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POLAND : HISTORY

The Polish state formed over a 1,000 years ago under the Piast dynasty. The name Polska (Poland), applied in the early 11th century, comes from an ancient Slavic tribe known as the Polanie (field or plains dwellers), who settled in the lowlands between the Odra (Oder) and Wisla (Vistula) rivers sometime after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century . Poland reached its Golden Age near the end of the 16th century under the Jagiellonian dynasty, when Poland was one of the richest and most powerful countries in Europe. 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 amongst themselves. The country ceased to exist soon afterwards for 123 years, after partitions by its neighbours Russia, Austria and Prussia.

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, known as the People's Republic of Poland, but its government was comparatively tolerant and progressive. After World War II Polish territory suffered a substantial net loss, as the land ceded to the USSR in the east was nearly double that acquired from Germany in the west.

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. In 1989 the first free elections in Poland's post-World War II history concluded the Solidarity movement's struggle for freedom and resulted in the defeat of Poland's communist rulers.

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 currently suffers low GDP growth and high unemployment.


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