Officially REPUBLIC OF POLAND, Polish POLSKA, or RZECZPOSPOLITA POLSKA, country lying at the physical centre of the European continent, approximately between latitudes 49° and 55° N and longitudes 14° and 24° E. Except for its southern mountainous regions, the country consists almost entirely of lowlands within the North European Plain. The total area of Poland is 120,728 square miles (312,685 square kilometres). Its capital is Warsaw (Warszawa).
Over the past millennium, the name Poland has been applied to a shifting territorial base. At one time, in the mid-1500s, Poland was the largest state in Europe. At other times there was no Polish state at all. Its current frontiers, stretching for 2,198 miles (3,538 kilometres), were drawn in 1945. Poland is bordered to the north by the Baltic Sea, to the northeast by Russia and Lithuania, and to the east by Belarus and Ukraine. To the south the border follows the watershed of the Beskid, Carpathian, and Sudeten (Sudety) mountains, which separate Poland from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while to the west the border with Germany is defined by the Neisse (Nysa Luzycka) and Oder (Odra) rivers.
The natural landscape of Poland can be divided broadly into three relief groups: the lowlands, the highlands, and the mountains. The eastern extremes of Poland display characteristics common to eastern Europe, but the rest of the country is linked to western Europe by structure, climate, and the character of its vegetation. The lowland characteristics predominate: the average elevation of the whole country is only 568 feet (173 metres) above sea level, while more than three-fourths of the land lies below 650 feet.
Poland's relief was formed by the actions of Ice Age glaciers, which advanced and receded over the northern part of the country several times during the Pleistocene Epoch (1,600,000 to 10,000 years ago). The great and often monotonous expanses of the Polish lowlands, part of the North European Plain, are composed of geologically recent deposits that lie over a vast structural basin. In the southern part of the country, by contrast, older and more diverse geologic formations are exposed, and the topography is dominated by the mountainous arc of the Carpathians, dating from the Tertiary mountain-building period of about 25 million years ago. Around the northern rim of the Carpathians lies a series of structural basins, separating the mountain belt proper from a much older structural mass, or foreland, that appears in the relief patterns of the region as the Bohemian Massif, the Sudeten, and the Little Poland (Malopolska) Uplands.
The relief structure can be divided more specifically into a series of east-west-trending zones. To the north lie the swamps and dunes of the Baltic coast; south of these is a belt of morainic terrain with thousands of lakes, the southern boundary of which marks the limit of the last ice sheet. The third zone consists of the central lowlands, whose minimal relief was created by streams issuing from the retreating glaciers. This zone is the Polish heartland, the site of agriculture in places where loess has been deposited over the relatively infertile fluvioglacial deposits. The fourth zone is made up of the older mountains and highlands to the south; though limited in extent, it offers spectacular scenery. Along the southern border of the country are the Sudeten and Carpathian ranges and their foothills.
The coastal plain
The Baltic Coastal Plain stretches across northern Poland from Germany to Russia, forming a low-lying region built of various sediments. It is largely occupied by the ancient province of Pomerania, the name of which means "Along the Sea." The scarcely indented Baltic coastline was formed by wave action after the retreat of the ice sheet and the raising of sea levels. The Pomeranian (Pomorska) Bay in the west and the Gulf of Gdansk in the east are the two major inlets. In the southern portion of the former, two islands block off the Szczecin (Szczecinski) Lagoon, into which the Oder discharges its waters. In the Gulf of Gdansk, the Vistula (Wisla) River forms a large delta. Sandbars, on which the winds have created large dunes, line much of the coast, separating the coastal lakes and lagoons from the sea. The main urban centres are the ports of Szczecin (German: Stettin) on the lower Oder and Gdansk (Danzig) and Gdynia in the east. The central portion of the Baltic Coastal Plain is scantily populated--there are only small fishing ports, of which Kolobrzeg is the most important--and the landscape has a desolate beauty.
The lake region and central lowlands
The belt immediately to the south of the coastal plain presents, with its many lakes, a varied, hilly landscape of glacial origin. Wide river valleys divide the region into three parts: the Pomeranian (Pomorskie) Lakeland; the Masurian (Mazurskie) Lakeland, east of the lower Vistula; and the Great Poland (Wielkopolskie) Lakeland. The larger settlements and the main communications routes of this zone lie in and along the river valleys; the remainder of the area is mostly wooded and thinly populated. Only the eastern portion of the Great Poland Lakeland has a developed agriculture.
The extensive central lowlands contain isolated relief features shaped by the oldest glaciations, but their character is generally flat and monotonous. The postglacial lakes have long since been filled in, and glacial outwash masks the weakly developed meltwater valley channels. The basins of the main rivers divide the area into the Silesian (Slaska) Lowland, which lies in the upper Oder; the southern Great Poland Lowland, which lies in the middle Warta basin; and the Mazovian (Mazowsze) and Podlasian lowlands, which lie in the middle Vistula basin. Lower Silesia and Great Poland are important agricultural areas, but large industrial centres are found in many parts of the central lowlands. Warsaw, the capital, situated on the middle Vistula, is most prominent.
The Little Poland Uplands
These uplands, south of the central lowlands, extend from east to west, but they are folded transversely. In the west is the Silesian-Kraków upthrust, with rich deposits of coal. A second upthrust is formed by the ancient rocks of the Swietokrzyskie ("Holy Cross") Mountains, which reach a maximum elevation of 2,008 feet. Between these two regions lies the Nida River basin, with an average height of 650 to 1,000 feet. East of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, the uplands are cut by the valley of the Vistula, beyond which lie the Lublin (Lubelska) Uplands. In the south occur patches of loess on which fertile brown- and black-earth soils have developed. The older geologic regions contain valuable minerals: in the Silesian-Kraków uplands there are coal, iron, zinc, and lead deposits. These mineral resources have made possible the rise of Poland's most important industrial region, and the landscape of Upper Silesia is highly urbanized. Katowice is the largest centre, and the region is closely linked with that around Kraków. The Little Poland Uplands protect the Little Poland Lowlands, in which Kraków lies, from the colder air of the north. To the north the Staropolski ("Old Polish") Basin, situated in the foothills of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, has a long history of industrial production. Kielce is the area's urban centre.
