Poland [ˈpoʊlənd] (Polish: Polska), officially the Republic of
Poland (Polish: 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
312,679 square kilometres (120,726 sq mi), 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
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 (Polish: województwo). Poland is also a member of the European Union, NATO and OECD.
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, gave Poland an appearance of homogeneity.
As of 2002, 36,983,700 people, or
96.74% of the population consider themselves Polish (Census 2002),
while 471,500 (1.23%) declared another nationality. 774,900 people (2.03%) did
not declare any nationality. The largest nationalities and ethnic groups in
Poland are Silesians, Germans (most in the former Opole Voivodeship), Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Belarusians. 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 currently 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%), 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.
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 (1.3 million) Łódź (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 has been a nearly homogeneous state since the end of World War II. This is a major departure from
much of Polish history. Poles (including Silesians and Kashubians) make up an overwhelming 99.3%
majority of the Polish population. According to the 2002 census, the remainder
of the population is made up of small minorities of Germans (152,897), Belarusians (c. 49,000),
and Ukrainians (c. 30,000), as well as Tatars, Lithuanians, Roma, Lemkos, Russians, Karaites, Slovaks, and Czechs. Among foreign citizens, the Vietnamese are the largest ethnic group,
followed by Greeks and Armenians.
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, Muslims (including the Tatars of Białystok). Protestant churches include about
77,500 in the largest Evangelical-Augsburg
Church, plus about as many in smaller Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. Resulting from the
socio-political emancipation of the county, freedom of religion has become
guaranteed by the 1989 statute of the Polish constitution, allowing for the emergence of additional denominations. However, due to
pressure from the Polish Episcopate, exposition of doctrine has entered public education system as
well. According to 2007 survey, 72% of respondents were not against the
fostering of catechism in public schools; nevertheless, the
alternative courses in ethics have become available only in one percent of the
entire public educational system.
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 Frederic 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. 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
Many world renowned Polish movie directors include Academy Awards winners Roman Polański, Andrzej Wajda, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Janusz Kamiński and, Krzysztof Kieślowski.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Poland has 21
mountains over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) 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,
2,499 metres (8,200 ft) 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 1,725 metres
(5,660 ft). The next highest mountain group is the Karkonosze, whose highest point is Śnieżka, at 1,602 metres (5,260 ft).
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 1,346 metres
(4,420 ft). Tourists also frequent the Gorce Mountains in Gorce National Park,
with elevations around 1,300 metres (4,300 ft), and the Pieniny in Pieniny National Park,
with elevations around 1,000 metres (3,300 ft). The lowest point in
Poland—at 2 metres (6.6 ft) 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 Category:Mountain
ranges of Poland.
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.