Poland's environmental situation has improved since 1989 due to the decline in heavy industry and increased environmental concern by post-Communist governments. Air pollution nonetheless remains serious because of sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, and the resulting acid rain has caused forest damage. Water pollution from industrial and municipal sources is also a problem, as is disposal of hazardous wastes. Pollution levels should continue to decrease as industrial establishments bring their facilities up to EU code, but at substantial cost to business and the government.
Poland is susceptible to flooding.
Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation.
In a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves.
Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II.
It became a Soviet satellite state following the war, but its government was comparatively tolerant and progressive.
Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force and by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency.
A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, but Poland still faces the lingering challenges of high unemployment, underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure, and a poor rural underclass.
Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.
It has, historically, been an area of conflict because of flat terrain and the lack of natural barriers on the North European Plain.
Location: Central Europe, east of Germany
Geographic Coordinates: 52 00 N, 20 00 E
Area: 312,685 sq km (land: 304,255 sq km; water: 8,430 sq km)
Note: As a member state that forms part of the EU's external border, Poland has implemented the strict Schengen border rules to restrict illegal immigration and trade along its eastern borders with Belarus and Ukraine
Coastline: 440 km
Natural Hazards: flooding
Terrain: mostly flat plain; mountains along southern border. The highest point is Rysy (2,499 m) and lowest point is near Raczki Elblaskie (-2 m).
Climate: temperate with cold, cloudy, moderately severe winters with frequent precipitation; mild summers with frequent showers and thundershowers
Topology of Poland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ecology and Biodiversity
4. Western European broadleaf forests
Map Source: World Wildlife Fund
People and Society
Population: 38,415,284 (July 2012 est.)Poland today is ethnically almost homogeneous (97% Polish), in contrast with the World War II period, when there were significant ethnic minorities--4.5 million Ukrainians, 3 million Jews, 1 million Belarusians, and 800,000 Germans. The majority of the Jews were murdered during the German occupation in World War II, and many others emigrated in the succeeding years.
Most Germans left Poland at the end of the war, while many Ukrainians and Belarusians lived in territories incorporated into the then-U.S.S.R. Small Ukrainian, Belarusian, Slovakian, and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders, and a German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole.
Ethnic Groups: Polish 96.7%, German 0.4%, Belarusian 0.1%, Ukrainian 0.1%, other and unspecified 2.7% (2002 census)
0-14 years: 14.7% (male 2,910,324/female 2,748,546)
15-64 years: 71.6% (male 13,698,363/female 13,834,779)
65 years and over: 13.7% (male 2,004,550/female 3,245,026) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: -0.075% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 9.96 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 10.24 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -0.47 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 76.25 years
male: 72.31 years
female: 80.43 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 1.31 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Polish (official) 97.8%, other and unspecified 2.2% (2002 census)
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 99.8% (2003 est.)
Urbanization: 61% of total population (2010) declining at an annual rate of change -0.1% (2010-15 est.)
Poland’s Rospuda Valley is home to a peat bog—a wetland area that collects dead plant material. Although peat bogs were once common in cool, temperate climates like Northern Europe’s, few have survived the changes people have made to the landscape for agriculture and other development. The peat bog in Rospuda Valley is one of Europe’s last pristine wetlands. Located in northeastern Poland near the Lithuania and Belarus borders, Rospuda Valley is part of a protected wilderness area known as the Augustów Primeval Forest.
NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite captured this image of Rospuda Valley on September 11, 2002. This true-color image shows a patchwork of peat bog and agricultural fields. In contrast to the nearly uniform deep-green wetlands, the fields appear as close-knit rectangles of varied shades of green and beige. Rospuda River meanders between cultivated fields in the northwest and wetland territory in the southeast, connecting with Lake Necko. Numerous other lakes and ponds appear north and east of Lake Necko, some of them overlapping agricultural areas.
East of Rospuda Valley, fine straight lines indicate roads. Road construction in the area became controversial in 2007. The wetland lies in a region that sees frequent truck traffic to and from Lithuania. A plan to alleviate the volume of truck traffic through local towns by building a road through the Rospuda Valley was fought by environmental groups, who cited the rarity of peat bogs in industrialized Europe, and the importance of preserving rare plant and animal species living in the valley. In 2007, the European Commission sought a court order to halt construction of a viaduct that would intersect part of Rospuda Valley. In early 2009, Poland determined a different route for the roadway to spare this reserve.