The Sudeten and its foreland, part of the larger Bohemian Massif, have a long and complex geologic history. They owe their present rugged form, however, to earth movements that accompanied the Carpathian uplift, and the highest portion, the Karkonosze ("Giant Mountains"), reaches 5,256 feet above sea level. The region contains rich mineral deposits, notably coking coal, which has occasioned the growth of an industrial centre around Walbrzych. The region has many small towns. Resorts and spas are found in more secluded areas. The foreland of the Sudeten, separated by a large fault from the larger mass, contains many granite quarries.
The southernmost and also most scenic portion of Poland embraces the Carpathian Mountains and their associated chains and basins, created in the geologically recent mountain-building Tertiary Period (about 66.4 to 1.6 million years ago). Within the Polish frontiers lie the Oswiecim and Sandomierz basins, a portion of the Beskid Mountains, the Orawka-Podhale Basin, and the Tatra (Tatry) Mountains. The sub-Carpathian basins contain deposits of salt, sulfur, and natural gas and some petroleum. There are both a large rural population and many towns of medium size. The highest peak of the Beskid Mountains, Mount Babia, reaches 5,659 feet; the Tatras, with a maximum elevation of 8,199 feet (2,499 metres), are the highest portion of the Polish Carpathians. Zakopane, the largest tourist and resort centre in Poland, lies at their feet. The Bieszczady Mountains--rolling, carpeted in beech woods, and sparsely inhabited--lie in the extreme southeast.
Drainage and soils
Virtually the entire area of Poland drains to the Baltic, about half via the Vistula River and a third via the Oder. Polish rivers experience two periods of high water each year. In spring the lowland rivers are swollen by melted snow, the effect intensified both by ice dams (which block the rivers for one to three months) and by the fact that the thaw first strikes the upper reaches of the northward-flowing rivers. The summer rains bring a second maximum around the beginning of July.
There are some 9,300 Polish lakes with areas of more than 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare), and their total area is about 1,200 square miles, or 1 percent of the national territory. The majority, however, are found in the northern glaciated belt, where they occupy more than 10 percent of the surface area.
Polish soils are varied and without clearly marked regional types. The greatest area is covered by podzol and pseudopodzol types, followed by the less widely distributed brown-earth soils, which are richer in nutrients. In the south are extensive areas of fertile loess-based soils. The rendzinas, formed on limestone rocks, are a unique type. Alluvial soils filling the river valleys and peaty swamp soils found in the lake area and in poorly drained valleys are also of importance.
Varying types of air masses collide over Poland, influencing the character of both weather and climate. The major elements involved are oceanic air masses from the west, cold polar air from Scandinavia or Russia, and warmer, subtropical air from the south. A series of barometric depressions moves eastward along the polar front year-round, dividing the subtropical from the colder air, bringing to Poland, as to other parts of northern Europe, cloudy, wet days. In winter, polar-continental air often becomes dominant, bringing crisp, frosty weather, with still colder Arctic air following in its wake. Warm, dry, subtropical-continental air often brings pleasant days in late summer and autumn.
The overall climate of Poland has a transitional--and highly variable--character between maritime and continental types. Six seasons may be clearly distinguished: a snowy winter of one to three months; an early spring of one or two months, with alternating wintry and springlike conditions; a predominantly sunny spring; a warm summer with plenty of rain and sunshine; a sunny, warm autumn; and a foggy, humid period signifying the approach of winter. Sunshine reaches its maximum over the Baltic in summer and the Carpathians in winter, and mean annual temperatures range from 46o F (8° C) in the southwestern lowlands to 44o F (7° C) in the colder northeast. The climate of the mountains is determined by altitude.
The annual average precipitation is about 24 inches (600 millimetres), but in the mountains the figure approaches 31 to 47 inches, dropping to about 18 inches in the central lowlands. In winter, snow makes up about half the total in the plains and almost all of it in the mountains.
The vegetation of Poland that has developed since the last Ice Age consists of some 2,250 species of seed plants, 630 mosses, 200 liverworts, 1,200 lichens, and 1,500 fungi. Holarctic elements (i.e., those appertaining to the temperate belt of the Northern Hemisphere) are dominant among the seed plants.
The northeastern limits of certain trees--notably beech, fir, and the variety of oak known as pedunculate--run through Polish territory. There are few endemic species: the Polish larch (Larix polonica) and the Ojców birch (Betula oycoviensis) are two examples. Some relics of tundra vegetation have been preserved in the peat bogs and mountains. More than a fourth of the country is wooded. Poland lies in the zone of mixed forests, but in the southeast a fragment of the forest-steppe vegetation zone intrudes. In the northeast there are portions of the eastern European subtaiga, with spruce as a characteristic component. In the mountains the vegetation, like the climate, is determined by elevation. Fir and beech woods give way to the spruce of the upper woods, which in turn fade into subalpine, alpine, and snow-line vegetation.
Poland's animal life belongs to the European-West Siberian zoogeographic province, itself part of the Palearctic subregion, and is closely linked with the vegetation cover. The vertebrate fauna includes nearly 400 species, including many types of mammals and more than 200 native birds. Deer and wild pigs roam the woods, elk are found in the coniferous forests of the northeast, and steppe rodents, such as the brindled gopher, are found in the south. Brown bear and wildcat live in the mountain woods, and the chamois and marmot are found at the highest levels. The great Bialowieza Forest, a national park contiguous with the Byelavyezhskaya Forest in Belarus, provides shelter for a small herd of wisent, or European bison, all that remain of the vast numbers that once roamed the continent.
