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Poland

[poh-luhnd]

Poland (Polska), officially the Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country in Central Europe. Poland is 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 Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north. The total area of Poland is , making it the 69th largest country in the world and 9th in Europe. Poland has a population of over 38 million people, which makes it the 33rd most populous country in the world.

The establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I in 966 (see Baptism of Poland), when the state covered territory similar to that of present-day Poland. Poland became a kingdom in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by uniting to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth collapsed in 1795, and its territory was partitioned among Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Poland regained its independence in 1918 after World War I but lost it again in World War II, occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Poland lost over six million citizens in World War II, and emerged several years later as a socialist republic within the Eastern Bloc under strong Soviet influence. In 1989 communist rule was overthrown and Poland became what is constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic". Poland is a unitary state made up of sixteen voivodeships (województwo). Poland is also a member of the European Union, NATO and OECD.

History

Prehistory

Historians have postulated that throughout Late Antiquity, many distinct ethnic groups populated the regions of what is now known as Poland. The exact ethnicity and linguistic affiliation of these groups has been hotly debated; in particular the time and route of the original settlement of Slavic peoples in these regions has been the subject of much controversy.

The most famous archeological find from Poland's prehistory is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as a museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BC.

Piast dynasty

Poland began to form into a recognizable unitary and territorial entity around the middle of the tenth century under the Piast dynasty. Poland's first historically documented ruler, Mieszko I, was baptized in 966, adopting Catholic Christianity as the nation's new official religion, to which the bulk of the population converted in the course of the next centuries. In the twelfth century, Poland fragmented into several smaller states. In 1320, Władysław I became the King of a reunified Poland. His son, Kazimierz III, is remembered as one of the greatest Polish kings.

Poland was also a centre of migration of peoples and the Jewish community began to settle and flourish in Poland during this era (see History of the Jews in Poland). The Black Death which affected most parts of Europe from 1347 to 1351 did not reach Poland.

Jagiellon dynasty

Under the Jagiellon dynasty Poland forged an alliance with its neighbour, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1410, a Polish-Lithuanian army inflicted a decisive defeat on the Teutonic Knights, both countries' main adversary, in the battle of Grunwald. After the Thirteen Years War, the Knight's state became a Polish vassal. Polish culture and economy flourished under the Jagiellons, and the country produced such figures as astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and poet Jan Kochanowski. Compared to other European nations, Poland was exceptional in its tolerance of religious dissent, allowing the country to avoid the religious turmoil that spread over Western Europe in that time.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

A golden age ensued during the sixteenth century after the Union of Lublin which gave birth to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The szlachta (nobility) of Poland, far more numerous than in Western European countries, took pride in their freedoms and parliamentary system. During the Golden Age period, Poland expanded its borders to become the largest country in Europe.

In the mid-seventeenth century, a Swedish invasion ("The Deluge") and Cossack's Chmielnicki Uprising which ravaged the country marked the end of the golden age. Numerous wars against Russia coupled with government inefficiency caused by the Liberum Veto, a right which had allowed any member of the parliament to dissolve it and to veto any legislation it had passed, marked the steady deterioration of the Commonwealth from a European power into a near-anarchy controlled by its neighbours. Commonwealth 's most famous achievement was to deal crushing defeat to the Ottoman Empire in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna.

The reforms, particularly those of the Great Sejm, which passed the Constitution of May 3, 1791, the world's second modern constitution, were thwarted with the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795) which ended with Poland's being erased from the map and its territories being divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

Partitions of Poland

Poles would resent their fate and would several times rebel against the partitioners, particularly in the nineteenth century. In 1807 Napoleon recreated a Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw, but after the Napoleonic wars, Poland was again divided in 1815 by the victorious Allies at the Congress of Vienna. The eastern portion was ruled by the Russian Czar as a Congress Kingdom, and possessed a liberal constitution. However, the Czars soon reduced Polish freedoms and Russia eventually de facto annexed the country. Later in the nineteenth century, Austrian-ruled Galicia, particularly the Free City of Kraków, became a centre of Polish cultural life.

Reconstitution of Poland

During World War I, all the Allies agreed on the reconstitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in Point 13 of his Fourteen Points. Shortly after the surrender of Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic (II Rzeczpospolita Polska). It reaffirmed its independence after a series of military conflicts, the most notable being the Polish-Soviet War (1919–1921) when Poland inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army.

