HIGHLIGHTS OF THE HISTORY OF POLAND
1. The Polish nation originated from a union of West Slavic tribes who were united in the 10th century. The year 966 when duke Mieszko I (Piast dynasty) was baptized is considered to be the founding year of Poland. Official acceptance of Christianity ensured the Polish independence from Germans, who had tried to subjugate pagan Slavs under the pretense of Christianization. Thus, it was very important that the Polish metropolitanate (church province directly under the Pope) was later set up - that way avoiding dependence upon Germany.
2. Poland became a kingdom in 1025. By the end of the Middle Ages, it had become a virtual empire with the highest level of civilization in the Eastern Europe. It was also a bulwark of the Roman Catholic faith there, defending it - and the Western part of Europe - against Tartars and later, Turks.
3. In the 14th century, Casimir III the Great provided the statute protection of Jews from pogroms, thus, establishing Poland as a haven for Jews. The same century also brought the union of two states: Poland and Lithuania, under the rule of Poland.
4. The years 1492-1572 are considered the "golden age" of the Polish-Lithuanian empire. Under Casimir IV Jagiellonczyk (1447-1492) from the Jagiellon dynasty, Poland became one of the largest empires in Europe (the Polish rule stretched for a time from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, including Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Hungary). In the 16th century, Poland and Lithuania expanded eastward to annex much of the Ukraine and some Russian territory. After the Union of Lublin (1569), the social, economic, and constitutional union of Poland and Lithuania became even more consolidated. The Polish Estate Kingdom slowly evolved into a parliamentary monarchy, governed almost entirely by the nobility who would convene for the diets (sejm). The king was regarded only as the president of the Senate, and the laws could only be made by the Parliament. Later - after the death of the last Polish Jagiellon, Sigismund II Augustus, in 1572 - the diets also elected the king. That system of government by the nobility was called "the democracy of nobility", in which all gentlemen were equal, and were guaranteed freedom and rights. It was the time an of economic wealth boom in Poland's foreign trade (production and export of raw materials, such as grain, lumber, cattle, etc.). Poland became "the granary of Europe". It was the time of cultural developments. Spiritual and intellectual life bloomed. General school education spread. 25% of the Polish population could write and read by 1580. Young Poles studied at major foreign universities. The University of Kracow enjoyed an excellent reputation, producing scholars and thinkers, such as Nicolaus Copernicus - Mikolaj Kopernik - famous for his work on the motions of the planets (1473-1543). Polish language literature came into its own; the art of book printing flourished. The Polish Commonwealth consisted of many nationalities who enjoyed religious tolerance. The Reformation affected one-sixth of all Polish parishes. Poland's religious tolerance was unique in the bitterly divided Europe of this time. It was the only country without religious persecutions in the 16th and 17th century. The Compact of Warsaw (1573) removed the Catholic Church from its dominant position, introducing the constitutional equality of all religions, the first enactment in Europe of complete religious tolerance.
5. The victory of John III Sobieski, who in 1683 defended Vienna against the Turks and saved Western Europe from the Turkish invasion, did not stop the disintegration of the Polish state in the 17th and 18th centuries. Wars, internal rebellions (the Cossack revolts in the Ukraine, the Confederacy of Bar, etc.), the deterioration of economy, lack of central government, made Poland an easy pray for its more powerful neighbors of those times. The Counter-Reformation came to Poland with Jesuits, who established colleges and schools, and dominated Polish education. People reverted to Catholicism. The original democracy of nobles evolved into an oligarchy of about 300 families, who controlled the government for its own purposes. It was almost impossible to pass any law, just one delegate could disrupt the diet by exclaiming "liberum veto" ("I disapprove"), which would abolish measures already approved by the rest of the house, and dissolve the diet.
6. The 18th century is considered the most tragic in Polish history. It brought the final disintegration of the Polish state: three partitions of its territories (1772, 1793, 1795) among Russia, Prussia and Austria who annexed Poland. King Stanislaw August Poniatowski abdicated. The Republic of Poland ceased to exist for the next 123 years. However, the shock of the First Partition, which left a small but still independent Poland, caused political and economic reforms. Among them was the establishing of the first governmental department for public education in Europe. But the most important achievement was the Constitution of May 3, 1791, the first codified constitution in Europe, and the second in the world after the United States. This constitution embodied the following ideas: "the people's sovereignty", which included the nobility and metropolitan bourgeoisie; the separation of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary; the responsibility of the cabinet to parliament. The liberum veto was abolished.