Rapid industrialization since World War II in not only Poland but also the neighbouring areas of the Czech Republic and eastern Germany has severely polluted many areas of the country. Upper Silesia and Kraków, in particular, have suffered some of the highest levels of atmospheric and groundwater pollution in Europe, but several areas of central Poland, where cement is produced and brown coal (lignite) is burned, also suffer from air pollution. The country's major rivers are all badly polluted by industrial and urban effluents, and almost all of Poland's cities and larger towns are major sources of pollution. Much higher levels of respiratory disease, abnormal pregnancy, and infant mortality have been reported in the worst-affected areas than in other parts of the country. Tree growth has been adversely affected in many of the forests in the Sudeten and western Carpathians. The problem was not officially recognized until the early 1970s, and little action was taken until the Solidarity movement began agitating in the early 1980s. Much greater reductions in the emission of pollutants occurred, however, as a consequence of the rapid fall in industrial production in the early 1990s, following the abandonment of communism and the introduction of economic reforms.
Rural settlement Until the mid-20th century the pattern of rural settlement differed widely from one part of Poland to another. In the centre and east of the country, many villages were small and irregular in shape, reflecting their origin as self-sufficient clusters of cultivators and pastoralists in forest clearings; in the mountains they stretched along the valleys, in some cases for several miles; and in Lower Silesia they were larger and more orderly, associated with the planned settlement of the area by Teutonic people in medieval times. In the north, rural settlement was dominated by large, landed estates, which had belonged to the Prussian Junkers. Many houses in the centre, east, and south were wooden. Since the 1950s, however, there have been marked changes. Some attempt has been made to retain traditional building styles in the mountains, but many older, single-story houses in all parts of the country have been replaced with ones of two or three stories built of cinder block; and many villages have expanded, especially those close to larger cities and in regions popular with tourists.
Warsaw is the largest city in Poland, with a population twice that of the next largest city. It consists of a small, historic core, on the west bank of the Vistula, comprising a medieval town, Old Town (Stare Miasto), and its 18th-century suburbs--New Town (Nowe Miasto) to the north and Krakowskie Przedmiescie to the south. About 85 percent of the city's buildings, including many of those in the core, were destroyed during World War II; much of the city therefore dates from the period since 1950. Its skyline is dominated by the Palace of Culture and Science, a skyscraper built in the Soviet style in the 1950s. Many of Warsaw's inhabitants live in large, unattractive blocks of flats that were built around the edge of the city in the 1960s and '70s.
Kraków (the original capital of Poland), Gdansk, Poznan, and Wroclaw (German: Breslau) share many characteristics with Warsaw, all having more or less extensive medieval and early modern cores surrounded by 19th- and, especially, 20th-century suburbs containing a mixture of manufacturing industry and poor-quality apartment-style housing. In contrast, Lódz, Poland's second largest city, dates from the 19th century, when it grew rapidly to become one of the most important centres of the textile industry in the Russian Empire. The other major urban area is that of southern Upper Silesia, a conurbation of mining and industrial settlements stretching some 30 miles from Dabrowa Górnicza to Gliwice.
Before World War II the Polish lands were noted for the richness and variety of their ethnic communities. In the provinces of Silesia, Pomerania, and Masuria (then in Germany) there was a significant minority of Germans. In the southeast, Ukrainian settlements predominated in the regions east of Chelm and in the Carpathians east of Nowy Sacz. In all the towns and cities there were large concentrations of Yiddish-speaking Jews. The Polish ethnographic area stretched eastward: in Lithuania, Belarus, and western Ukraine, all of which had a mixed population, Poles predominated not only in the cities but also in numerous rural districts. There were significant Polish minorities in Daugavpils (in Latvia), Minsk (in Belarus), and Kiev (in Ukraine).
The war, however, killed vast numbers of people, precipitated massive migrations, and radically altered borders. As a consequence the population of Poland became one of the most ethnically homogeneous in the world. Virtually all of Poland's people claim Polish nationality, with Polish as their native tongue. Ukrainians, the largest minority group, are scattered in various northern districts. Lesser numbers of Belarusians and Lithuanians live in areas adjoining Belarus and Lithuania. The Jewish community, almost entirely Polonized, has been greatly reduced. In Silesia a significant segment of the population, of mixed Polish and German ancestry, tends to declare itself as Polish or German according to political circumstances.
The Polish language (together with Czech-Slovak, Upper and Lower Sorbian, and other Lekhitic languages) belongs to the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages. It has several dialects that correspond in the main to the old tribal divisions; the most significant of these (in terms of numbers of speakers) are Great Polish (spoken in the northwest), Little Polish (spoken in the southeast), Mazovian, and Silesian. Mazovian shares some features with Kashubian, whose remaining speakers (fewer than 200,000) live west of Gdansk near the Baltic Sea. Elsewhere, Polish has been influenced by contact with foreign languages. In Silesia the inimitable regional patois contains a mixture of Polish and German elements. Since 1945, as the result of mass education and mass migrations, standard Polish has become far more homogeneous, although regional dialects persist. In the western and northern territories, resettled in large measure by Poles from the Soviet Union, the older generation came to speak a language characteristic of the former eastern provinces. Small numbers of people also speak Belarusian, Ukrainian, and German as well as several varieties of Romany.
Literary Polish developed from the medieval period onward, on the basis of the dialects of Great Poland and Little Poland. By the 19th century Polish was well established both as a literary vehicle and as the dominant language of common speech in Poland, despite attempts of the partitioning powers to Germanize or Russify the population. Indeed, quite the opposite happened, and the Polish language became the main touchstone of national identity.
The overwhelming majority of the Polish population is Roman Catholic, and a large number are practicing Catholics. Poland is among the most uniformly Catholic nations in the world, and the Roman Catholic church in Poland enjoys immense social prestige and political influence.
After World War II all religious institutions became subject to the control of the state office for religious denominations. In practice the Roman Catholic church wielded a full measure of independence, partly through the sheer force of the faithful and partly because in all important matters it answered to the pope in Rome and not to the government in Warsaw. Those opposed to communism within Poland were greatly encouraged by the election in 1978 of the archbishop of Kraków, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, as Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century. The religious minorities, though encouraged by the anti-Roman Catholic policies of the communist state, were barely visible except in local areas. The influence of the Catholic church became very great after the fall of communism in 1989, leading to its greater involvement in state schools and the replacement of the country's liberal abortion law with much more restrictive legislation. However, subsequently church attendance and income fell sharply, and the abortion law was relaxed again in the mid-1990s.