The 1926 May Coup of Józef Piłsudski turned the reins of the Second Polish Republic over to the Sanacja movement.

World War II

The Sanacja movement controlled Poland until the start of World War II in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded on 1 September and the Soviet Union followed on 17 September. Warsaw capitulated on 28 September 1939. As agreed in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Poland was split into two zones, one occupied by Germany while the eastern provinces fell under the control of the Soviet Union.

Of all the countries involved in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over six million perished, half of them Polish Jews. Poland made the fourth-largest troop contribution to the Allied war effort, after the Soviets, the British and the Americans. The Polish expeditionary corps played an important role in the Italian Campaign, particularly at the Battle of Monte Cassino. At the war's conclusion, Poland's borders were shifted westwards, pushing the eastern border to the Curzon line. Meanwhile, the western border was moved to the Oder-Neisse line. The new Poland emerged 20% smaller by . The shift forced the migration of millions of people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews.

Postwar Communist Poland

The Soviet Union instituted a new Communist government in Poland, analogous to much of the rest of the Eastern Bloc. Military alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War was also part of this change. The People's Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was officially proclaimed in 1952. In 1956, the régime of Władysław Gomułka became temporarily more liberal, freeing many people from prison and expanding some personal freedoms. Similar situation repeated itself in the 1970s under Edward Gierek, but most of the time persecution of communist opposition persisted.

Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" ("Solidarność"), which over time became a political force. Despite persecution and imposition of martial law in 1981, it eroded the dominance of the Communist Party and by 1989 had triumphed in parliamentary elections. Lech Wałęsa, a Solidarity candidate, eventually won the presidency in 1990. The Solidarity movement heralded the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe.

Democratic Poland

A shock therapy programme of Leszek Balcerowicz during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into a market economy. As with all other post-communist countries, Poland suffered temporary slumps in social and economic standards, but became the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels. Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in other human rights, such as free speech. In 1991, Poland became a member of the Visegrad Group and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member on 1 May 2004.

Geography

Poland’s territory extends across several geographical regions. In the northwest is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdansk. This coast is marked by several spits, coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes. The largely straight coastline is indented by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon. The center and parts of the north lie within the North European Plain. Rising gently above these lowlands is a geographical region comprising the four hilly districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age. These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of northeastern Poland. The lake districts form part of the Baltic Ridge, a series of moraine belts along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. South of the Northern European Lowlands lie the regions of Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys. Farther south lies the Polish mountain region, including the Sudetes, the Cracow-Częstochowa Upland, the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra Mountains, along Poland’s southern border.

Rivers

The longest rivers are the Vistula (Wisła), long; the Oder (Odra) which forms part of Poland’s western border, long; its tributary, the Warta, long; and the Bug, a tributary of the Vistula, long. The Vistula and the Oder flow into the Baltic Sea, as do numerous smaller rivers in Pomerania. The Łyna and the Angrapa flow by way of the Pregolya to the Baltic, and the Czarna Hańcza flows into the Baltic through the Neman. While the great majority of Poland’s rivers drain into the Baltic Sea, Poland’s Beskids are the source of some of the upper tributaries of the Orava, which flows via the Váh and the Danube to the Black Sea. The eastern Beskids are also the source of some streams that drain through the Dniester to the Black Sea.

Poland’s rivers have been used since early times for navigation. The Vikings, for example, traveled up the Vistula and the Oder in their longships. In the Middle Ages and in early modern times, when Poland-Lithuania was the breadbasket of Europe, the shipment of grain and other agricultural products down the Vistula toward Gdańsk and onward to eastern Europe took on great importance. For an overview of Polish rivers, see Rivers of Poland.

Geology

The geological structure of Poland has been shaped by the continental collision of Europe and Africa over the past 60 million years, on the one hand, and the Quaternary glaciations of northern Europe, on the other. Both processes shaped the Sudetes and the Carpathians. The moraine landscape of northern Poland contains soils made up mostly of sand or loam, while the ice-age river valleys of the south often contain loess. The Cracow-Częstochowa Upland, the Pieniny, and the Western Tatras consist of limestone, while the High Tatras, the Beskids, and the Karkonosze are made up mainly of granite and basalts. The Kraków-Częstochowa Upland is one of the oldest mountain ranges on earth.