Poland's written history begins with the reign of Mieszko I, who accepted Christianity for himself and his kingdom in AD 966. The Polish state reached its zenith under the Jagiellonian dynasty following the union with Lithuania in 1386 and the subsequent defeat of the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald in 1410. The monarchy survived many upheavals but eventually ended with the third and final partition of Poland by Prussia, Russia, and Austria in 1795.
Poland regained its independence in 1918, after President Woodrow Wilson called for the restoration of Polish independence in his Fourteen Points. Authoritarian rule predominated for most of the period before World War II. On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov nonaggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones. On September 1, 1939, Hitler ordered his troops into Poland and on September 17, Soviet troops invaded and occupied eastern Poland. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, German troops occupied all of pre-war Poland. The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a government in exile, first in Paris and later in London. As many as 600,000 Polish soldiers in exile served under Soviet or British command on the Eastern and Western fronts.
In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke relations with the Polish government in exile following the latter's call for investigation of the mass graves of murdered Polish army officers discovered at Katyn in the U.S.S.R. In July 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Poland and established a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" at Lublin, which nominally governed areas the Soviet Army had liberated.
The Nazi occupiers brutally suppressed resistance in Warsaw, including the 1943 uprising by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and the 1944 Polish underground uprising. As the Germans retreated in January 1945, they leveled the city.
During the war, about 6 million Poles were killed, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labor. More than 3 million Jews (all but about 100,000 of the pre-war Jewish population) were killed in Nazi death camps like those at Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor.
The Yalta Conference in February, 1945, called for the formation of a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity to be followed by free parliamentary elections. Although the allied powers recognized this government, the London government in exile did not. The Communist Party-dominated "Democratic Bloc" prevailed in the subsequent January 1947 parliamentary elections, which featured falsified results and persecution of the opposition.
Communist Party Domination
Kruschev's denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Soviet Party Congress in Moscow in February 1956, coupled with worker riots in Poznan in October, led to some changes in the communist regime. While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka's reforms liberalized Polish internal life.
In 1968, the liberalizing trend reversed when the government suppressed student demonstrations and launched an "anti-Zionist" campaign in the wake of the Six-Day War. In December 1970, a price increase for essential consumer goods brought about protests and strikes in the port cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, reflecting deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions.
Fueled by large infusions of Western credit, Poland's economic growth rate was one of the world's highest during the first half of the 1970s. But much of the borrowed capital was misspent, and the centrally planned economy was unable to use the new resources effectively. The growing debt burden became insupportable in the late 1970s, and economic growth had become negative by 1979.
In October 1978, the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Polish Catholics rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.
In July 1980, with the Polish foreign debt at more than $20 billion, the government made another attempt to increase meat prices. A chain reaction of strikes virtually paralyzed the Baltic coast by the end of August and, for the first time, closed most coal mines in Silesia. Poland was entering an extended crisis that would change the course of its future development.
The Solidarity Movement
On August 31, 1980, striking workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, led by an electrician named Lech Walesa, signed a 21-point agreement with the government that guaranteed workers the right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. As a result of the signed agreement, a new national union movement--"Solidarity"--swept Poland.
Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the authority of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) following the Gdansk agreement, the Soviet Union carried out a massive military buildup along Poland's border in December 1980. In February 1981, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski became Prime Minister while also retaining his previous portfolio as Defense Minister. By the end of the year, he had also assumed the title of PZPR First Secretary. Meanwhile, Solidarity elected Lech Walesa as its national chairman in October, 1981.
On December 12-13, the regime declared martial law, enabling the army and special riot police to suppress the union, arresting or detaining nearly all Solidarity leaders and many affiliated intellectuals. The United States and other Western countries responded by imposing economic sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union. The government suspended martial law in December 1982, and released a small number of political prisoners.