There are two Protestant strongholds--that of the Polish Lutherans in Masuria (Mazury; formerly East Prussia) and Evangelicals (Augsburg Confession) in Cieszyn, Silesia. An autocephalous Polish Orthodox church is partly linked with the small Belarusian minority, and a Ukrainian Uniate community survives in southeastern districts. Poland has residual communities of Polish Jews, whose synagogues and religious activities were officially sanctioned by the communist government. The Polish National Catholic Church, a schismatic offshoot of Roman Catholicism, was strongly patronized by the government in the early years after the war but never won popular support. Small groups representing fundamentalist sects such as the Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses operate in a few cities.
The population of Poland was transformed during and immediately after World War II. Of the nearly 35 million people who had been living within the Polish frontiers in 1939, only about 24 million were to be found within the new frontiers by 1946. The decrease of some 11 million can be accounted for mainly by war losses but also in part by changes in frontiers and by the migration of former Polish citizens whose homelands were incorporated into the Soviet Union.
Polish war losses are the subject of some controversy. The official figure, issued in 1947, was 6,028,000, although this referred exclusively to losses within the postwar frontiers. As a result of the changes in frontiers, millions of Germans were forcibly expelled in 1946-47, and millions of Poles were transferred from the Soviet Union in the same period. An estimated 500,000 Ukrainians and Belarusians also were transferred into the Soviet Union. At the same time, there were vast internal movements into the new northern and western territories annexed from Germany.
Population losses and movements on this scale introduced long-term distortions into demographic structures and trends. At the end of the war there were huge deficiencies in certain categories, especially males, urban dwellers, and the educated classes as a whole. However, the immediate postwar generation had an unprecedented birth rate, and the population grew rapidly again, especially in the northern and western territories, returning to its prewar level in 1977. The birth rate fell sharply after the early 1980s, and population growth slowed.
Emigration has been a permanent feature of Polish life for most of the past two centuries, and roughly one Pole in three lives abroad. Wave after wave of political émigrés has left Poland since the mid-18th century. By far the greatest numbers of people have left, however, for economic reasons. Starting in the mid-19th century, Polish emigrants moved into the new industrial areas of Europe and later to America.
Polish society since World War II has been transformed by two great movements: by the growth of a dominant, urban, industrialized working class and by the continuing drift of peasants from the rural areas into towns and cities. Whereas in 1946 there were nearly twice as many people in the countryside as in towns, the two numbered equally in the late 1960s, and by the mid-1990s the 1946 position had been reversed. So-called peasant workers, who tended to live on the fringes of industrial regions, contrived to benefit from both movements: while one part of the family maintained the farm, other family members earned wages in local factories.
Development under the communist government stressed the classless and proletarian nature of society. However, peasants resisted the collectivization of their holdings, and about 2.5 million small farms remained in private ownership throughout the communist period. Some development of a privately owned, small-scale service industry was also allowed under communism. The party elite formed a third group, enjoying a range of privileges unavailable to ordinary workers.
Since 1989, in contrast, Polish society has become much more differentiated. Many private businesses have been established, and a small number of people have become wealthy. Many elderly people on fixed incomes, however, have suffered sharp falls in their standard of living.
Before World War II Poland was a free-market economy based largely upon agriculture but with a few important centres of manufacturing and mining. After the initiation of communist rule (1948), the country developed an increasingly industrial, state-run command economy based on the Soviet model. It operated within the rigid framework of the Council on Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), an organization of Eastern-bloc countries dominated by the Soviet Union.
From the mid-1970s the Polish economy experienced limited growth, largely as a result of an antiquated industrial infrastructure, government subsidies that masked inefficient production, and wages that were artificially high relative to the standard of living. In the late 1980s a swelling government deficit and hyperinflation brought about economic crisis. With the fall of communism and the demise of Comecon, the Polish economy became increasingly involved with the market-oriented global economy, for which it was ill-suited. To try to achieve economic stability, the postcommunist government introduced an approach known as "shock therapy," which sought both to control inflation and to expedite Poland's transition to a market economy. As part of that plan, wages were frozen, price controls were removed, subsidies to state-owned enterprises were phased out, and large-scale private enterprise was again permitted. As a result, in the early 1990s, industrial output and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped significantly (agricultural production also fell, though largely owing to drought). Unemployment grew, affecting as many as one in seven Poles. Privatization of some of Poland's large industries proved to be a slow process. Inflation, however, began to drop, and by the mid-1990s production and GDP recorded dramatic turnarounds and unemployment decreased. Poland's balance of payments improved (partly as the result of debt forgiveness), and the country became one of the leading economies of the former Eastern bloc. In 1996 it became a member of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development and, as an associate member, awaited full membership in the European Union (EU).
Under communism the principal branches of industry, services, and trade were directly owned by the state. There was, however, a surprisingly large sector of legal self-employment, and small-scale private businesses--including workshops, services, and restaurants--proliferated. Moreover, some three-fourths of Poland's farmland was privately owned. A government collectivization campaign begun in 1949 was abandoned in 1956. After the fall of communism, both industry and agriculture became increasingly privatized. By the early 1990s more than half the Polish economy was in private ownership, while more than four-fifths of Polish shops were privately owned. The privatization of larger enterprises was more complicated. A number of these were transformed into joint-stock and limited-liability companies. To distribute ownership in them, the Mass Privatization Progam was introduced in 1994, which created 15 national investment funds (NIFs) to serve as joint-stock companies for more than 500 large and medium-size firms that were privatized. Poles were able to purchase shares in these funds at a price not to exceed 10 percent of the average monthly wage. Listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, the NIFs comprised a broad spread of enterprises and not just individual companies or groups of companies, enabling citizens to possess a diversified interest in key Polish industries.
