Poland country profile

  • 6 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
Map of Poland

A nation with a proud cultural heritage, Poland can trace its roots back over 1,000 years. Positioned at the centre of Europe, it has known turbulent and violent times.

There have been periods of independence as well as periods of domination by other countries. Several million people, half of them Jews, died in World War II.

A new era began when Poland became an EU member in May 2004, five years after joining Nato and 15 years after the end of communist rule.

It was the birthplace of the former Soviet bloc's first officially recognised independent mass political movement when strikes at the Gdansk shipyard in August 1980 led to agreement with the authorities on the establishment of the Solidarity trade union.


Republic of Poland

Capital: Warsaw

  • Population 38.3 million

  • Area 312,685 sq km (120,728 sq miles)

  • Major language Polish

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 72 years (men), 81 years (women)

  • Currency zloty

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President: Andrzej Duda

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Andrzej Duda of the conservative, Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party, scored a surprise win in the 2015 election, beating the incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski of the centrist Civic Platform in the closest presidential contest in Poland's history.

Born in 1972 and a law lecturer by profession, Mr Duda has been active in conservative politics since the early 2000s, rising to work in the Presidential Chancellery under Lech Kaczynski in 2008-2010.

Prime Minister: Beata Szydlo

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Beata Szydlo of the conservative Law and Justice party became prime minister in November 2015, following the party's general election victory.

A coal-miner's daughter, she owes her success in large part to party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose pro-welfare and anti-migrant strategy secured October's poll win.

Mr Kaczynski handpicked Ms Szydlo, 52, as his candidate for the premiership after she ran a smooth presidential campaign that got Andrzej Duda elected.


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Image caption Presidential hopefuls engaging in a TV debate

Poland's broadcasting market is the largest in Eastern and Central Europe and has attracted foreign investment. There is freedom and diversity of information, although laws against deriding the nation and its political system are still in force.

Public TVP has the largest share of the TV audience for its two national channels. It operates regional services and satellite network TV Polonia.

Polsat and TVN operate the leading commercial TVs. Polsat has a digital pay-TV platform and is present in the Baltic states. Digital pay-TV platform Cyfra+ was launched by France's Canal+. Digital terrestrial TV is available throughout Poland.


Some key dates in Poland's history:

1918 - After more than a century of foreign rule, an independent Polish state is restored after the end of World War I, with Marshal Jozef Pilsudski as head of state.

1926 - Pilsudski stages a military coup. There follow nine years of autocratic rule.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A view of the Royal Castle square in Warsaw

1932 - Poland concludes non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

1934 - Poland signs similar 10-year pact with Nazi Germany.

1935 - Pilsudski dies. The military regime continues.

1939 - Nazi Germany invades Poland. Beginning of World War II as the United Kingdom declares war on Germany in response to the invasion. The Soviet Union invades from the east. Germany and the Soviet Union divide Poland between them and treat Polish citizens with extreme brutality. Germany begins systematic persecution of the large Jewish population.

1940 - Soviet secret police carry out systematic massacre of about 22,000 Polish army officers, professionals and civil servants mainly in a forest near Katyn in Russia's Smolensk Region. The Soviet Union attributed the crime to the Nazis until acknowledging responsibility in the late 1980s.

1941 - Germans start to build concentration camps in Poland. Their names - Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek - become synonymous with the Holocaust.

1945 - Soviet forces capture Warsaw and drive German forces from Poland. Poland's borders are set by the post-war Potsdam conference; Poland loses territory to the Soviet Union but gains some from Germany.

1947 - Poland becomes a Communist People's Republic after Soviet-run elections, under the Stalinist leadership of Boleslaw Bierut.

1955 - Poland joins the Soviet-run Warsaw Pact military alliance.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 'Solidarnosc' (Solidarity) trade union leader Lech Walesa addresses striking workers at the Gdansk shipyard in 1988

1970s - Poland enjoys relative economic prosperity based on foreign loans. Successive US presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter visit Poland.

1978 - Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal of Krakow, elected Pope.

1980 - Disturbances at the shipyard in Gdansk lead to the emergence of the Solidarity trade union under Lech Walesa.

1981 - Martial law imposed. Many of Solidarity's leaders, including Walesa, are imprisoned.

1983 - Martial law lifted.

1989 - Round-table talks between Solidarity, the Communists and the Catholic Church pave the way for fall of communism in Poland. Partially free elections see landslide win for Solidarity, which helps form coalition government. Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes the first non-Communist Polish prime minister since 1946.

1990 - Lech Walesa elected president of Poland. Market reforms, including large-scale privatisation, are launched.

1991 - First parliamentary elections since fall of communism. Soviet troops start to leave Poland.

1998 - The EU opens talks on Polish membership.

1999 - Poland joins Nato.

2004 - Poland is one of 10 new states to join the EU.

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