Roundtable Talks and Elections
The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May, and August 1988. In an attempt to take control of the situation, the government gave de facto recognition to Solidarity, and Interior Minister Kiszczak began talks with Lech Walesa on August 31. In April 1989, the "roundtable" talks produced an agreement allowing partially open National Assembly elections. These elections took place in June. One-third of the seats in the Sejm (lower house), went to communists and one-third went to other parties allied with the communists. The remaining one-third of the seats in the Sejm and all those in the Senate were freely contested; candidates supported by Solidarity won nearly all of these seats.
Communist failure at the polls produced a political crisis. The roundtable agreement called for a communist president and on July 19 the National Assembly, with the support of some Solidarity deputies, elected General Jaruzelski to office. Two attempts by the communists to form governments failed, however.
On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist and Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in more than 40 years, a non-communist led the Polish government.
In December 1989, the Sejm approved the “Balcerowicz Plan”--named after Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz--to transform the Polish economy rapidly from central planning to a free-market, amended the constitution , and renamed the country the "Republic of Poland." The PZPR dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland.
The Republic of Poland
The Republic of Poland in the early 1990s made great progress toward achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Walesa was elected President for a 5-year term. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, at Walesa's request, formed a government and served as its Prime Minister until October 1991, introducing world prices and greatly expanding the scope of private enterprise.
Poland held its first free parliamentary elections in 1991. Those and subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections have been conducted freely and fairly. Incumbent governments have transferred power smoothly and constitutionally in every instance to their successors. The post-Solidarity center-right and post-Communist center-left have each controlled the parliament and the presidency since 1991.
In 2005, Poles elected Law and Justice (PiS) candidate Lech Kaczynski to a five-year term as President, and gave a plurality of votes to PiS in the parliament. In mid-2006, the President's twin brother, PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski took over as Prime Minister from Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. After parliamentary elections in 2007, Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform (PO) became Prime Minister in a governing coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL). In a snap election after the 2010 plane crash in Smoleńsk that killed President Kaczynski, Bronisław Komorowski defeated the late President's brother Jaroslaw to become President.
In parliamentary elections in October, 2011 PO again won a plurality of seats (207 of 460), enabling Donald Tusk to continue his party's governing coalition with PSL and to become the first Polish Prime Minister to be elected for a second consecutive term since the fall of communism. The 2011 election marked the emergence of a new political party, "Palikot Movement" (RP), which received 10% of the vote and became the third largest party in the Sejm after PO and PiS.
The government consists of a council of ministers led by a Prime Minister, typically chosen from the majority coalition in the bicameral legislature's lower house (Sejm). The President is elected every 5 years, and no individual may serve more than two terms. The President is the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The judicial branch plays a minor role in policy-making.
The parliament consists of the 460-member Sejm and the 100-member Senate, or upper house. In August 2002, the electoral law was amended, reintroducing the d'Hondt method of calculating seats, which provides a premium for the leading parties. Parties represented in the Sejm in order of number of seats are Civic Platform (PO), Law and Justice (PiS), Palikot Movement (RP), Polish People’s Party (PSL), Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Poland United (SP), a PiS splinter group formed in November 2011, plans to become a formal party in 2012.
Government Type: Republic
Capital: Warsaw - 1.71 million (2009)
Other Major Cities: Krakow 756,000 (2009)
Administrative divisions: 16 provinces (wojewodztwa, singular - wojewodztwo);
Independence Date: 11 November 1918 (republic proclaimed);
Notable earlier dates:
- A.D. 966 (adoption of Christianity, traditional founding date),
- 1 July 1569 (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created)
Legal System: accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; and accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction
International Environmental Agreements
poland is party to international agreements on: Air Pollution, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. It has signed, but not ratified international agreements on: Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, and Air Pollution-Sulfur 94.
This image, taken by astronauts onboard the International Space Station, shows widespread flooding along the Vistula River in southeastern Poland. A major river in Poland, the Vistula originates on the western slopes of the mountain Barania Góra in the Carpathian Mountains in southern Poland. The river winds its way northward for 1,047 kilometers (651 miles), through major cities such as Krakow and Warsaw, to Gdansk Bay on the Baltic Sea. Several towns have been completely or partially inundated including Gorzyce, Sokolniki, and Trze?? in addition to large numbers of agricultural fields (normally green as visible at image top and bottom right). While the flooding illustrated here is extensive, it represents but a small “snapshot” of conditions that have developed in Eastern Europe over the past one to two weeks.
