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Poland is to be found at the center of the European continent, with an area of 312,683 sq/km. It has a frontier of 3,582 km, including 528 km of coastline. To the west, the Polish/German border runs along the Oder and Neisse rivers. To the north, Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea and by Russia. Poland is separated from the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south by the Sudeten and Carpathian Mountains, whilst its eastern neighbors are Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine. In general, Poland is a flat country with an average height above sea level of 173 in (568 ft). Over 75% of the country lies below 200 m (650 ft). Poland gained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite country following the war, but one that 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, boosting hopes for acceptance to the EU. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999.

Poland's climate is greatly influenced by oceanic air currents from the west, cold polar air from Scandinavia and Russia, as well as warmer, sub-tropical air from the south. In winter, polar-continental fronts dominate, bringing crisp, frosty weather. The late summer and autumn months enjoy plenty of warm days, thanks to the influence of the dry, sub-tropical, continental air mass. The greatest amount of sunshine in summer is to be found on the Baltic coast, whilst in winter this is true of the Carpathian Mountains. In the mountains, at any time of year, the climate is dependent on the altitude. In Warsaw, temperatures range from between 200 to 250C (680 to 77'F) during the summer months and O' to -50C (320 to 23"F) in winter.

At the end of 19-93, Poland had a population of 38.5 million. It is estimated that this will rise to 39.5 million by the year 2000. In 1991, the average life expectancy was 66.1 years for men and 75.3 years for women. 61.8% of the population lived in cities in 1993. Polish is the official language.
About 60 percent of the population lives in cities. There are a number of large cities, including five with populations of more than 500,000. The largest is Warsaw, the capital, with about 1.7 million inhabitants. Lodz has approximately 850,000 people. Other large cities are Krakow (Cracow), Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, and Szczecin.


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