Mountains and topography

Poland has 21 mountains over in elevation, all in the High Tatras. The Polish Tatras, which consist of the High Tatras and the Western Tatras, is the highest mountain group of Poland and of the entire Carpathian range. In the High Tatras lies Poland’s highest point, the northwestern peak of Rysy, in elevation. At its foot lies the mountain lake, the Morskie Oko. The second highest mountain group in Poland is the Beskids, whose highest peak is Babia Góra, at . The next highest mountain group is the Karkonosze, whose highest point is Śnieżka, at . Among the most beautiful mountains of Poland are the Bieszczady Mountains in the far southeast of Poland, whose highest point in Poland is Tarnica, with an elevation of . Tourists also frequent the Gorce Mountains in Gorce National Park, with elevations around , and the Pieniny in Pieniny National Park, with elevations around . The lowest point in Poland—at below sea level—is at Raczki Elbląskie, near Elbląg in the Vistula Delta. For a list of the most important mountain ranges of Poland, see the Mountain ranges of Poland.

Lakes

With almost ten thousand closed bodies of water covering more than one hectare (2.47 acres) each, Poland has one of the highest numbers of lakes in the world. In Europe, only Finland has a greater density of lakes. The largest lakes, covering more than , are Lake Śniardwy and Lake Mamry in Masuria, as well as Lake Łebsko and Lake Drawsko in Pomerania. In addition to the lake districts in the north (in Masuria, Pomerania, Kashubia, Lubuskie, and Greater Poland), there is also a large number of mountain lakes in the Tatras, of which the Morskie Oko is the largest in area. The lake with the greatest depth—of more than —is Lake Hańcza in the Wigry Lake District, east of Masuria in Podlaskie Voivodship.

Among the first lakes whose shores were settled are those in the Greater Polish Lake District. The stilt house settlement of Biskupin, occupied by more than one thousand residents, was founded before the seventh century BC by people of the Lusatian culture. The ancestors of today’s Poles, the Polanie, built their first fortresses on islands in these lakes. The legendary Prince Popiel is supposed to have ruled from Kruszwica on Lake Gopło. The first historically documented ruler of Poland, Duke Mieszko I, had his palace on an island in the Warta River in Poznań.

For the most important lakes of Poland, see the Lakes of Poland.

The coast

The Polish Baltic coast is approximately long and extends from Świnoujście on the islands of Usedom and Wolin in the west to Krynica Morska on the Vistula Spit in the east. For the most part, Poland has a smooth coastline, which has been shaped by the continual movement of sand by currents and winds from west to east. This continual erosion and deposition has formed cliffs, dunes, and spits, many of which have migrated landwards to close off former lagoons, such as Łebsko Lake in Słowiński National Park. The largest spits are Hel Peninsula and the Vistula Spit. The largest Polish Baltic island is Wolin. The largest port cities are Gdynia, Gdańsk, Szczecin, and Świnoujście. The main coastal resorts are Sopot, Międzyzdroje, Kołobrzeg, Łeba, Władysławowo, and the Hel Peninsula.

The desert

Błędów Desert is a desert located in Southern Poland in the Silesian Voivodeship and stretches over the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie region. It has a total area of . It is the only desert located in Poland. It is one of only five natural deserts in Europe. It is the warmest desert that appears at this latitude. It was created thousands of years ago by a melting glacier. The specific geological structure has been of big importance. The average thickness of the sand layer is about , with a maximum of , which made the fast and deep drainage very easy. In recent years the desert has begun to shrink. The phenomenon of mirages has been known to exist there.

Land use

Forests of Poland cover 28% of Poland’s land area. More than half of the land is devoted to agriculture. While the total area under cultivation is declining, the remaining farmland is more intensively cultivated.

More than 1% of Poland’s territory, , is protected within 23 national parks. In this respect, Poland ranks first in Europe. Three more national parks are projected for Masuria, the Cracow-Częstochowa Upland, and the eastern Beskids. Most Polish national parks are located in the southern part of the country. In addition, wetlands along lakes and rivers in central Poland are legally protected, as are coastal areas in the north. There are also over 120 areas designated as landscape parks, and numerous nature reserves and other protected areas.

Flora and fauna

Phytogeographically, Poland belongs to the Central European province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Poland can be subdivided into three ecoregions: the Baltic mixed forests, Central European mixed forests and Carpathian montane conifer forests.

