Poland -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Poland
Capital City: Warsaw
Languages: Polish (official)
Official Currency: Zloty
Religions: Catholic, others
Population: 38 518 241 (2008)
Land Area: 304 460 sq km
Landforms: Fronting the Baltic Sea, a lowland plain blends into sandy beaches and dunes. The northern regions are somewhat hilly, and flat, fertile farmlands dominate the central part of the country.
Moving south, the land rises into hilly uplands that front the Sudetic and
Carpathian Mountain ranges. The highest peaks are in the Tatra Mountains.
The Oder and Vistula are the country's major rivers, and numerous small lakes dot the far northeast.
Land Divisions: 16 provinces, including: Dolnoslaskie, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Lodzkie, Lubelskie, Lubuskie, Malopolskie, Mazowieckie, Opolskie, Podkarpackie, Podlaskie, Pomorskie, Slaskie, Swietokrzyskie, Warminsko-Mazurskie, Wielkopolskie and Zachodniopomorskie
Poland -- History --
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. Under the Jagiellon dynasty, Poland forged an alliance with its neighbour, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1410 a polish-Lithuanian army inflicted decisive defeat to the armies of Teutonic Knights, both countries' main adversary, in the battle of Grunwald. 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. The reforms, particularly those of the Great Sejm, which passing of the Constitution of May 3, 1791, second modern constitution of the world, 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. 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. Shortly after the surrender of Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic. 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 Jozef Pilsudski turned the reins of the Second Polish Republic over to the Sanacja movement. The Sanacja movement controlled Poland until the start of World War II in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded on September 1 and the Soviet Union followed on September 17. Warsaw capitulated on September 28, 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's borders were shifted westwards, pushing the eastern border to the Curzon line. Meanwhile, the western border was moved to the Oder-Neisse line. Military alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War was also part of this change. The People's Republic of Poland was officially proclaimed in 1952. Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union “Solidarity”, which heralded the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe. In 1999 joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member on May 1, 2004.
Poland -- Economy --
The country has a variety of natural resources including coal, copper, zinc, iron, gypsum, lignite and some oil and natural gas reserves. The rapidly developing private sector is now responsible for 70% of the country's economic activities. The dynamic development of the private sectors is based on the continuous inflow of Foreign Direct Investment and the high level of entrepreneurial activity of the Polish population. Dominant industries include metalwork, steel, and chemical and textile production. Increasingly trade, high technology and the service sector play an important role in for employment and restructuring of the national economy.
About a fifth of all Poles are employed in agriculture. This contributes to less than 5% of the GDP. About 60% of the country's land is used for agriculture. Almost one fourth of the population still lives on small, inefficient farms. Poland's main agricultural products include grains, potatoes, sugar beets, fodder and livestock.
Poland -- Culture --
For centuries Polish culture has been an integral part of European culture. Among the greatest Polish contributors to European culture are: the astronomer Copernicus, the great composer and pianist Fryderyk Chopin and the outstanding scientist Maria Curie-Sklodowska. During the last two decades the Nobel Prize for literature has been awarded to two Polish poets Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska. A long musical tradition is continued by such world-renowned composers as Krzysztof Penderecki and Henryk Górecki. Films of Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Roman Polanski contributed highly to the world and European cinema. Polish art and theatre are well known thanks to works of Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor and Magdalena Abakanowicz.
Poland has a high variety of landscapes: the Baltic beaches, the Mazurian Lake District, virgin forests, the Carpathians and the Sudeten Mountains. Poland's 26 national parks and 8 World Heritage sites are a host of historic and cultural sites of European importance and offer numerous tourist attractions.
Poland -- Political system, law and government --
The Constitution passed in 1997 vests legislative power in the Sejm and the Senate The 460 Deputies of the Sejm are elected via party lists and serve a four years term. Parties entering the Sejm have to overcome a 5% (8% for coalitions) threshold. The Sejm plays the dominant role in the legislative process and has the right to supervise the Council of Ministers. The second chamber, the Senate can amend or reject laws passed by the Sejm.
The President is the supreme representative of the Republic of Poland and the guarantor of the continuity of State authority. He is elected for a five-year term of office in direct elections. The President can veto laws. A qualified majority in of the Sejm can override the President's veto.
The Council of Ministers (the Government) chaired by the Prime Minister is the principal body of the Executive Branch. The Prime-Minister-designate is nominated by the largest parliamentary group and is given a mandate by the President to form a cabinet. The National Assembly elects the proposed Council of Ministers.