EARLY HISTORY:: The history of Poland is a head-spinning, and occasionally heart-breaking tale of incredible high times and terrible low points. It starts with the arrival of West Slavic tribes who settled in the lands now known as Poland sometime in the mid-first millennium. This proto-Poland formed one part of the early Czech-dominated state of Great Moravia (833-907).
Polans (western). Wikipedia Commons.
The collapse of Great Moravia along with the arrival of Christian missionaries led to the Polish Duke Mieszko accepting Catholic baptism and founding Poland’s first royal dynasty, the Piasts, in 966. Poland was recognized as a Christian kingdom in 1026 under Boleslaw I. The kingdom faced continual threat of invasion by Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and others, not to mention the political maneuverings of the Holy Roman Empire. Kraków became the capital in 1038 and would remain so until 1596. Wawel Castle was built on a hill in Kraków first inhabited by Paleolithic peoples some 50,000 year earlier.
Wawel Castle. 1617 woodcut rendering by Georg Braun, Frans Hogenberg. Wikipedia Commons.
The kingdom of Poland developed steadily under the Piast dynasty, with agriculture and trade its economic mainstays and the Catholic church dominating cultural and intellectual life. The Polish Pagans resisted Catholicism in several uprisings, and Pagan tribes in Prussia and Lithuania posed a further threat. The Piast rulers invited a crusading German order known as the Teutonic Knights to assist in subduing the Pagans. Rather than being Poland’s saviors, the knights proved a nuisance in their own right, seizing territory and forming a new state of their own that posed a new, Christian threat to Poland that would lead to centuries of conflict.
Codex Manesse, UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 264r: Der Tannhäuser, from
FROM TATAR INVASION TO THE JAGIELLONIAN DYNASTY ::
The Tatar-Mongol invasion of 1241 devastated much of Poland and left Kraków in ruins. Further Mongol raids in subsequent decades complicated reconstruction and led to political turmoil, with the rule of Kazimierz the Great in the early fourteenth century standing out as one of the high points of the post-Mongol period. The next major turning point was the Jagiellonian Dynasty, a 1386 royal union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania placing both countries under the authority of a Lithuanian king descended from the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, with the two countries retaining their own parliaments, armies and legal systems. The Jagiellonian dynasty ruled over Poland and Lithuania continued the work of building up Poland along with Lithuania. One major landmark of Jagiellonian rule was the establishment of Jagiellonian University in 1400, Poland’s—and Eastern Europe’s—first university, where many of the greatest figures in Polish history would study, from scientist Nicholas Copernicus in the 15thcentury to the Polish pope John Paul II in the 20th.
Statue of Nicholas Copernicus, keeping an eye on his alma mater, Jagiellonian University.
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN THE JAGIELLONIAN PERIOD ::
Though today Poland is often labeled a “Catholic country,” and does indeed have a Catholic majority, there have always been other religions in Poland. These include the pre-Christian Pagans, whose religion was suppressed but whose traditions lived on, with some revival occurring in recent times. We also must acknowledge the Muslim Tatars, who became valued allies in the struggles of Poland-Lithuania against the Teutonic Knights. They were invited to settle in the country, and were not required to become Christians. Polish Tatars also served with distinction in the Siege of Vienna in 1683, led by the Polish king Jan Sobieski, in this way demonstrating their loyalty to the Polish Crown even when it involved fighting the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Sultan.
Polish Tatar mosque in Kruszyniany, Poland. Wikipedia Commons.
Poland’s religious spectrum also included Eastern Orthodox Christians and the so-called “Greek Catholic” or Uniate Christians, who accepted the authority of the Pope of Rome but practiced Orthodox style liturgy, in Greek language, along with the veneration of icons.
St. Norbert’s Church (Greek-Catholic), in Kraków. Wikipedia Commons.
The promotion of the Uniate Church in Polish-controlled regions of Western Ukraine was greatly irritating to Ukrainian Orthodox believers and was one of the factors which led to the massive Khmelnitsky Uprising against Polish rule and the Uniate and Catholic churches in the 1650s. Because Polish estates and businesses often had Jewish managers, Jews were also targeted in the Khmelnitsky Uprising in one of the worst massacres of Jews in Eastern Europe prior to the Nazi Holocaust.
