Poland has 38 million people. It covers an area of 312,696 km2. Warsaw is its capital and the largest city. Krakow is another major city. Poland is bordered by Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 966 CE, Duke Mieszko I, Poland’s first recorded leader, converted to Christianity. This is formally recognised as the birth of the Polish nation. Between 1333 and 1370, Poland achieves political and cultural unity under the rule of Kazimierz III Wielki (Casimir the Great). The city of Krakow flourishes as its capital. In 1364, a university is founded at Krakow, one of Europe’s first universities. Around 1600, Poland’s capital city is moved from Krakow to Warsaw. In 1795, Reformers led an armed uprising against the partitioning powers. Following its failure, the Poland is partitioned among Prussia, Russia and Austria, and independent Poland disappears from the map of Europe. In the 1870s, Russia attempted to eradicate Polish culture, making Russian the official language of the Russian partition. Prussia does the same in their portion of Poland, attempting to germanise Poles. Under the Austrian partition, Galician Poles are allowed to retain some autonomy. In the 1890s, Poland experienced mass emigration due to poverty – approximately 4 million out of 22 million Poles emigrated to USA prior to World War One. During World War Two, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: around 6 million perished – this is about 20% of Poland’s pre-war population – half of them were Polish Jews – and about 90% of these deaths were non-military in nature. Today, Poland is a developed market and a high-income economy. It provides high standards of living, safety, and economic freedom, as well as free university education and a universal health care system.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Poland from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1914 – World War One begins. A total of two million Polish troops fight with the armies of the three occupying powers of Prussia, Russia and Austria, and over 450,000 die.
  3. 1918 – After more than a century of foreign rule, an independent Polish state is restored after the end of World War One, with Marshal Jozef Pilsudski appointed as head of state. The country is devastated by the war. Approximately one million Poles die.
  4. 1919 (to 1921) – The young state fights for its borders: the uprisings in Greater Poland and Silesia give Poland the lands in the North and West, as confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles which gives Poland access to the Baltic Sea. The wars against the Czechs, Ukrainians and Bolshevik Russia later determine the shape of the southern and eastern borders. With an area of about 150,000 square miles (389,000 square kms) and more than 27 million inhabitants (more than 35 million by 1939), interwar Poland was the sixth largest country in Europe.
  5. 1920 – After the initial successes of the Polish Army, a new offensive launched by Bolshevik Russia forces the Poles to retreat as far as the Vistula River. It is there that the Battle of Warsaw takes place, in which, thanks to the Jozef Piłsudski’s bold manoeuvre, Polish troops defeat the Red Army.
  6. 1921 – The Treaty of Riga establishes the shape of the Polish-Bolshevik border.
  7. 1921 – The Modern Polish constitution is formed. Poland becomes a republic (until 1926), the national bank is reformed, mining is developed in Silesia, and the construction of the first Polish port in Gdynia takes place. The country is unstable though. The first President, Gabriel Narutowicz, is assassinated in Warsaw one year later.
  8. 1926 – To introduce order, Marshal Jozef Pilsudski makes himself dictator of Poland in a military coup. The so-called Piłsudski’s coup d’état and the subsequent amendments to the constitution strengthen the executive branch. The power is taken by a new political camp called ‘’Sanacja’’, which rules the country until 1939. Despite the dictatorship, the economy stabilizes at this time and the culture continues to prosper.
  9. 1930s – Poland signs non-aggression pacts with Germany and the Soviet Union. The pacts soon prove to be pointless.
  10. 1935 – One of the fathers of Poland’s independence, Jozef Piłsudski, passes away.
  11. 1936 – The Polish Government launches the Central Industrial District, in which over 100,000 people find employment. This project (and many more) ultimately reinforces the economic potential of the state and strengthens its international position.
  12. 1937 (to 1939) – The Soviet NKVD (“People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs”, the Soviet secret police) begins so-called “Polish Operation” – a campaign of repression against Poles living in the USSR. In the 16-month ethnic cleansing, out of 143,000 people arrested, 111,000 are murdered on false charges.
  13. 1939 – World War Two begins when Germany invades Poland from the west. The Soviet Union then invades about 17 days later from the east. Within one month Poland is defeated. Poland is divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. Mass arrests, executions, and exiles begin.
  14. 1940 – Katyn Massacre. One of the earliest mass shootings of prisoners of war during World War Two occurs. A series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia prisoners of war are carried out by Soviet Union specifically the NKVD (“People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs”, the Soviet secret police).
  15. 1940 – The Soviets deport hundreds of thousands of Poles from the annexed territories into the USSR and carry out the Katyn Massacre, murdering 22,000 Polish military personnel, state functionaries and intellectuals. Around 150,000 Polish civilians are killed by the Soviets.
  16. 1940 – The Germans wipe out Polish intellectuals in the territories incorporated into the Third Reich as well as in the General Government, resettle hundreds of thousands of Poles, limit the rights of the Polish population, and lock Jews in ghettos.
  17. 1940 – The Polish Army takes part in the defence of France against the German invasion – after its fall, the soldiers evacuate to the British Isles. Polish pilots help in repelling the attacks of the German air force, making a massive contribution to the victory in the Battle of Britain. Poland makes the fourth-largest troop contribution in Europe.
  18. 1941 – German concentration camps are built throughout Poland including Auschwitz and Treblinka. Millions of Jews are killed in Poland as part of the Holocaust.