Under the communist system, unions, organized by individual industries, had to be approved by the state and party. Inasmuch as the government was a monopoly employer in all important branches of industry and inasmuch as the trade union organization was run by the party, it can be argued that the trade unions were employer unions. Links between employees in different trades or different enterprises were not possible, and the rights to organize freely and strike were denied until the advent of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union (Niezalezny Samorzad Zwiazków Zawodowych), known as Solidarity (Solidarnosc). Founded in September 1980, shortly after widespread strikes organized by the Interfactory Strike Committee, Solidarity broke the monopoly of the official party unions, quickly gained mass support, even among party members, and extended its activities far beyond narrow syndicalist concerns. After December 1981 Solidarity and its dependent organizations, such as Rural Solidarity (Wiejska Solidarnosc), were officially suppressed, and the leaders of the independent labour movement were denounced as "criminals." The party ordered its managers and ministers to create new trade unions along the old lines of party control. Much of the membership of the re-created unions consisted of former Solidarity sympathizers, however, and the new unions were not entirely uncritical of party policy. In 1988 renewed labour unrest and nationwide strikes forced negotiations between the government and Solidarity (held in early 1989) that resulted in the legalization of Solidarity and in Poland's first free elections since World War II.
Poland is relatively well endowed with natural resources. Its principal mineral asset is bituminous coal. Most of the output is derived from the rich Upper Silesian coalfield. Brown coal is mined as well. Other fuel resources include small amounts of petroleum and moderately large deposits of natural gas.
Sulfur is Poland's second most important mineral, and the republic ranks among the world leaders in both reserves and production. Other important nonmetallic minerals include barite, salt, kaolin, limestone, chalk, gypsum, and marble. Among metallic minerals, copper, silver, and zinc are the most important. Poland is a major world producer of copper and silver.
Soil quality varies, but among the large fertile areas are Lower Silesia and the Little Poland Lowlands, the Kujawy, the Vistula delta, and the Lublin area. The soil is somewhat poorer in large parts of central and northern Poland. Some four-fifths of the country's wooded land is occupied by coniferous trees, with pine, larch, and spruce the most economically important. The bulk of the country's hydroelectricity comes from the Carpathians, the Sudeten region, and the Brda and Vistula rivers.
Polish agriculture was unique in the Soviet bloc in that private farms accounted for the greater part of total output. Most of those private farms continue to be smaller than 12 acres (5 hectares). In postcommunist Poland farm incomes declined rapidly in real terms as the prices of industrial products rose, and imported processed foods from western Europe competed strongly with lower-quality Polish products. Many state farms collapsed after 1989, as did the system of state purchase upon which much of the private sector had relied. In the early 1990s the number of people employed in agriculture declined by one-fifth, partly because of the liquidation of state farms but also through retirement among the aging agricultural population. In the mid-1990s there was a reversal of this trend, but, even as Polish agriculture recovered from the drought of the early 1990s, less than one-fourth of the working population was employed in agriculture. In that same time period agriculture's portion of GDP fell from nearly one-fifth to less than one-tenth.
Nevertheless, Poland remains one of the world's leading producers of rye and potatoes. Other principal crops include wheat and sugar beets. Most farming is mixed, and beef cattle, dairy cows, and pigs are raised throughout the country. As Poland became increasingly integrated into the global economy in the mid-1990s, about half its agricultural exports went to the EU.
During the period of communist rule, remarkable quantitative advances in industrial production were overshadowed to some extent by shortcomings in quality and by problems of organization. Moreover, industrial production in Poland--governed almost solely by quantitative requirements and dependent on inexpensive raw materials provided through Comecon--was largely inefficient and poorly prepared to compete in the global marketplace. Industrial output fell dramatically after the demise of communism, especially during the first years of shock therapy, with declines of a third or more in almost all of manufacturing and mining following the freeing of prices and the collapse of Comecon. As Polish industry began to downsize, however, production improved, and by the mid-1990s industry accounted for about two-fifths of GDP. The principal branches of the manufacturing sector are machinery and transport equipment, food products, metals and metal products, chemicals, beverages, tobacco, and textiles and clothing. All but a small portion of the total electrical power output is derived from thermal plants using bituminous coal and lignite. Natural gas has largely replaced manufactured gas. Almost all petroleum and petroleum products are imported.
All financial institutions were owned by the state after 1944-45 and formed an integral part of centralized economic planning after 1949. The National Bank of Poland (Narodowy Bank Polski) acted as the main agent of the government's financial policy, managing everything from the currency and money supply to wages and prices, credit, investment, and the detailed business of all state enterprises. Other important banks included the Commercial Bank of Warsaw (Bank Handlowy w Warszawie) for foreign trade and the General Savings Bank (Bank Polska Kasa Opieki). In the late 1980s and early '90s, the banking industry was reorganized. The National Bank became an independent central bank, with responsibility for regulating the banking sector and the currency. A number of private banks also were established.
Until 1990, internal monetary operations were conducted in inconvertible local currency, while external operations were conducted either in foreign currency, especially U.S. dollars, or, for the Soviet bloc, in special units of account such as convertible rubles. Exchange rates against foreign hard currency were flexible according to the needs of the state bank. In 1990, as part of a government program to move the Polish economy toward a free-market system, the exchange rate of the zloty, Poland's currency, was allowed to be set freely on the international currency markets. In 1991 Poland established a stock exchange.
Poland's trade was greatly affected by the fall of communism. Hitherto, much was conducted within Comecon, including the export of coal and machinery to the Soviet Union and other countries in eastern Europe. Since 1990, however, two-thirds has been with western Europe, nearly half of which has been with Germany. Less than one-sixth has been with other former Comecon countries. Machinery, metals, textiles and clothing, coal, and food account for the bulk of exports, and machinery, chemicals, and fuels are the major imports. Germany is the largest market for almost all categories of exports, while Russia remains by far the most important source of energy imports, and Germany and Italy the chief sources of foreign machinery and chemicals.
The communications system in Poland developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the country was divided between Russia, Germany, and Austria. The three areas thus developed in different economic and political conditions, and the main railway lines were centred on the capitals of the three empires. The density of the railway networks in the three sectors was uneven. In 1918 independent Poland took over the system and redesigned and rebuilt it according to the standard European gauge. Among the most important railway lines built after that date were those linking Warsaw with Poznan and Kraków and a coal trunk line linking Upper Silesia with the newly built seaport of Gdynia. After the devastation of World War II, the railway system was reconstructed once again, and the most heavily used lines were converted to electric power. Because of the location of the country, Polish railway lines were important in the carriage of transit freight among the socialist countries of eastern Europe, notably between the Soviet Union and East Germany and between Czechoslovakia and the Polish ports. Demand for rail transport fell sharply, however, after the end of communism, both for freight and passengers. The railways are administered by the Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Panstwowe).