Spring flooding of rivers is not an uncommon occurrence in Poland but this event has been described as the most serious flood in several decades. Severe floods were recorded in 1570, 1584, 1719, 1891, and 1997, with the first records of local embankments for flood control dating from the thirteenth century. By 1985, 370 rivers in Poland (including the Vistula) had been completely or partly embanked along a total length of 9,028 kilometers (5,610 miles) for some degree of flood mitigation. In the spring of 2010, heavy rains caused high waters in the Vistula River, first in southern Poland. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated as the river level rose and broke through waterlogged dikes and embankments. The flood surge then moved northward through Warsaw, continuing towards the Baltic Sea.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 63.1 cu km (2005)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 11.73 cu km/yr (13% domestic, 79% industrial, 8% agricultural)
Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 304 cu m/yr (2002)
Poland has a strong agricultural heritage with many products in high demand such as high-quality fruits and vegetables, honey, hams, sausages, and dairy. It is a leading producer in Europe of dairy, apples, potatoes, and rye, with significant production of rapeseed, grains, hogs, and cattle. Agriculture remains among the least productive sectors of the Polish economy, employing 16.1% of the work force while contributing 3.4% to the gross domestic product (GDP) for 2011 (est).
Roughly 1.6 million farmers are considered rural dwellers that have other employment off the farm and produce food mostly for their own consumption. These farms are small, usually no larger than 5 hectares (12.36 acres) and are highly inefficient. There are about 200,000 farmers with plots over 15 hectares (37.07 acres), and 24,000 with plots up to 200 hectares (494.21 acres). These farmers produce about 90% of the food and enjoy better access to strong management techniques and technology.
Poland successfully transformed its farm economy to market principles following the end of communism but has now entered a period of greater state control of the market due to its membership in the European Union. Poland’s agricultural policy is consistent with the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Land prices have increased dramatically, but less than 1% of farm land is traded each year due to the single area payment scheme for the EU's direct subsidies, intended initially to ease EU compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and to simplify payments in countries with limited administrative capacity. This approach assigns subsidies based on land use and thus encourages small farmers to hold onto land or lease it rather than sell to neighbors. Subsidies have become almost half of total farm income in Poland.
Poland remains a net exporter of food products, including confectionery, processed fruit and vegetables, meat, and dairy products. The trade surplus in this sector is shrinking, however, Polish processors often rely on imports to supplement domestic supplies of wheat, feed grains, vegetable oil, and protein meals, which are generally insufficient to meet domestic demand. Imports have also risen in response to growing middle-class demand for more variety and year-round availability of their food choices. Finally, Poland has begun to import significant quantities of primary foodstuffs as it has opened borders with larger, more efficient producers in other EU nations. Poland imports significant quantities of pork from other EU member states, and in 2008 became a net importer. Attempts to increase domestic feed grain production are hampered by the short growing season, poor soil, and the small size of farms.
Agricultural products: potatoes, fruits, vegetables, wheat; poultry, eggs, pork, dairy
Irrigated Land: 1,160 sq km (2008)
Natural Resources: coal, sulfur, copper, natural gas, silver, lead, salt, amber, arable land
Snow dusts Poland and its neighbors in this true-color Aqua MODIS image from February 25, 2003. MODIS also detected a number of fires in the scene, all of which are marked in red. Countries shown are (clockwise from top left) Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Belarus, the Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Source. NASA. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalization since 1990 and today stands out as a success story among transition economies. It is the only country in the European Union to maintain positive GDP growth through the 2008-2009 economic downturn. GDP per capita is still much below the EU average, but is similar to that of the three Baltic states.