Many animals that have since died out in other parts of Europe still survive in Poland, such as the wisent in the ancient woodland of the Białowieża Forest and in Podlachia. Other such species include the brown bear in Białowieża, in the Tatras, and in the Beskids, the gray wolf and the Eurasian lynx in various forests, the moose in northern Poland, and the beaver in Masuria, Pomerania, and Podlachia. In the forests, one also encounters game animals, such as red deer, roe deer, and boars. In eastern Poland there are a number of ancient woodlands, like Białowieża, that have never been cleared by people. There are also large forested areas in the mountains, Masuria, Pomerania, and Lower Silesia.

Poland is the most important breeding ground for European migratory birds. Out of all of the migratory birds who come to Europe for the summer, one quarter breed in Poland, particularly in the lake districts and the wetlands along the Biebrza, the Narew, and the Warta, which are part of nature reserves or national parks. In Masuria, there are villages in which storks outnumber people.

Climate

The climate is mostly temperate throughout the country. The climate is oceanic in the north and west and becomes gradually warmer and continental as one moves south and east. Summers are generally warm, with average temperatures between and . Winters are cold, with average temperatures around in the northwest and in the northeast. Precipitation falls throughout the year, although, especially in the east; winter is drier than summer. The warmest region in Poland is Lesser Poland located in Southern Poland where temperatures in the summer average between and but can go as high as to on some days in the warmest month of the year July. The warmest city in Poland is Tarnów. The city is located in Lesser Poland. It is the hottest place in Poland all year round. The average temperatures being in the summer and in the winter. Tarnów also has the longest summer in Poland spreading from mid May to mid-September. It also has the shortest winter in Poland which often lasts from January to March, less than the regular three-month winter. The coldest region of Poland is in the Northeast in the Podlaskie Voivodeship near the border of Belarus. The climate is efficient due to cold fronts which come from Scandinavia and Siberia. The average temperature in the winter in Podlachian ranges from to .

Government

Poland is a democracy, with a President as a Head of State, whose current constitution dates from 1997. The government structure centres on the Council of Ministers, led by a prime minister. The president appoints the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minister, typically from the majority coalition in the Sejm. The president is elected by popular vote every five years. The current president is Lech Kaczyński, the current prime minister is Donald Tusk.

Polish voters elect a bicameral parliament consisting of a 460-member lower house (Sejm) and a 100-member Senate (Senat). The Sejm is elected under proportional representation according to the d'Hondt method, a method similar to that used in many parliamentary political systems. The Senate, on the other hand, is elected under a rare plurality bloc voting method where several candidates with the highest support are elected from each constituency. With the exception of ethnic minority parties, only candidates of political parties receiving at least 5% of the total national vote can enter the Sejm. When sitting in joint session, members of the Sejm and Senate form the National Assembly (the Zgromadzenie Narodowe). The National Assembly is formed on three occasions: when a new President takes the oath of office; when an indictment against the President of the Republic is brought to the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu); and when a President's permanent incapacity to exercise his duties due to the state of his health is declared. To date, only the first instance has occurred.

The judicial branch plays an important role in decision-making. Its major institutions include the Supreme Court of Poland (Sąd Najwyższy); the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland (Naczelny Sąd Administracyjny); the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland (Trybunał Konstytucyjny); and the State Tribunal of Poland (Trybunał Stanu). On the approval of the Senate, the Sejm also appoints the Ombudsman or the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) for a five-year term. The Ombudsman has the duty of guarding the observance and implementation of the rights and liberties of Polish citizens and residents, of the law and of principles of community life and social justice.

Administrative divisions

Poland's current voivodeships (provinces) are largely based on the country's historic regions, whereas those of the past two decades (to 1998) had been centred on and named for individual cities. The new units range in area from less than for Opole Voivodeship to more than for Masovian Voivodeship. Administrative authority at voivodeship level is shared between a government-appointed voivode (governor), an elected regional assembly (sejmik) and an executive elected by that assembly.

The voivodeships are subdivided into powiats (often referred to in English as counties), and these are further divided into gminas (also known as communes or municipalities). Major cities normally have the status of both gmina and powiat. Poland currently has 16 voivodeships, 379 powiats (including 65 cities with powiat status), and 2,478 gminas.