The highway system originally showed disproportions similar to those of the railways; that is, the densest network was on lands belonging to Germany and the least dense on lands belonging to Russia. An attempt to remedy this situation was made between 1918 and 1938 and again, but more intensively, after 1945. Modern multilane highways designed for high traffic volumes have been built in Warsaw, and projects have been undertaken to link Warsaw to provincial centres, but the road system in general is of low quality.
Inland waterways and merchant shipping
The middle course of the main Polish river, the Vistula, contains many navigational hazards, and thus the Vistula is a less important waterway than the smaller Oder. The Oder is linked by the modern Gliwice Canal to the Upper Silesian industrial region and carries coal to the port of Szczecin. The Oder basin is also linked to the lower Vistula by the Bydgoszcz Canal. Inland navigation is of little importance in Poland, however, with less than 1 percent of Polish freight being carried on rivers and canals. Shipping is well developed, and there are three large seaports--Szczecin (the largest), Gdynia, and Gdansk--as well as smaller fishing and coastal navigation ports.
Domestic and international air transport is provided by LOT (from Polskie Linie Lotnicze), a state-owned enterprise scheduled for partial privatization. There are numerous international routes, centred on the airport at Warsaw.
Administration and social conditions
Beginning in 1948, Poland was governed by the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP; Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza), the country's communist party, which was modeled on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The postwar government was run as a dual system in which state organs were controlled by parallel organs of the PUWP. The executive branch of government, therefore, was in effect the PUWP, with the party's first secretary acting as the de facto head of state and most powerful authority. The party's Political Bureau, or Politburo, operated as the central administration, and the party ensured its control over all offices and appointments by use of the nomenklatura, a list of politically reliable people.
Two other parties, the United Peasants' Party (Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe; ZSL) and the Democratic Party (Stronnictwo Demokratyczne; SD), were permitted to exist, but only as entirely subservient allies of the PUWP. However, in 1989 economic and political problems obliged the government to recognize the independent trade union Solidarity (which had been banned not long after it came into being in 1980) and allow it to contest at least some seats in a general election. The PUWP was guaranteed 65 percent of the seats in the lower house of the Sejm (the state legislature), but Solidarity won all the rest and all but one of those in the Senate, going on to form Poland's first postcommunist government with the support of the SD and ZSL, which broke their alliance with the PUWP. In 1990 the Polish communist party voted to replace the PUWP with two social democratic parties, the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland and the Social Democratic Union. In the same year, Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, was elected president.
Thereafter, however, as the costs of economic reform were felt by Poles, support for Solidarity waned and the party split into several smaller groups. In the first completely free elections, in 1991, no party obtained more than an eighth of the vote, leading to a succession of short-lived coalition governments. In 1993 the postcommunist and Peasant parties won a majority of seats, and in the presidential election of 1995 Walesa was defeated by a former communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski. There has been no fundamental change in economic and political policy: all postcommunist governments have given high priority to the integration of Poland into the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, the government of former communists has reduced the role of the Roman Catholic church in schools and eased the highly restrictive antiabortion legislation of the early 1990s.
State constitution and institutions
The constitution of Poland's postwar socialist state, the Polish People's Republic, took effect in 1952 but was amended numerous times, most significantly in early 1989, when constitutional reforms worked out between the government and Solidarity were passed by the Sejm. Among the changes were the replacement of the Council of State by the office of president (a position that had been eliminated in 1952) and the reinstatement of the Senate, which in 1946 had been abolished in an allegedly rigged national referendum. The existing Sejm, with 460 members, became the lower house of the new National Assembly, and the Senate, or the upper house, was assigned 100 members. Additional reforms passed later in 1989 by the National Assembly included the guarantee of free formation of political parties and the return of the state's official name to the Republic of Poland.
In 1992 an interim constitution was adopted until a final document could be promulgated. This Small Constitution established a mixed presidential-parliamentary form of government. Under its provisions, the president is directly elected to not more than two five-year terms, serves as commander in chief of the armed forces, has the power to declare martial law or a state of emergency, and can veto an act of the legislature (which, in turn, can override that veto with a two-thirds majority vote). The president cannot dismiss the government but can reject nominees to the post of prime minister. All members of the National Assembly are popularly elected to four-year terms. The Council of Ministers, or government, is appointed by the prime minister (though some appointments are subject to consultation with the president). Under the Small Constitution the prime minister is less subject to the collective will of the Council of Ministers than previously.
The regional administration is on three levels. The largest units are the 49 województwa (provinces), followed by 267 regional authorities and some 2,500 gminy (towns and rural communes). These last are the fundamental territorial units within Poland.
The Small Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary. Poland has a Supreme Court and other special judicial bodies (including the Supreme Administrative Court, military courts, and industrial tribunals) as well as general courts, comprising provincial and district courts. General courts deal with criminal, civil, and family matters; commercial courts deal with civil law disputes between businesses. There is also a Court of Appeals.
Poland's armed forces consist of three services--the army, the air force, and the navy. Under the communist government, the armed forces were highly politicized. The military command was controlled by the party's Main Political Administration, which also oversaw the political indoctrination and supervision of all units. Officers were trained in the party's Academy of Political and Military Sciences, and most were party members. Senior officers normally graduated from Soviet academies. The country was a founding member of the Warsaw Pact, a mutual-defense organization dominated by the Soviet Union, and supplied the second largest contingent to its forces. When the pact was disbanded in 1991, Poland indicated that it wished to become part of NATO. Its forces have been depoliticized and have been cooperating closely with NATO forces in military training.
The regular defense of Poland's frontiers is provided by the border guard. The Office of the Protection of the Constitution (UOP), established in 1989, is charged with the country's intelligence services.