  19. 1941 – Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Poland restores diplomatic relations with the Soviets. As a result of the so-called Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, thousands of Poles are released from Soviet labour camps, and are formed into military units subordinated to the Polish authorities.
  20. 1942 – The Germans commence the bloodiest phase of the extermination of Jews. The Germans exterminate Poland’s three million Jews (90% of Poland’s pre-war Jewry), along with Jews from other occupied countries. Between 1.8 million to 2.8 million ethnic Poles are also killed, including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish intelligentsia – academics, doctors, lawyers, nobility, and priesthood.
  21. 1943 – Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto fight against the Nazis in an uprising and is bloodily suppressed by the Germans.
  22. 1943 – The Big Three (US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin) meet at the Tehran Conference. They draw a new eastern border between Poland and the USSR on the so-called Curzon Line.
  23. 1944 – The Polish resistance takes control of Warsaw. However, the Germans burn the city to the ground in response.
  24. 1945 – Russia, USA, and Britain meet at the Yalta Conference and agree to leave Poland under Soviet control.
  25. 1945 – World War Two comes to an end. Russians invade, pushing the German army out of Poland. At the war’s end, over 6 million Poles are dead, approximately 20% of Poland’s pre-war population.
  26. 1947 – Poland becomes a communist state under the rule of the Soviet Union.
  27. 1956 – Protests and riots against Soviet Union rule occur in Poznan. Some reforms are granted. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivers a secret speech on the cult and crimes of Joseph Stalin. The Stalinist period ends, and the “Thaw” begins in the Polish People’s Republic. A more liberal faction of the Polish communists inspires partial democratization of political and economic life.
  28. 1956 (to 1970) – Poland manages to rebuild its war-devastated iron, steel, shipping, and mining industries, but fails to regain a decent standard of living.
  29. 1970 – Inefficiency of centrally planned economy in Poland forces the authorities to significantly increase the prices of basic foodstuffs. People in Gdansk protest the price of bread – 55 protesters are killed on what is known as “Bloody Tuesday.”
  30. 1976 – The communists announce the rise in prices, and this leads to mass protests. The authorities of the Polish People’s Republic, led by Edward Gierek, brutally suppress the protests. To provide legal, financial, and medical assistance to the protesters, the Workers’ Defence Committee is established.
  31. 1978 – The Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, is elected Pope of the Catholic church. He becomes Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope since the 15th century.
  32. 1979 – The first visit of Pope John Paul II in his homeland stimulates freedom aspirations of Poles and contributes to strengthening their resistance against the communist authorities.
  33. 1980 – Solidarity trade union is established by a young electrician, Lech Walesa. Ten million workers join.
  34. 1981 – Martial Law is declared by Communist President General Wojciech Jaruzelski. It puts an end to Solidarity trade union. Lech Walesa is imprisoned. A curfew is introduced and the army exercises control over the country. The strong suppressive check on public and social life in Poland begins. Communist dignitaries explain later that it is necessary because the Soviet Union could invade the country just like what had happened in Czechoslovakia (The Prague Spring) in 1968.
  35. 1983 – Lech Walesa, the Chairman of “Solidarity”, wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
  36. 1989 – “Round table” negotiations take place, and the communist party is forced to allow free elections. The elections end with an overwhelming victory of the non-communist Solidarity Party headed by Lech Walesa and Taduesz Mazowiecki. All new MPs are Solidarity’s candidates, and Taduesz Mazowiecki becomes the first Non-Communist Prime Minister since the end of World War Two. A year later in 1990, Lech Walesa is elected President of Poland. Lech Walesa survives only one term and in 1993 is defeated by former communist party representative Aleksander Kwasniewski. The former communists re-invent themselves as the SLD (Social Democrats). Aleksander Kwasniewski is a highly popular President.
  37. 1991 – The Warsaw Pact is dissolved, and the Cold War officially ends
  38. 1992 – The Soviet Union begins removing troops from Poland.
  39. 1999 – Poland is accepted into NATO.
  40. 2001 – Poland permits citizens to apply to see the files kept on them by the secret police during the communist era.
  41. 2003 – Poles vote in referendum in favour of joining the European Union.
  42. 2004 – Poland becomes a member of the European Union, along with nine other candidate countries.
  43. 2008 – The government forges an agreement with USA in principle to host a controversial American missile defence system.
  44. 2009 – The IMF approves a one-year credit line for Poland of $20.6bn to help it weather the global economic crisis.
  45. 2010 – President Lech Kaczynski and many other senior officials are killed in an aircraft crash travelling to a ceremony in Russia marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre during World War Two.
  46. 2013 – Tens of thousands of protesters march through Warsaw in one of the largest demonstrations in years, organised by trade unions, to demand more jobs and higher pay.
  47. 2015 – Poland announces purchase of US Patriot surface-to-air missiles amid rising tension with Russia.
  48. 2017 – Poland welcomes NATO troops deployed in the northeast, as part of efforts to enhance security following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.
  49. 2018 – Poland becomes widely recognised as a role model for countries that experience a political transformation after the revolutions of 1989 and is again regarded as a strong political entity in the region.
  50. 2022 – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leads to 6.9 million Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland.
  51. 2020 (to 2023) – COVID-19 pandemic causes more than 118,000 deaths in Poland.
  52. 2022 – Poland has 38 million people.

© Comasters April 2023.

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