This brings us to consider the largest non-Catholic community that ever developed in Poland, which is, of course, the Jewish one. Jews became a permanent feature of Polish life after King Boleslaw V granted them a charter of protection to work and live in Poland in 1264, from which time their numbers would grow to become substantial minorities in many towns and cities. There would be times when Polish Jews would endure episodes of intolerance and brutality, such as the aforesaid Khmelnistsky Uprising, but on the whole, Poland was a place of refuge and well-being for Jews until the twentieth century and the Holocaust.
The Reception of the Jews in Poland, by the great Polish historical epic painter, Jan Matejko (1889). Wikipedia Commons.
The 1264 Polish charter of protection for Jews settling in Poland was followed by, and likely helped to inspire, a similar Lithuanian charter in 1388, issued by Grand Duke Vytautas the Great, who also invited Muslim Tatars to settle in Lithuania.
Vyautas the Great, as pictured by Jan Matejko in his 1878 painting, The Battle of Grunwald.
The inclusive Polish-Lithuanian attitude toward other religious communities and acceptance of religious and ethnic pluralism is one of the most amazing features of the period, and is something that Poles and Lithuanians look back on with pride. Another important example of a positive Polish attitude toward its Jewish community was the unique governmental structure that developed in Poland and Lithuania, the Council of the Four Lands (the Va’ad Arba Aratzot, which sometimes included more than four “lands,” making the name more metaphorical than literal), a Jewish administration through which Jewish officials collected taxes for the Polish crown, handled internal Jewish affairs including legal and commercial disputes, and regulated relations with the larger society, from the 16ththrough the 18thcenturies. Until the establishment of the state of Israel in the 20thcentury, this was the most successful example of Jewish self-government anywhere in the world.
Map of the territories under jurisdiction of the Council of the Four Lands.
For many centuries, Poland-Lithuania had the highest Jewish population of any region in the world, with Yiddish as an important lingua francafor Jews in Poland-Lithuania and beyond, enabling trade, cultural exchange and mutual support between Jews in different areas. The new Jewish sect of Hasidism, with its ecstatic and unconventional and, at the time, quite shocking forms of worship, developed in the Ukrainian region of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, with its founder the healer and teacher Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), better known as the Ba’al Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name), which is often further abbreviated as the Besht.
Painting of the Ba’al Shem Tov by Shoshannah Brombacher.
Interestingly, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was not only the birthing ground of Hasidism but also the home of its most fierce and principled opposition, namely the sect of the Mitnagdim led by the great Jewish Lithuanian scholar, Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797), better known as the Gaon (genius) of Vilna, after settling in Vilnius where he spent most of his life.
Portrait of the Vilna Gaon. Wikipedia Commons.
As a titan of traditional Jewish learning, the Gaon was dead-set against the new movement, which he felt improperly deemphasized traditional study and provided unreliable short-cuts to dangerously ungrounded knowledge of the Kabbalah and other matters best left to the Jewish elite. Accordingly, he did his best to have its leaders shunned and even arrested and imprisoned by both Jewish and state authorities. This led to decades of intra-Jewish conflict between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim. Eventually, the tensions would diminish and Hasidism would be accepted as part of the larger Jewish family in Poland-Lithuania.
THE SIEGE OF JASNA GÓRA AND THE MIRACLE OF CZESTACHOWA ::
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth went through a miserable period in the mid-17thcentury, from about 1654-1670. It was repeatedly invaded and subjected to massive devastation, from pillaging to plague. In this nightmarish era, which has become known as “the Deluge,” Poland and Lithuania were invaded first by Russia, from the east, then by Sweden, from the west, during the protracted international conflict known as the Second Great Northern War. In 1655, the monastery of Jasna Góra in the Polish town of Czestachowa, with a shrine of the Virgin Mary centered on a holy icon painting of Mary as a Black Madonna, became a site of resistance to the Swedish army. Though greatly outnumbered, the monks and their supporters at the monastery managed to hold out, and when the siege of Jasna Góra ended with a Swedish retreat, an unexpected and nearly-miraculous reversal of Polish fortune, Czestachowa became a doubly sacred site, as both a place of patriotic resistance to foreign invasion, and the home of the holiest object in Polish Catholic tradition. It would in later centuries again play an important role as a rallying point of Polish resistance to Russian Tsarist rule in the 19thcentury and Nazi occupation in the mid-20th.