Normal civilian police services are under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Under the communist government, police services were undertaken by the Citizens' Militia--of which the Motorized Detachments of the Citizens' Militia (ZOMO) acted as a mobile, paramilitary riot squad--and the Security Service (SB), a secret political police force. In the early 1980s ZOMO was extensively used to enforce martial law and to control demonstrations. The paramilitary nature of the Policja ("Police"), as they became known after 1991, has been much reduced.
Schools of all types and on all levels are free, the system of schooling is standard, and attendance from age 7 to 15 is compulsory. The system contains nursery, primary, and secondary schools. There are several types of secondary schools offering basic vocational training, vocational and technical training, and general college-preparatory education. Basically, all schools are subject to the Ministry of National Education, but medical schools and colleges are subject to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, army colleges to the Ministry of National Defense, and higher schools of art to the Ministry of Culture and Arts.
Prominent universities include the University of Warsaw (founded 1818), the Jagiellonian University (1364) in Kraków, and the Catholic University of Lublin (1918). The highest academic institution is the Polish Academy of Sciences, which has numerous research institutes and represents Polish learning abroad.
Health and welfare
Health care in Poland has been handled largely by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, which oversees the health departments of the regional governments. Facilities include clinics; hospitals; sanatoriums, rest homes, and spas; and ambulance services. Private medical and dental practices proliferated after the fall of communism, and the pharmaceutical industry also was privatized. In general the health care system was in transition in the 1990s. Medical services were seriously strained during periods of general economic crisis.
Under communism social insurance for the health service covered free treatment for all workers and the members of their families, as well as for pensioners, invalids, students, and certain others. In addition, there was a social service whose purpose was to ensure a suitable means of support for the elderly and invalids. There are homes for pensioners, the chronically sick, and the mentally retarded. In the early 1990s, however, a number of laws were enacted that reduced the formerly comprehensive coverage of the unemployment program.
As a result of the program of urbanization that began in the 1940s, Polish cities became overwhelmed by migrant workers from the countryside, and the demand for housing vastly exceeded supply. In urban areas, various cooperative housing schemes were put into operation by the local government authorities, but the standard family apartment was inadequate for many families. As a result of the low priority placed on the creation of housing during communist rule, housing shortages were extreme in the 1980s and '90s. In postcommunist Poland private ownership of housing increased significantly.
Because of rapid industrialization and urbanization, Poland's traditional folk culture has been seriously undermined since World War II. Regional dress, regional forms of speech, peasant arts and crafts, and religious and folk festivals have all been swamped by mass culture from the new cities and the media. In an effort to compensate, the Roman Catholic church has tried to preserve the religious elements of folk culture, notably in the large annual pilgrimages to shrines such as Czestochowa, Kalwaria, Zebrzydowska, Lanckorona, or Piekary Slaskie. The communist authorities supported folk music and folk dancing. The colourful and stylized repertoire of the State Folk Ensemble, Mazowsze, for example, won international acclaim. Several regional communities, including the Górale ("Highlanders") of Podhale, the Kurpie in the northeast, and the inhabitants of Lowicz, near Warsaw, have created an authentic blend of the old and the new.
Polish literature developed long ago into the main vehicle of national expression. For many Poles, their literature stands with their religion as the twin pillars of their heritage. It provides one of their most cherished links with Western civilization and one of the main safeguards of their national identity. The close relationship between local political events and literary trends, however, together with a necessary resort to elaborate allegories, allusions, and symbols during the communist period, rendered many excellent Polish works inaccessible to the foreign public. (For detailed discussion, see Polish literature.)
The first half of the 19th century produced the three greatest Polish poets: Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, and Zygmunt Krasinski. In the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century the great Polish prose writers--including the Nobel Prize winners Henryk Sienkiewicz and Wladyslaw Reymont--were active. Among the postwar Polish poets are Zbigniew Herbert and the Nobel Prize winners: Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska.
Polish music, like Polish literature, has a continuous tradition reaching back into the Middle Ages. As the least political of the arts, it suffered less from official constraints. Founded on the inimitable rhythms and melodies of folk music--the krakowiak, mazurka, and polonaise--its native characteristics developed early, and a distinctive school of Polish church music already flourished during the Renaissance. The first major Polish opera, Cud mniemany czyli Krakowiacy i Górale ("The Pretended Miracle; or, The Krakovians and the Highlanders"), by Jan Stefani and Wojciech Boguslawski, was staged in 1794. In the 19th century Stanislaw Moniuszko wrote a series of popular operas, including Halka, Straszny dwór ("The Haunted Manor"), and Hrabina ("The Countess"). Frédéric Chopin is usually considered to have created the quintessence of Polishness in music. In addition to his renown as one of the supreme master composers, he was the first of a constant stream of instrumentalists from Polish lands, among them many prominent Jewish performers, who have won international acclaim. Pianists such as Ignacy Paderewski and Artur Rubinstein and violinists such as Henryk Szeryng attest to the vitality of Polish musical life. Contemporary Polish composition has been dominated by the names of Karol Szymanowski, Witold Lutoslawski, and Krzysztof Penderecki. All branches of classical music--opera, symphony, chamber, and choral--are well represented in Poland, and several orchestras and choirs appear regularly on the international circuit. Popular music in Poland is derived largely from Western styles, although Polish jazz has earned a reputation for experiment and excellence.
From the Middle Ages many fine examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, both secular and religious, have been preserved, together with outstanding sculptures, among which the wooden altar of Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss), in the Church of St. Mary (Mariacki) in Kraków, is the most famous. The vast red-brick castle of Malbork (Marienburg), once the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights, is among the most impressive in Europe. The architecture and sculpture of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were formed under Italian influence but nevertheless developed individual Polish forms, as in the town hall of Poznan or the decorated granaries at Kazimierz Dolny. Zamosc, a model Renaissance city built in the 1580s, has survived virtually intact. The best-preserved urban architecture of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance is that of the Old Town and the Wawel castle in Kraków. The classicism of the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th left its most valuable monuments in some of the great palaces, like that of the Radziwills at Nieborów or at Lazienki in Warsaw. There are many examples of imperial German and Russian architecture from the 19th century, among them Lublin Castle.