When the communists handed power to the Mazowiecki government in 1989, the economy was in crisis. Many basic goods were not available on store shelves. Inflation raged over 500% and the government could not afford to make payments to its international creditors. While the official unemployment rate was low, many workers were employed in state-supported, loss-making industries that the state could no longer afford to support. The democratically elected Mazowiecki government responded with the Balcerowicz Plan, which freed most prices, dramatically reduced state control over the Polish economy, and clamped down on runaway inflation. The international community supported the Balcerowicz Plan with debt restructuring and fresh loans. With stability restored, Poland was able to offer its well-educated, low-wage workforce, its position in Europe’s center, and its tariff-free access to European Union (EU) markets to attract foreign investment--all with the goal of bringing Polish incomes up to the levels of those in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Poland joined the EU in 2004. Since that time, its rate of its economic growth has outpaced those of the U.S. and of its EU partners. Poland also has made progress in closing gaps in personal income and GDP per capita when compared to the EU-27 average, but those gaps remain wide. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has played a significant role in supporting Poland’s labor-intensive and medium-technology sectors. FDI has also driven the growth of Poland’s motor vehicle, electrical machinery, and service centers sectors. Poland's shale gas resources are attracting additional FDI, and the sector may prove to be significant for the Polish economy.
Poland's economy has weathered the economic crisis that began in 2008 better than all of its EU colleagues, showing a cumulative 15.8% growth in GDP from 2008 to 2011. Forecasts of GDP growth in 2012 range from 2.5% to 3.2%--the highest projected growth rate among the EU-27. Key factors in this success have been a well-timed fiscal stimulus at the outset of the crisis, effective use of EU transfer funds, low financial exposure of the well-managed banking sector to the sovereign debt of troubled countries, and the insulation Poland enjoys through its floating currency and its relatively small traded sector. Unemployment was at the EU average of 10.1% in January 2012, while inflation was relatively high at 4.3% in 2011.
Despite its relatively good recent record, certain features of the Polish economy may limit its growth potential:
- Low labor force activity rate of 66.5%, compared to a 77.4% EU average (data reflects able-bodied adults ages 15-64).
- Weaknesses in road and rail infrastructure.
- Low research and development spending at 0.74% of GDP in 2010, compared to an EU average of 2%.
While agriculture remains heavily protected thanks to the CAP, Poland’s transformation exposed its industries to global competition. Before World War II, Poland's industrial base was concentrated in the coal, textile, chemical, machinery, iron, and steel sectors whereas today it extends to motor vehicles, fertilizers, petrochemicals, machine tools, electrical machinery, and electronics. Polish industry suffered widespread damage during World War II, and many resources were directed toward reconstruction after the war. The communist economic system imposed in the late 1940s created large and unwieldy economic structures operated under a tight central command. In part because of this systemic rigidity, the economy performed poorly even in comparison with other economies in Central Europe. The reforms of the early 1990s included a widespread program to sell low-productivity, state-owned companies to private investors. The results of reform include more efficient, high-productivity producers, with a private sector that now accounts for over two-thirds of GDP. Nonetheless, the government has retained control of many large, state-owned enterprises, particularly in the transport (aviation and rail), mining, chemical, energy, finance, and defense sectors. Many Polish economists identify privatization of these government-run companies as the incomplete task of Poland’s economic transformation. With this in mind, the PO-PSL government implemented an ambitious privatization program from 2009-2011 and is planning to privatize an additional 300 firms by 2015, although without surrendering control of key enterprises in strategic sectors.
The EU is Poland's dominant trade partner accounting for 60% of its imports and 80% of its exports. Neighboring Germany is by far Poland's most important trading partner, accounting for a quarter of the value of Polish trade. Most Polish imports are energy and capital goods needed for industrial retooling and for manufacturing inputs, rather than consumption goods. Similarly, its major exports are cars, machinery, furniture, and iron/steel products. Poland, a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union, applies the EU's common external tariff to goods from other countries--including the U.S. While foreign trade is an important part of the Polish economy, Poland remains much less trade dependent than its Central European neighbors.
Opportunities for trade and investment continue to attract investors from around the world into all sectors. The American Chamber of Commerce in Poland, founded in 1991 with seven members, now has more than 300 members. Strong economic growth potential, a large domestic market, tariff-free access to the EU, and political stability are the top reasons U.S. and other foreign companies do business in Poland.
For 2012, the coalition government has proposed further deficit-reducing reforms and to fulfill its promise to enact business-friendly reforms.privatization.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $765.6 billion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $531.8 billion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $20,100 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 63% (2011 est.)
Industries: machine building, iron and steel, coal mining, chemicals, shipbuilding, food processing, glass, beverages, textiles
Currency: Zlotych (PLN)