Voivodeship Capital city or cities
in Polish
Greater Poland Wielkopolskie Poznań
Kuyavian-Pomeranian Kujawsko-Pomorskie Bydgoszcz / Toruń
Lesser Poland Małopolskie Kraków
Łódź Łódzkie Łódź
Lower Silesian Dolnośląskie Wrocław
Lublin Lubelskie Lublin
Lubusz Lubuskie Gorzów Wielkopolski / Zielona Góra
Masovian Mazowieckie Warsaw
Opole Opolskie Opole
Podlaskie Podlaskie Białystok
Pomeranian Pomorskie Gdańsk
Silesian Śląskie Katowice
Subcarpathian Podkarpackie Rzeszów
Świętokrzyskie Świętokrzyskie Kielce
Warmian-Masurian Warmińsko-Mazurskie Olsztyn
West Pomeranian Zachodniopomorskie Szczecin

Military

The Polish armed forces are composed of four branches: Land Forces (Wojska Lądowe), Navy (Marynarka Wojenna), Air Force (Siły Powietrzne) and Special Forces (Wojska Specjalne).

The most important mission of the Armed Forces is the defence of Polish territorial integrity and Polish interests abroad. Poland's national security goal is to further integrate with NATO and European defence, economic, and political institutions through the modernization and reorganization of its military. Polish military doctrine reflects the same defensive nature as that of its NATO partners. Poland is also playing an increasing role as a peacekeeping power through various United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Demographics

Poland, with 38,116,000 inhabitants, has the eighth-largest population in Europe and the sixth-largest in the European Union. It has a population density of 122 inhabitants per square kilometer (328 per square mile).

Poland historically contained many languages, cultures and religions on its soil. The country had a particularly large Jewish population prior to the Second World War, when the Nazi Holocaust caused Poland's Jewish population, estimated at 3 million before the war, to drop to just 300,000. The outcome of the war, particularly the westward shift of Poland's borders to the area between the Curzon line and the Oder-Neisse line, coupled with post-war expulsion of minorities, significantly reduced the country's ethnic diversity.

According to the 2002 census, 36,983,700 people, or 96.74% of the population, consider themselves Polish, while 471,500 (1.23%) declared another nationality, and 774,900 (2.03%) did not declare any nationality. The largest minority nationalities and ethnic groups in Poland are Silesians, Kashubians, Germans (152,897 according to the census, most in Opole Voivodeship), Belarusians (c. 49,000), Ukrainians (c. 30,000), Lithuanians, Russians, Roma, Jews, Lemkos, Slovaks, and Czechs. Among foreign citizens, the Vietnamese are the largest ethnic group, followed by Greeks and Armenians.

The Polish language, a member of the West Slavic branch of the Slavic languages, functions as the official language of Poland. Until recent decades Russian was commonly learned as a second language, but now has been replaced by English and German as the most common second languages studied and spoken.

In recent years, Poland's population has decreased because of an increase in emigration and a sharp drop in the birth rate. Since Poland's accession to the European Union, a significant number of Poles have emigrated to Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Ireland in search of work. Some organizations have stated that Polish emigration is primarily due to Poland's high unemployment rate (10.5% in 2007), with Poles searching for better work opportunities abroad. In April 2007, the Polish population of the United Kingdom had risen to approximately 300,000 and estimates place the Polish population in Ireland at 65,000.

Polish minorities are still present in the neighboring countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as in other countries (see Poles for population numbers). Altogether, the number of ethnic Poles living abroad is estimated to be around 20 million. The largest number of Poles outside of Poland can be found in the United States.

Urban Areas

The largest metropolitan areas in Poland are the Upper Silesian Coal Basin centred on Katowice (3.5 million inhabitants); the capital, Warsaw (3 million); Kraków and Łódź (each 1.3 million); the Tricity of Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia in the Vistula delta (1.1 million); Poznań (900,000); Wrocław (900,000); and Szczecin (700,000). For an overview of Polish cities, see List of cities in Poland.

Religion

Because of the Holocaust and the post-World War II flight and expulsion of German and Ukrainian populations, Poland has become almost uniformly Roman Catholic. Most Poles—approximately 89%—are members of the Roman Catholic Church. Though rates of religious observance are currently lower than they have been in the past, Poland remains one of the most devoutly religious countries in Europe. Religious minorities include Polish Orthodox (about 506,800), various Protestants (about 150,000), Jehovah’s Witnesses (126,827), Eastern Catholics, Mariavites, Polish Catholics, Jews, and Muslims (including the Tatars of Białystok). Members of Protestant churches include about 77,500 in the largest Evangelical-Augsburg Church, and a similar number in smaller Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. Freedom of religion is now guaranteed by the 1989 statute of the Polish constitution, enabling the emergence of additional denominations. However, due to pressure from the Polish Episcopate, the exposition of doctrine has entered the public education system as well. According to a 2007 survey, 72% of respondents were not opposed to religious instruction in public schools; alternative courses in ethics are available only in one percent of the entire public educational system.