The Black Madonna of Jasna Góra, in Czestachowa, Poland. Wikipedia Commons.
The Defense of Jasna Góraby Polish painter Janvier Suchodolski (1845). Wikipedia Commons.
Worship at the Shrine of the Black Madonna at Czecstochowa today.
DECLINE AND DIVISION: THE NEAR-DISAPPEARANCE OF POLAND ::
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at its peak in 1648. Wikipedia commons.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth went into a decline following the Deluge and the Khmelnitsky Uprising from that would end in the neighboring empires of Prussia, Austria and Russia carving it up like a helpless pierogi in a process known as “Partition.” The twilight of the once-mighty Commonwealth began with the dying out of the Jagiellonian Dynasty in 1596, which ushered in a pattern of political upheavals and meddling by neighboring states, a long period of parliamentary paralysis, and increasing Russian co-optation of various noblemen and royalty. The first Partition came in 1772, the second in 1793, the third and final in 1795. The final years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were tumultuous, bold and creative, including a rebellion against Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski known as the “Bar Confederacy” from 1768-1772 that paved the way for the first Partition, the mobilization of the formerly moribund parliament to create Europe’s first democratic constitution, in 1791, and an anti-Russian campaign in 1795 led by Tadeusz Kościuszko, an amazing figure who had also served as a commander in George Washington’s army in America’s war of independence, in 1795. Most of Poland became the western provinces of the Russian Tsarist Empire, with the region around Kraków becoming part of the Austrian Empire and the northern, coastal lands, including the port city of Gdánsk, coming under Prussian rule.
The hopes of the Polish people to have their republic restored were briefly borne aloft by none other than Napoleon, who rewarded Polish support for his expanding empire by establishing a Duchy of Warsaw in lands formerly partitioned by Prussia and Russia, in 1807. With the defeat of Napoleon, most of this territory reverted to Russia, which attempted to placate Polish sentiment by transforming the former Duchy of Warsaw into a semi-autonomous Polish state known as the Congress Kingdom, ruled by a Polish “king” subservient to the Russian Tsar. When Poland rose in rebellion against Russian rule in1830-31, the limited but significant autonomy of the Congress Kingdom was done away with, and the region was placed under strict Russian control for the rest of the century, indeed until the collapse of the Russian Tsarist Empire in WW I. A similar drama transpired in southern Poland around Kraków, which was granted limited autonomy as the “Free Republic of Kraków” in 1815, only to lose this status after a rebellion against its Austrian overlord in 1846, with Austrian authorities taking direct control. One interesting outcome of Austrian rule that today’s visitor to Kraków may well applaud is the demolition of the city’s once-formidable defensive walls to create the spacious “Planty” gardens that provide a pleasant walking circuit around the Old City of Kraków.
THE REBIRTH OF POLAND AFTER WORLD WAR ONE ::
For a country that had lost its independence due to the meddling of the Russian, Austrian and German empires, the collapse of all three of these empires in the wake of World War One could only be a cause for celebration. The Treaty of Versailles granted Poland recognition as an independent state, but its boundaries were left undefined, leading to confusion, conflict and even war with adjoining states that continued for several years. Some in Poland hoped to recreate a new version of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, while others had more modest hopes to reclaim some portion of that state’s vast former territory, and the most important Polish leader of this period, Marshall Piłsudski, hoped to create a federation of former Commonwealth states that had now become independent countries. The most ferocious conflict came with the emerging USSR, as both Poland and the Soviet state sought portions of Ukraine and Belarus. There was also war with Poland’s former partner Lithuania, as each claimed the city of Vilnius, which was on the one hand the ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania but on the other hand had by this time a Polish majority population. When the borders of the new Poland were set in 1922, Vilnius was Polish, the Lithuanian capital became Kaunas and the more westerly portions of Ukraine and Belarus were placed within the boundaries of the Second Polish Republic. Vilnius would change hands again and become the Lithuanian capital once more after WW II when the USSR seized Lithuania and transformed it into a Soviet republic.
From Wikipedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poland1939_physical.jpg,
By Mariusz Paździora [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
There is a legend about the three forefathers of Slavonic nations. There were three brothers Lech, Czech and Rus who wandered with their kin tribes away from the original Slavonic settlements in the present area of Ukraine (between the Vistula and the Dnepr rivers). Rus moved to the east while the other two wandered with their people westwards. Lech stayed in the lowlands and established his town near a white eagle’s nest (the white eagle is the country’s coat of arms). Czech went more to the south.
Slavonic tribes came to Poland in the 6th century AD. The first town of the Polan tribe was Gniezno, along with Poznan, the oldest capital of Poland. It was there, where the first royal dynasty resided, the Piasts, who drew their pedigree from the mythical Piast, a wheelwright who founded a dynasty that ruled until 1370. The Polan tribe dwelled in the western areas of today’s Poland, in Wielkopolska, whereas Krakow was the central settlement of the Wislan tribe.
966 Mieszko I, (a member of the Piast dynasty, the creator of the Polish state) was baptised at the occasion of his marriage to the Czech princess Doubrava. What follows was the christening of the previously pagan country.
997 Bishop Adalbert dies. St Adalbert – the bishop of Prague decided to bring to Christianity to pagan Prussians living in Northern Poland. He founded Gdansk although he was later killed on that mission. His remains were transferred to Gniezno. Adalbert became the first Polish saint and three years later the first archbishopric was established in Gniezno.
1025 Boleslaw the Brave was crowned as the first Polish king, this mighty ruler deposed Otto III (Roman Emperor) to become the lord of all Slavonic people. The two monarchs met at the famous Gniezno summit in 1000. Boleslaw died one year after his coronation ceremony.
1038 – 1050Poznan and Gniezno were ravaged during a punitive trip of a Czech prince wishing to obtain the relics of St. Adalbert in Gniezno. Then the royal court under Kazimierz the Restorer moved to Krakow.
1109 Boleslaw the Wrymouth gained successive victories against German troops. He managed to incorporate large parts of Silesia and Pomerania. His political program of dominating western provinces was repeated as late as post WWII in a campaign to regain the “originally” Polish areas.
1226 Mazovian Prince Conrad invited the Order of Teutonic Knights to Northern Poland in order to gain their help against the adamantly pagan Prussians (a Baltic tribe). The knights were not very successful during the Crusades and it was in Poland (and the Kaliningrad enclave), where their dominions flourished. Teutonic Knights become later a dangerous challenge for the equally expansive Polish state.
1241 The Mongols invaded Poland (after destroying Kiev and Russia) and did most damage to the southern parts of the country, they were finally stopped in Silesia.
1333 Casimir the Great (III) came to the throne and started the golden era of the Polish Middle Ages: Wawel Castle was largely rebuilt and Krakow University founded in 1364.
1386 To face the threat from the Teutonic knights, Polish and Lithuanian dynasties united in Creva. Both independent states were ruled by one monarch coming from the Jagiellonian dynasty of Lithuania, they made their capital Krakow.
1410 One of the biggest medieval battles was fought at Grunwald (Tannenberg), where the joint Polish and Lithuanian forces stopped the aspirations of the Teutonic Knights.
1466 The treaty of Torun (Thorn) between Poland and the Teutonic Knights was signed and sworn, and Poland at last dominates Prussia and the City of Gdansk (Danzig).
EARLY MODERN AGES
1525 The Teutonic Order is secularised and became the vassal of Poland. One century later the Polish king grants the Brandenburg dukes the right to accede in Prussia, which led to the establishment of an enormous Prussian power two centuries later.
1543 The Copernican Revolution. Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik) published De Revolutionibus, he proposed the heliocentric theory, that the Earth rotates on an axis, and goes round the sun once in a year. In the 16th century it was still widely accepted that the Earth was the centre of the universe. The heliocentric theory was later proved by Galileo Galilei.
1550 (approx)Gdansk has more than 30,000 inhabitants, Krakow has 15,000 inhabitants and Poznan 5,000. Wroclaw (Breslau) has 20,000 but Silesia belonged to the Czech Crown at that time. Warsaw was still only a small capital of the Mazovia province. The majority of foreign trade was done via Free Town of Gdansk and around 70% of Polish exports constituted of grains (rye) and 30% cattle and furs. Only Gdansk produces furniture, clocks, ovens and valuable products.