Painting attained its greatest development in the second half of the 19th century, encompassing styles developing at that time in western Europe, but again with specific national characteristics. The greatest fame was achieved by Jan Matejko, creator of monumental, romantic historical canvases; by Henryk Siemiradzki; and by a number of landscape and genre painters. The greatest sensitivity was shown in portraits by Stanislaw Wyspianski, an artist active also in drama and design.
Theatre and motion pictures
The Polish national theatre, as distinct from earlier religious, court, and foreign plays that had circulated since the Middle Ages, dates from the end of the 18th century. The great pioneer was Wojciech Boguslawski, an actor, director, and playwright. Political conditions during the period of partition (1772-1914) inhibited theatrical development, however, and most of the Romantic masterworks of Mickiewicz or Slowacki were never staged during their lifetimes. The comedian and satirist Aleksander Fredro earned a less exalted but no less lasting reputation. Kraków, in Austrian Galicia, became a centre of lively theatre at the turn of the century. Between World Wars I and II, Juliusz Osterwa in Warsaw and Leon Schiller in Lódz launched the experimental tradition. After 1956, once the era of Socialist Realism had passed, the avant-garde came into its own. The Theatre of the Absurd was explored alongside the revival of the classical repertoire. During the 1960s the Laboratory Theatre of Jerzy Grotowski (whose theories and methods emphasizing the nonverbal aspects of theatre had a broad impact, especially in the United States) gained international acclaim. Henryk Tomaszewski's Pantomime Theatre experienced parallel success. Tadeusz Kantor, a painter and designer, has been an important influence.
The origins of Polish cinema date to 1909, but it was only in the late 1950s that its products began to attract worldwide attention. Just as the State Film School at Lódz earned high standing in the filmmaking profession, so the work of individual directors who broke free of official preferences achieved great success both at home and abroad. Undoubtedly, the leading name is that of Andrzej Wajda, whose films and theatre productions set precedents for independence and excellence in exploring the conflicts in Polish society. Among other distinguished directors are Andrzej Munk, Roman Polanski, Aleksander Ford, Tadeusz Konwicki, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland, and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Historical epics have enjoyed great popularity. The communist government supported war films and themes connected with the Nazi occupation.
In part because of colossal wartime destruction and in part also because historiography in Poland has long been subject to official controls, the need to preserve and cherish the records and artifacts of the past is felt with special urgency. Archives and museums of art, ethnography, archaeology, and natural history can be found in many Polish cities. The Czartoryski Museum in Kraków dates to the beginning of the 19th century, the Archaeology Museum in Poznan to 1857, and the National Museum in Warsaw to 1862. After World War II, official policy concentrated on the creation of new regional museums in cities recovered from German occupation, on museums connected with the history of the communist movement, on former private palaces and collections acquired by the state, and on sites connected with Nazi war crimes, such as Oswiecim (Auschwitz) or Majdanek. The Roman Catholic church is active in preserving and exhibiting the art treasures and records connected with Poland's religious heritage.
Sports and recreation
Team sports and spectator sports are encouraged in Poland. Professional association football (soccer) teams attract large crowds in the towns, while local authorities provide facilities for athletics and swimming. Skiing and mountaineering in the Tatras and sailing on the Baltic or the Masurian Lakes are well developed. Sports such as golf are less available.
With very few exceptions, during the period of communist rule, the mass media, including all television and radio stations, were either owned or controlled by the state or the party. The Polish press included the official organs of the party and state, such as Trybuna ludu ("People's Tribune"), the organ of the PUWP; a wide band of less closely controlled semi-party newspapers and journals, such as Zycie Warszawy ("Warsaw Life"), Polityka ("Politics"; a lively weekly), and Twórczosc ("Creativity"; an intellectual monthly); the independent sector, headed by the respected Kraków Tygodnik powszechny ("Universal Weekly") and by the Roman Catholic journals Znak ("The Sign") and Wiez ("The Link"); and the underground "free sector," in which local newssheets circulated. Restrictions on the media were eased in 1989, and Solidarity supporters began publishing numerous journals and newspapers, including the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza ("Voters Daily"; Eng. ed. Gazeta International).
Under the communist government the Main Office for the Control of Presentations and Public Performances (GUKPIW), with its headquarters in Warsaw, controlled the media, publishing, films, theatres, exhibitions, advertising, and related activities. The bureau maintained an office in all television and radio stations, press and publishing houses, film and theatre studios, and printing works throughout the country. Authorization was required even for such printed items as wedding invitations, obituary notices, or stationery. Access to photocopiers and printing machines was closely controlled, and all purchases of paper in bulk required a permit. Censorship of the foreign mail was routine. No sphere of information was immune, however distant from immediate political concerns; censors attempted not only to suppress material but also to mold all information at its source.
Despite the official controls, speech was not generally suppressed in Poland, and the highly literate Poles became masters at writing and reading "between the lines." Also, unofficial information was available from the foreign media, from within the Roman Catholic church, and in the vast realm of underground publishing. State censorship of the press was abandoned in 1990, leading to the appearance of a wide range of publications.
Poland: A Handbook (1977; originally published in Polish, 2nd ed., 1977), is a comprehensive reference source written by Polish authors and published in Poland for readership outside the country. Glenn E. Curtis (ed.), Poland: A Country Study, 3rd ed. (1994), provides a balanced treatment. R.H. Osborne, East-Central Europe (1967), on geography, includes a chapter on Poland. Grzegorz Weclawowicz, Contemporary Poland: Space and Society (1996), discusses the changes since 1989. Zbigniew Landau and Jerzy Tomaszewski, The Polish Economy in the Twentieth Century, trans. from Polish (1985), offers an uncritical treatment. David Lane and George Kolankiewicz (eds.), Social Groups in Polish Society (1973), covers postwar ideological developments. Aspects of cultural life are dealt with in Boleslaw Klimaszewski (ed.), An Outline History of Polish Culture, trans. from Polish (1983), covering the main cultural trends from medieval times to 1982; and Stanislaw Lorentz, Guide to Museums and Collections in Poland (1974; originally published in Polish, 1971). The Polish Review (quarterly), focuses on current cultural events.