the hands of their lords, were induced to settle in Poland under certain very favorable conditions. German immigration into Poland had started spontaneously at an earlier period, about the end of the 11th century, and was the result of overpopulation in the central provinces of the Empire. Advantage of the existing tendency had already been taken by the Polish Princes in the 12th century for the development of cities and crafts. Now the movement became intensified.

Studies of the development of the German settlements in Poland indicate that they sprang up along the wide belt which was laid waste by the Mongols in 1241. It was a stretch of land comprising present Galicia and Southern Silesia. Prior to the Mongol invasion these two provinces were thickly settled and highly developed. Through them ran the commercial highways from the East and the Levant to the Baltic and the west of Europe. Cracow and Wroclaw were large and prosperous towns. After the Mongol barbarians retired the country was in ruins and the population either scattered or exterminated. Large numbers were taken prisoners. The refugees went north and helped to colonize the sparsely inhabited areas and to clear the forests to the east of the Vistula in Mazovia. On the heels of the receding Mongols came the Germans. Theirs was a movement along the line of least resistance. The new settlers were spared the hard labor of the pioneers as the soil they occupied had been used for arable purposes centuries before. There was no need of clearing primeval forest or colonizing an utter wilderness.

It would be a mistake to think that all the newcomers were Teutons. Slavic tribes, at that time, separated Poland from Germany, and the Germans who came to Poland went through this Slavic screen and brought with them numerous autochthons of the border Slavic lands. Upon arriving in Poland the settlers from the west restored agriculture, rebuilt the cities and came into the possession of all the advantages the fertile soil and the favorable geographic position gave them.

The entrepreneur (known by the Latin name of villicator), who brought over a number of settlers, received, in addition to the compensation for his services, a piece of land for the colony of which he became came the chief (woyt), with hereditary right to certain taxes. These rights he could concede or sell. He was also the judge of the colony. He was free from all duties except those of a knight and a tax collector, and responsible to nobody except to the Prince. The settlers, after dividing among themselves the land granted to them by the Prince, proceeded to build the city with its town hall, market-place and church in the center. The streets ran radius-like from the center. The town was surrounded by a mound and ditch, beyond which lay the arable fields, pastures and woods. The settlers were given every privilege of building the towns in the way to which they were accustomed, and to govern themselves according to the practice of their native country. For a number of years, varying in each case, the settlers were free from all taxes or duties. After the expiration of the term of years they had to pay a stipulated annual tax into the Prince's treasury. The tax was to be paid in money, not like that of the Polish grody, in kind and services. In addition they were, in some instances, required to maintain defensive walls, towers and gates, and to supply impedimenta for war and armed servants. In their internal affairs they were given full home rule and were free from all interference by representatives of the Prince. They governed themselves according to German law, the chief (woyt) and a chosen jury constituting the court. Appeals from the decisions of this court could be taken to the Court of the Prince or to the higher courts in the German cities. The administration was in the hands of a City Council, consisting of the burgomaster and advisors, either elected by the people or appointed by the Prince, this depending on the terms of the charter. The artisans established guilds which regulated the quality and price of products. The Prince had the sole authority to grant town charters. Sometimes he gave this power to the feudal and ecclesiastical lords of the principality.

In this way beside the Polish "grody" sprang into existence a large number of towns, with German laws, customs and institutions. The ancient towns of Cracow, Lwow, Poznan, Plock and others received a large mixture of German population, and became regarded by the metropolitan towns in Germany as their branches and as outposts of German trade and civilization in Poland. The common law of the country was supplanted by the Magdeburg and Halle law, German silver coins became the money of the country, and all municipal records began to be kept in the German language. Had it not been for the Mongol invasion, Polish towns would have developed normally and created a city population mainly Polish.

Similar to the growth of German towns was the development by colonization of villages based on German law. To induce settlers in the unoccupied areas the Prince granted tracts of land exempt from taxes for a number of years. All the settlers on these lands were absolutely free. The only obligation was the payment of an annual rent to the Prince, collected for him by the organizer of the settlement, who, in compensation for his work, received in hereditary right a large grant of land, a flour mill or tavern. In addition to the duties of a tax collector the organizer, called soltys, was to render military service and act as the police officer of the village. He was also the presiding officer of the jury chosen by the villagers. In all administrative matters the village, like the city, had complete home rule. Except for the town hall and the town council the villages did not differ much from the towns. With the consent of the Prince, barons and prelates could either establish new free settlements or change the legal basis of the already existing native villages in their domains from the Polish to the German law.

On account of the advantages that the German method of settling gave to land owners, it became very popular with them and exercised a great influence upon the administrative, economic and particularly, political life of the country. The influx of great masses of the German element, that had all the support of their native country as well as of the military Teutonic Orders, which settled on the Baltic seacoast in the beginning of the 13th century and from its earliest days engaged in a ruthless war of extermination on the autochthonous population under the guise of spreading Christ's gospel, destroyed political cohesion.

