A Nation that Came and Went:
Bang in the middle of Europe, separating the East from the West, stands the historic nation of Poland. Poland is a nation that has, through the ages, come and gone, expanded and contracted, but persisted culturally, through all its ups and downs.
In the early Middle Ages, Poland was just a loose collection of principalities and townships that lay in the path of the ambitious empire building Germans, Balts and Mongols. Nevertheless, despite the innumerable invasions, Poland emerged by the mid 1500’s as the largest and most powerful state in Europe.
From 1772 to 1795, Poland suffered numerous partitions and was eventually swallowed up by giants Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland was no longer a state. However the Poles clung to their language and religion (Roman Cat holism) and survived as a nation in the absence of a state.
An Independent State:
The outbreak of World War I saw Poles fighting each other in the trenches of the opposing powers who had taken over their state. However when Russia withdrew from the war due to domestic disturbances, Poland made a successful bid to establish itself as a state.
This independence was short-lived. Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and brutally overran the ill equipped Polish forces, while Great Britain, regardless of its promise to protect Poland, remained a mute spectator.
Poland was again parcelled out between Germany and Russia. Germany appointed Hans Frank as Governor of Poland. This is probably the most tragic era in Polish history. Millions of Pole died fighting and its historically strong Jewish population was almost entirely annihilated in Hitler’s extermination camps.
The Iron Curtain:
The German invasion of Russia, turned Russia into a Polish ally, but when the war ended in 1945, Russia drew Poland firmly behind the Iron Curtain.
The indomitable spirit of the Poles was not crushed by the repressive Soviet regime. Polish workers and intellectuals united to oppose tyrannical government policies. In 1980 the workers of Poland united at the port of Gdansk (Danzig) and formed Solidarity, the first trade union in a country from the Soviet Bloc. Solidarity pressed for economic reforms and greater political and religious freedom. These were granted in some measure, but as the movement gained momentum, the government under Wojciech Jaruzelski, forced the movement underground, where it continued to thrive.
Poland emerged as a democratic nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in May 1989.Today Poland is a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), leaning a bit more towards the west than the east.
Heterogeneous Geography and Climate:
Poland is a strikingly beautiful land. It stands at the centre of Europe. The structure, climate and vegetation of the western regions correspond to Western Europe and to Eastern Europe in the eastern extremities. The three dominant relief groups are the Mountains, the Highlands and the Lowlands. Six seasons can be identified in Poland with regional variations. These variations range from maritime to continental. Winters are cold and bare followed by a wintry spring and a summery spring. Then comes a comparatively warm summer filled with sunshine and rain. The year closes with a warm autumn and a foggy humid period preceding the winter.
Poland unique history of unification and partition followed by the genocide of World War II has resulted in Poland being the most ethnically homogenous country in the world. Almost everyone living within the borders of Poland speaks Polish and calls themselves Poles.
The Polish people are rightly proud of their contribution to the evolution of the human race. The Polish Constitution of 1791, is the oldest constitution in Europe and is distinguished by being introduced without the spilling any blood. Poles have been forerunners in the fields of science, arts, sports and social and political thought. John Paul II was the first non- Italian Pope to be elected in 400 years. Polish names that need no introduction include Catherine the Great, Marie Curie, Fredric Chopin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Roman Polanski and the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben- Gurion.
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