7. The 19th century was extremely important for the history of Poland. It is the history of constant efforts on the part of Poles to win independence for their country and retain their national identity. After the partitions many Poles fled the country. Persecuted in their homeland, they tried to keep the issue of the Polish independence alive, and gain support of various countries in order to regain sovereignty. They fought sometimes even in remote wars, hoping to help free their homeland. The 19th century in Polish history can be broken into two periods: the time of fighting or "romanticism" (supporting Napoleon and uprisings against Russia which brought heavy reprisals in the Russian and Prussian partitions, including massive deportations), and the time of "pragmatism" at the end of the century which helped develop political thinking, promoted industrialization, and developed the economy. The role of the emigree community was very important during that time: it was active politically and intellectually. Polish culture flourished: music (Fryderyk Chopin) and literature (romantic poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, Cyprian Norwid, positivistic novels of Boleslaw Prus, Eliza Orzeszkowa, Henryk Sienkiewicz, etc.). Much of the sense of the national identity comes from that time, from its cultural and political achievements.
8. Poland regained its independence in 1918, after World War I. Jozef Pilsudski, the head of the Polish state after World War I, is considered the founder of the modern independent Poland. One has to remember how difficult it was in 1918 to create one state from three parts that underwent economical and social development so differently. Just to mention few differences: Poles were persecuted in the Russian and Prussian partitions; only under Austria did they enjoy relative freedom, and this is where Polish intellectual life was more open. The territories under Prussia were heavily industrialized, whereas Galicia (Austrian partition) was economically backwards and very poor. Ppeople in different partitions were used to different institutions. In addition, many Poles lived abroad.
9. World War II started with the invasion of Ploand by Germany (September 1, 1939), and it lasted in the Polish territories for 6 years. About 6 million Poles died (including 3 million Jews). It is still unknown how many more were killed by Soviets. On September 17, 1939, the Soviets invaded Poland. During the occupation, both Germans and Soviets executed or deported thousands of Poles to labor and concentration camps. Poland was the only country where Germans punished by death any help given to Jews. The resistance to Germans and Soviets was collective. It culminated with the Warsaw Uprising (August-September 1944), a heroic undertaking of the Polish underground (mainly Home Army) to free Warsaw from German occupation, hoping that the Soviet Army, already across the river, would come to the rescue. However, on Stalin's orders, the Soviet Army did not help. The Uprising resulted in death of about 200,000 Polish people, fighters and civilians, and the complete destruction of the city - as a revenge, Germans burned Warsaw to the ground. The war had tragic consequences for Poland not only because of the casualties: even though Poland had the government-in-exile army that fought on the side of Allies constituting one of the largest forces, and sizeable active underground, Poland was betrayed by its allies, England and the United States - the international treaties of Yalta and Potsdam left it after the war, against wishes of Poland's government and people, in the sphere of the Soviet control. Years of communism followed. The war still remains vivid in the Polish consciousness, even for the generations that were born after it had ended.
10. The time of Stalin (1949-1954) was as terrifying in Poland as in any communist country. Later on, some changes were brought by the upheavals of 1956, 1968 ("the revolt of students", as a result of which the communist government expelled Jews from Poland), 1970, 1976 and 1980 (the birth of the independent union Solidarity), but the country remained communist. The 1970s were especially important for the freedom movement. They laid the foundation to what happened in the 1980s. After 1976 strikes and persecutions of their participants, the Committee for the Defense of Workers was established whose members were prominent intellectuals (among them Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron), the Students' Self-Defense Circles originated at the universities (Aleksander Hall belonged to them), the institution of the underground Alternative University was reinstated to teach the truth about Polish history, and other dissident groups were established. In 1979 the Pope came to Poland, stimulating the nation and its desire to be free, inspiring to non-violent revolution that followed.
11. The 1980s brought critical changes. The widespread strikes in 1980 resulted in organizing the independent labor unions Solidarity. The whole country was in unrest. On December 13, 1981, martial law was imposed with all freedoms curtailed (curfew, no communication - phone lines cut off, censorship of mail, schools suspended, ban on strikes, ban on travel, etc.). Members of Solidarity and other independent organizations were persecuted, arrested, kept in jail, and very often made to leave the country. The strikes were punished with force. The martial law was in effect until July 1983.
12. 1989 brought democracy back. Solidarity was legalized, the first non-communist government was established. Changes in the constitution: the name goes back to the Republic of Poland, leading role of the communist party and allegiance to the Soviet Union are struck out. Reforms in Poland initiated the process of freedom across Eastern and Southern Europe. Following the example of Poland, communist countries of this part of Europe underwent major changes of government.
13. In 1990 Lech Walesa was elected the first President of free Poland. The Polish government, which escaped from Poland to England after the outbreak of World War II and had remained there since, acting as the Polish government-in-exile, transferred its authority to the government of Lech Walesa, and ceased to exist. Poland became again an independent democratic country.
I regret that I did not "copy and paste" the credit for this historical account when I copied it. To whomever wrote it: It has been MUCH appreciated by MANY!|