Economy

Poland is considered to have one of the healthiest economies of the post-communist countries, with GDP growing by 6.1% in 2006. Since the fall of communism, Poland has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalising the economy and today stands out as a successful example of the transition from a state-directed economy to a primarily privately owned market economy.

The privatisation of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed the development of an aggressive private sector. As a consequence, consumer rights organizations have also appeared. Restructuring and privatisation of "sensitive sectors" such as coal, steel, railways, and energy has been continuing since 1990. Between 2007 and 2010, the government plans to float twenty public companies on the Polish stock market, including parts of the coal industry. To date (2007), the biggest privatisations have been the sale of the national telecoms firm Telekomunikacja Polska to France Telecom in 2000, and an issue of 30% of the shares in Poland's largest bank, PKO Bank Polski, on the Polish stockmarket in 2004.

Poland has a large number of private farms in its agricultural sector, with the potential to become a leading producer of food in the European Union. Structural reforms in health care, education, the pension system, and state administration have resulted in larger-than-expected fiscal pressures. Warsaw leads Central Europe in foreign investment. GDP growth had been strong and steady from 1993 to 2000 with only a short slowdown from 2001 to 2002.

The prospect of closer integration with the European Union has put the economy back on track, with growth of 3.7% annually in 2003, a rise from 1.4% annually in 2002. In 2004, GDP growth equaled 5.4%, in 2005 3.3% and in 2006 6.2%. For 2007, the government has set a target for GDP growth at 6.5 to 7.0%.

Although the Polish economy is currently undergoing economic development, there are many challenges ahead. The most notable task on the horizon is the preparation of the economy (through continuing deep structural reforms) to allow Poland to meet the strict economic criteria for entry into the European Single Currency (Euro). According to the minister of finance Jacek Rostowski, Poland is likely to join the ERM in 2009 and adopt the euro in 2012 or 2013. Some businesses may already accept the euro as payment.

Average salaries in the enterprise sector in April 2008 were 3137 PLN (925 euro or 1434 US dollars) and growing sharply. Salaries vary between the regions: the median wage in the capital city Warsaw was 4600 PLN (1200 euro or 2000 US dollars) while in Białystok it was only 2400 PLN (670 euro or 1000 US dollars).

Since joining the European Union, many workers have left to work in other EU countries (particularly Ireland and the UK) because of high unemployment, which was the second-highest in the EU (14.2% in May 2006). However, with the rapid growth of the salaries, booming economy, strong value of Polish currency, and quickly decreasing unemployment (6,7% in August 2008) exodus of Polish workers seems to be over. In 2008 people who came back outnumbered those leaving the country.

Commodities produced in Poland include: electronics, cars (including the luxurious Leopard car), buses (Autosan, Jelcz SA, Solaris, Solbus), helicopters (PZL Świdnik), transport equipment, locomotives, planes (PZL Mielec), ships, military engineering (including tanks, SPAAG systems), medicines (Polpharma, Polfa), food, clothes, glass, pottery (Bolesławiec), chemical products and others.

Science, technology and education

Education

The education of Polish society was a goal of rulers as early as the 12th century, and Poland soon became one of the most educated European countries. The library catalogue of the Cathedral Chapter of Kraków dating back to 1110 shows that already in the early 12th century Polish intellectuals had access to the European literature. In 1364, in Kraków, the Jagiellonian University, founded by King Casimir III, became one of Europe's great early universities. In 1773 King Stanisław August Poniatowski established his Commission on National Education (Komisja Edukacji Narodowej), the world's first state ministry of education.

Today Poland has more than a hundred tertiary education institutions; traditional universities to be found in its major cities of Białystok, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Lublin, Łódź, Olsztyn, Opole, Poznań, Rzeszów, Szczecin, Toruń, Warsaw, Wrocław and Zielona Góra as well as technical, medical, economic institutions elsewhere, employing around 61,000 workers. There are also around 300 research and development institutes, with about 10,000 more researchers. In total, there are around 91,000 scientists in Poland today.

