Poland: History

A country with new world cuisine, a bustling nightlife and a haunting past

Poland History

Since its beginnings in the tenth century, Poland's borders have continually changed with the course of history. The history of Poland as a nation can be traced back to 966, when Kings Mieszko I of the Piast dynasty converted to Christianity. The Piast dynasty ruled, for the next 150 years, until Poland fragmented into several smaller states in the 12th century. It wasn't until 1320 that Wladyslaw I was crowned king of a once again united Poland. His son, Kazimierz III went on to become one of the greatest kings of Poland.

During this period, Poland was the centre of much migration, with many Jewish communities settling and flourishing in the area. In 1385, a Lithuanian prince, Wladyslaw Jagiello married the queen of Poland, and the treaty of Krewa was signed unifying the Lithuanian and Polish stated. Although the Polish queen, Jadwiga, died soon after the marriage, the Jagiellonian dynasty went on to become by the 15th century one of the greatest powers in Europe, ruling also what are now the Czech and Hungarian nations. The 16th century saw the formation of the Republic of Two Nations. At first, much of the country flourished with peace and prosperity, however, the 17th century brought a series of wars against the Swedes and Russians, and later the Ottoman empire. Although victory against the Turkish empire at the Battle of Vienna marked the end of a period of conflict in which Poland had managed to maintain the majority of its territory, the country was weakened and the golden age of Poland's history was over.

The 18th century saw three partitions of Poland, the first in 1772. The Constitution of 3 May 1971, was an attempt to bring reform and democracy to Poland, however, it was short lived as further partitions of Poland wiped the country off the map, its territory divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Although Napoleon briefly recreated a Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw, in the early nineteen century, this was also short lived. It was not until the end WWI that Poland once again gained independence, and although this was threatened in the following years by the Russian Red Army in 1920 and by several other battles over its borders, between 1918 and 1939 Poland managed make significant economic progress and consolidate the territories previously held by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

However, brief this period of independence was again ended when in 1939 with the start of WWII. The occupation of Poland during the Second World War resulted in the persecution and terrorism of the Polish population. About 7 million Poles were exterminated during this period, including the virtual annihilation of the Jewish population. The end of WWII brought more changes to Poland's borders, essentially shifting the nation west. The Allied forces also decided that Poland should be under the Soviet sphere of influence and after rigged elections in 1947, the Communist government took complete control of the country.

Labour struggles in the 1980's resulting from the failing economic system led to the formation of the independent trade union organisation Solidarnosc, meaning Solidarity. Even though the Communist government tried to suppress the organisation, including briefly imposing martial law in 1981, the trade union gradually eroded the control of the communist government and in 1989 forced the negotiations that would legalise Solidarity as a political party and lead the way for elections in 1990 in which Lech Walesa is elected president. Economic reforms swiftly follow and the country adopts a free market economy and freedoms of speech and human rights are also improved. Poland suffered somewhat with the economic transition throughout the 1990's, but not as much as other post-communist states. In 1999, Poland joined NATO alliance, before a referendum in 2003 led to Poland becoming a full member of the European Union in 2004.