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Poland - Description and brief history

The first date, which all Polish children are taught in schools, is the year 966. At that time Mieszko, the first historical ruler of the lands between the Oder and Bug Rivers, accepted baptism on behalf of his subjects. The turbulent Polish history over the next centuries was influenced by its geographical location and the neighbours, with whom the Poles lead wars against. Successive kings of the Piast dynasty fought battles with the Germans, Czechs and Russians. After them came the Jagiellonian dynasty.

The Polish-Lithuanian army crushed the forces of the Teutonic Order on 15July 1410 in the fields in the vicinity of Grunwald, in one of the largest battles in the history of medieval Europe.  The Polish-Lithuanian victory broke the power of the Order, and also raised the status of the Jagiellonians to the most significant in Europe. Poland flourished and became an important centre of European Renaissance. Then amongst others, Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus) published his revolutionary tractate On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. The 16th century was also a time of great openness and religious tolerance - the Polish Republic was visited by people from all over the continent that were persecuted for religious reasons. The Jagiellonian dynasty came to the end when the last king died, leaving no heir. The next ruler was elected by Poles in the so-called free election.

In this way, John III Sobieski, later known in Europe as the conqueror of the Turks from Vienna, amongst others, came to power. In September 1683 the amalgamated Polish, Austrian, and German troops under his command clashed in Vienna with the army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of vizier Kara Mustafa. The battle ended with the defeat of the great Ottoman Empire which did not recover following this strike and no longer posed a threat to Christian Europe.

The 18th century was the time of Partition, when Poland lost more tracts of land to its neighbours; Prussia, Russia and Austria-Hungary. In 1791 the Seym passed the Constitution of 3 May - the first in Europe and second in the world after the U.S., a written fundamental law. Poles were proud of their constitution, but this joy was soon suppressed, when the neighbouring powers once again divided Polish lands between them like a pie. Following the Third Partition, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for over 120 years.

Language, tradition and faith in the rebirth of the State, among others survived through music, literature and art, which strengthened the patriotic sentiment and stimulated the liberation struggle. The following became the greatest composers of Polish literature and music at the time: Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, Frederic Chopin.

Poland regained independence after World War I, on 11November 1918. The anniversary of this event is the biggest national holiday and a day off from work. On the 1September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Russia joined them on 17 September.

The Poles defended themselves, but had no chance of overwhelming the enemy. The Nazis killed approximately 3 million Jews - Polish citizens and more than 2 million Poles. The Polish government continued to fight in exile. Underground organisations in the country created an Underground State with a guerrilla army, and its own administration and an extensive system of illegal education. On 1 August  1944, the inhabitants enslaved within Warsaw moved to fight the Nazis. They suffered a defeat, and more than 80 per cent of the Polish capital was razed by the Nazis to the ground.

After the war, for several decades, Poland found itself in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

At the beginning of the 1980s, independent of the communist government, the "Solidarity" trade union, led by Lech Walesa, was founded. Crowds of Poles, who accompanied Pope John Paul II during his pilgrimage to the homeland was evidence of the strength of the anti-communist opposition.

In 1988, representatives of the Communist Party began talks with the opposition, now known as the Round Table talks. The first democratic elections in June 1989 resulted in the victory of "Solidarity". Soon the Polish People's Republic was replaced by the Republic of Poland, and Lech Walesa was elected as President. Events in Poland started a process of the disintegration of the communist bloc in Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Today Poland is a model of economic stability for other European countries facing the global financial crisis.