According to Frost & Sullivan's Country Industry Forecast the country is becoming an interesting location for research and development investments. Multinational companies such as: ABB, Delphi, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Hewlett–Packard, IBM, Intel, LG Electronics and Microsoft have set up R&D centres in Poland. Motorola in Kraków, Siemens in Wrocław and Samsung in Warszawa are one of the largest owned by those companies. Over 40 R&D centers, and 4,500 researchers make Poland the biggest R&D hub in Central and Eastern Europe. Companies chose Poland because of the availability of highly qualified labor force, presence of universities, support of authorities, and the largest market in Central Europe.

According to KPMG report 80% of Poland's current investors are contented with their choice and willing to reinvest. In 2006 Intel decided to double the number of employees in its R&D centre.

The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Poland's education as the 23rd best in the world, being neither significantly higher nor lower than the OECD average.

Telecommunication and IT

The share of the telecom sector in the GDP is 4.4% (end of 2000 figure), compared to 2.5% in 1996. Nevertheless, despite high expenditures for telecom infrastructure (the coverage increased from 78 users per 1000 inhabitants in 1989 to 282 in 2000).

The value of the telecommunication market is zl 38.2bn (2006), and it grew by 12.4% in 2007 PMR

the coverage mobile cellular is over 1000 users per 1000 people (2007)

  • Telephones—mobile cellular: 38.7 million (Onet.pl & GUS Report, 2007)
  • Telephones—main lines in use: 12.5 million (Telecom Team Report, 2005)

Culture

Polish culture has been influenced by both Eastern and Western influences. Today, these influences are evident in Polish architecture, folklore, and art. Poland is the birthplace of some world famous individuals, including Pope John Paul II, Marie Skłodowska Curie, Kazimierz Pułaski, Nicolaus Copernicus and Fryderyk Chopin.

The character of Polish art always reflected world trends. The famous Polish painter, Jan Matejko included many significant historical events in his paintings. Also a famous person in history of Polish art was Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. He was an example of a Polish Renaissance Man as well as an outstanding Polish playwright, painter and poet Stanisław Wyspiański. Polish literature dates back to 1100s and includes many famous poets and writers such as Jan Kochanowski, Adam Mickiewicz, Bolesław Prus, Juliusz Słowacki, Witold Gombrowicz, Stanisław Lem and, Ryszard Kapuściński. Writers Henryk Sienkiewicz, Władysław Reymont, Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska have each won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Also a renowned Polish-born English novelist was Joseph Conrad.

Many world famous Polish movie directors include Academy Awards winners Roman Polański, Andrzej Wajda, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Janusz Kamiński and, Krzysztof Kieślowski. World renowned actresses were Helena Modjeska and Pola Negri. The traditional Polish music composers include world-renowned pianist Frederic Chopin as well as famous composers such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Karol Szymanowski, and others.

Notable foods in Polish cuisine include Polish sausage, red beet soup, Polish dumplings, flaczki (tripe soup), cabbage rolls, Oscypek, Polish pork chops, Polish traditional stew, various potato dishes, a fast food sandwich zapiekanka, and many more. Traditional Polish desserts include Polish doughnuts, Polish gingerbread and others.

Sports

Many sports are popular in Poland. Football (soccer) is the country's most popular sport, with a rich history of international competition. Track & field, basketball, boxing, fencing, handball, ice hockey, swimming, volleyball, and weightlifting are other popular sports. The first Polish Formula One driver, Robert Kubica, has brought awareness of Formula One Racing to Poland. Poland has made a distinctive mark in motorcycle speedway racing thanks to Tomasz Gollob, a highly successful Polish rider. The Polish mountains are an ideal venue for hiking, skiing and mountain biking and attract millions of tourists every year from all over the world. Baltic beaches and resorts are popular locations for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and a broad-range of other water-themed sports.

Varia

International rankings

Index Rank Countries
reviewed
Human Development Index 2007 37th 177
OECD Working time 2nd 27
Index of Economic Freedom 2008 83rd 157
Privacy International Yearly Privacy ranking of countries 2006 8th 36
Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2007 56th 168
UNICEF Child Well-being league table 14th 21
Networked Readiness Index 2007-2008 62nd 122
OICA Automobile Production 20th 53

See also

References

External links

General

Travel

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