An additional foreign element began to settle in Poland in great numbers at the same time. The Jews, persecuted all over Europe during the Crusades, fled to Poland where they were received in a most hospitable manner. They settled in the towns and began to carry on commerce and banking. As illustrative of the friendliness of the Poles toward these newcomers may be cited- the statue of Kalisz, promulgated by Prince Boleslav in the year 1246 by which the Jews received every protection, of the law and which imposed heavy penalties for any insults to their cemeteries, synagogues and, other sanctuaries. About the same time Prince Henry IV of Wroclaw (Breslau) imposed heavy penalties upon those who accused Jews of ritual murder. Anyone who made such an accusation had to prove it by six witnesses, three Gentiles and three Jews, and in case of his inability to prove the charge in a satisfactory manner he was himself found guilty and subject to severe punishment.

While the Jews adapted themselves to their new environment and coalesced, to a degree, with the native population, the German element, backed by their government, became aggressive and sought to dominate the country. The rich German town people were supported in their endeavors by the clergy, who arrived from Germany in great numbers and occupied prominent church positions. It was with the aid of the Germans that the dauntless but Germanized Leszek the Dark (1278-1288), and after him Henry Probus (1289-1290), who joined the ancient Polish Duchy of Silesia to, the German Empire, ascended the throne of Cracow. The German influence grew disquietingly. A strong antagonistic movement arose and the clash of the two forces constitutes the pith of Polish history during the next century. The conflict resulted in complete Polonization of the German element and among the descendants of these settlers there have been many of the most ardent Polish patriots. This is eloquent testimony of the great assimilative powers of the people and of the state building capabilities of the Poles.

It was not until the late 13th century when the tendency to unify the country arose once again. From 1278 onwardsPrzemysl II[?] regained control over vast areas of the former kingdom. He was finally crowned in 1295 only to be assassinated a year later. After his death Wladyslaw IV[?] became the leader of the unification movement. Despite many defeats he managed to establish his power by 1314 with the help of Hungarian forces. He was made king in 1320. He was succeeded by his son Casimir in 1333, who continued the work of his father. During his reign the country expanded its power over neighbouring areas. Many new castles were built and existing townships fortified. Thus he became known as Casimir the Great.

The Piast rulers of Poland died out in 1370. (There were still Piast rulers in Silesia and Mazovia)

The Grand Dukes of Lithuania, the Jagiello family dynasty took over the reign as Kings of Poland.

The Vasa dynastic family of Sweden next ruled as Kings of Poland.

Partitions of Poland 1773-1795

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World War I 1914-1918

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The Second Republic 1918-1939

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World War II 1939-1945

(This section is still unfinished) On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov nonaggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones. On September 1, 1939, Hitler ordered his troops into Poland. On September 17, Soviet troops invaded and then occupied eastern Poland under the terms of this agreement. 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 government in exile, first in Paris and later in London, which was recognized by the Soviet Union. During World War II, 400,000 Poles fought under Soviet command, and 200,000 went into combat on Western fronts in units loyal to the Polish government in exile.

In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke 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 U.S.S.R. (The Soviets claimed that the Poles had insulted them by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports.) In July 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Poland and established a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" at Lublin.

Resistance against the Nazis in Warsaw, including uprisings by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and by the Polish underground, was brutally suppressed. As the Germans retreated in January 1945, they leveled the city.

During the war, about 6 million Poles were killed, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labor. More than 3 million Jews (all but about 100,000 of the Jewish population) were killed in death camps like those at Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Treblinka, and Majdanek.

People's Republic of Poland 1945-1989

Following the Yalta Conference in February 1945, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed in June 1945; the U.S. recognized it the next month. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the Communist Party. The communists then established a regime entirely under their domination.

In October 1956, after the 20th ("de-Stalinization") Soviet Party Congress at Moscow and riots by workers in Poznan, there was a shakeup in the communist regime. While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime of First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka liberalized Polish internal life.

In 1968, the trend reversed when student demonstrations were suppressed and an "anti-Zionist" campaign initially directed against Gomulka supporters within the party eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population. In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, triggered by a price increase for essential consumer goods, reflected deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions in the country. Edward Gierek replaced Gomulka as First Secretary.

Fueled by large infusions of Western credit, Poland's economic growth rate was one of the worlds 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.

In October 1978, the Bishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Polish Catholics rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.

Onn 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 31 August 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, led by an electrician named Lech Walesa, 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 Gdansk 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 Stanislaw Kania[?] as First Secretary.

Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the PZPR's authority following the Gdansk 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 as well, and in October 1981, he also was named party First Secretary. At the first Solidarity national congress in September-October 1981, Lech Walesa was elected national chairman of the union.

On December 12-13, the regime declared martial law, under which the army and special 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.

In a series of slow, uneven steps, the Polish regime rescinded martial law. In December 1982, martial law was suspended, and a small number of political prisoners were released. Although martial law formally ended in July 1983 and a general amnesty was enacted, several hundred political prisoners remained in jail.

In July 1984, another general amnesty was declared, and 2 years later, the government had released nearly all political prisoners. The authorities continued, however, to harass dissidents and Solidarity activists. Solidarity remained proscribed and its publications banned. Independent publications were censored.

The Third Republic 1989 to the present day

In the 1970's and 1980's the whole system in Poland was deeper and deeper in the crisis and was beginning to crumble as was the whole Eastern bloc with the USSR as the fading superpower. With the advent of "perestroika" in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev the change of the political system that had been unimaginable was becoming reality.

Fears that the shift of power from centralized one-party system system to multi-party democracy might turn into bloody revolution proved unfounded owing to the presence on both sides, the Communist Party and the democratic opposition, of peacefully-minded reformists committed to a peaceful solution, while the Catholic Church managed to cool down some militant opposition fractions.

The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May, and August 1988. In an attempt to take control of the situation, the government gave de facto recognition to Solidarity, and Interior Minister Kiszczak began talks with Lech Walesa on August 31. These talks broke off in October, but a new series, the "roundtable" talks, began in February 1989. These talks produced an agreement in April for partly open National Assembly elections. The June election produced a Sejm (lower house), in which one-third of the seats went to communists and one-third went to the two parties which had hitherto been their coalition partners. The remaining one-third of the seats in the Sejm and all those in the Senate were freely contested; virtually all of these were won by candidates supported by Solidarity.

The failure of the communists at the polls produced a political crisis. The roundtable agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of some Solidarity deputies, elected General Jaruzelski to that office. Two attempts by the communists to form governments failed, however.

On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist/Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in more than 40 years, Poland had a government led by noncommunists.

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 Polish United Workers' (Communist) Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. Most of the property of the former Communist Party was turned over to the state.

The May 1990 local elections were entirely free. Candidates supported by Solidarity's Citizens' Committees won most of the races they contested, although voter turnout was only a little over 40%. The cabinet was reshuffled in July 1990; the national defense and interior affairs ministers--hold-overs from the previous communist government--were among those replaced.

In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In December, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.

Poland in the early 1990s made great progress toward achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Walesa was elected President for a 5-year term. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, at Walesa's request, formed a government and served as its Prime Minister until October 1991, introducing world prices and greatly expanding the scope of private enterprise.

Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, representing a full spectrum of political views. No single party received more than 13% of the total vote. After a rough start, 1993 saw the second group of elections, and the first parliament to actually serve a full term. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) received the largest percentage of votes.

After the election, the SLD and PSL formed a governing coalition. Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the junior partner PSL, became Prime Minister. Relations between President Walesa and the Prime Minister remained poor throughout the Pawlak government, with President Walesa charging Pawlak with furthering personal and party interests while neglecting matters of state importance. Following a number of scandals implicating Pawlak and increasing political tension over control of the armed forces, President Walesa demanded Pawlak's resignation in January 1995. In the ensuing political crisis, the coalition removed Pawlak from office and replaced him with the SLD's Jozef Oleksy as the new Prime Minister.

In November 1995, Poland held its second post-war free presidential elections. SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski defeated Walesa by a narrow margin--51.7% to 48.3%. Soon after Walesa's defeat, Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski accused then-Prime Minister Oleksy of longtime collaboration with Soviet and later Russian intelligence. In the ensuing political crisis, Oleksy resigned. For his successor, The SLD-PSL coalition turned to deputy Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz--who was linked to, but not a member of, the SLD. Polish prosecutors subsequently decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Oleksy, and a parliamentary commission decided in November 1996 that the Polish intelligence services may have violated rules of procedure in gathering evidence in the Oleksy case.

In 1997 parliamentary elections two parties with roots in the Solidarity movement--Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW)--won 261 of the 460 seats in the Sejm and formed a coalition government. Jerzy Buzek of the AWS was the Prime Minister. The AWS and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) held the majority of the seats in the Sejm. Marian Krzaklewski was the leader of the AWS, and Leszek Miller led the SLD. In June 2000, UW withdrew from the governing collation, leaving AWS at the helm of a minority government. Poland's September 2001 parliamentary elections saw the center-left Democratic Left Alliance (SLD--successor to the communist party twice removed), triumph and form a coalition with the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) and leftist Union of Labor (UP), with Leszek Miller (SLD) as Prime Minister. Together, the parties hold 256 of the 460 seats in the Sejm.

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