1569 Lublin: The Polish Kingdom and the Great Duchy of Lithuania are connected into one union. The Ukraine was also a part of Poland. The union made Poland the largest country in Europe.
1587 Sigismund III Vasa (Zygmunt III), son of John III Vasa (King of Sweden), elected King of Poland, moved the Parliament and the court to Warsaw to bring himself closer to Sweden and to the centre of the kingdom.
1610 Battle of Klutsjino (Klusin) – The Russian Tsar was overthrown by Poles. Wladyslaw – son of Sigismund, was crowned Tsar in Moscow – the zenith of Polish power. This was followed by a series of wars against the Ukrainian Cossacks, the Swedes and the Turks. 90 % of state’s financial resources were spent on warfare.
1652 The Liberum Veto introduced – a manifestation of the great freedoms, which were enjoyed by the Polish nobility. One vote could obstacle the enactment of any bill in the Polish Parliament. The Political system fiound itself in a prolonged crisis causing Poland to experiment with the republican form of government. Eight per cent of population were often impoverished nobility and it is estimated that 120,000 noblemen had no land or property.
1655 The Beginning of the Swedish Wars (the so called “Deluge”). Charles X (Karol X) takes Warsaw and Krakow. Warsaw was captured and recaptured several times and 80% of its population was killed. Czestochowa took a miraculous resistance and finally Peace was restored in Oliwa in 1660.
1683 The legendary Battle of Vienna (the second siege of Vienna). Polish King John III (Jan III. Sobieski) managed to crush the Turks (Kara Mustafa), save the beleaguered city, and finally kill off the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
1721 The end of the Great Northern War, which was fought against Sweden. Although Sweden was defeated, Poland became dependent on Russia.
1764 Stanislaus Poniatowski (Stanisław Poniatowski) elected King of Poland. He was an enlightened ruler trying in vain to halt the collapse of the country.
1772 The first partition of Poland: the border areas were divided among Russia, Prussia and Austria.
THE MODERN AGE
1791The New Constitution was (May 3) granted by King Stanislaus Poniatowski. It was second achievement of such kind. Immediately after the American constitution, the throne was made hereditary, and the liberum veto abolished.
1794The Kosciuszko rebellion: Tadeusz Kosciusko had tough fights against Russians and Prussians. The following year Warsaw and Krakow were lost to Russia and Austria. This is known as the Third Partition of Poland, Poland was wiped off the map.
1807Napoleon Bonaparte’s first invasion of Poland. Poles saw hope in Napoleon and supported him during his attack on Russia. Napoleon becomes enamored to Maria Walewska in Warsaw. A year afterwards a semi-independent Duchy of Warsaw proclaimed
1810Fryderyk Chopin, the best known Polish piano composer, was born in Zelazowa Wola. After 1830 he had to spend last eighteen years of his life in exile.
1815After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo came the period of the “Holy Alliance” between Russia, Prussia and Austria. This association aimed to eliminate any radical movements. Tsar Alexander I granted Poland a constitution and the so-called Warsaw Kingdom governed by Russia. Galicia (the area around Krakow) was independent (until 1846) and then becomes a part of the Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian) monarchy.
1824Adam Mickiewicz – the most famous Polish poet was exiled and never returned back to Poland, (he died 1855 in Crimea).
1830The November Insurrection in Poland – an armed revolt against Russian rule quenched as late as in September 1831.
1848Warsaw connected with Vienna by rail. The end of serfdom in the Austrian part of Poland, also happened in the same year.
1863January Uprising in Poland against Russia – continuation of the adamant feeling towards Russification.
1893The Polish National League was formed in Warsaw.
THE 20th CENTURY
1914First World War begins. Most fights take place on the eastern front fought on the territory of the future Poland (Galicia).
1918In November Poland was proclaimed as an independent country. Marshall Józef Pilsudski becomes “chief of the state”. The young state has unstable boundaries and a series of wars, unrest and uprisings with neighbouring countries, Bolshevik Ukraine, Germany, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia takes place as there was a general trend to make countries as big as possible (historical and national principles). In 1920, the “Warsaw miracle” took place, as the Polish army stopped the advance of the Bolshevik army into central Europe. Poland gains big territories in the east. Later it occupies Vilnius (Wilno) and halves the Austrian part of Silesia (the other half acceded to Czechoslovakia).
1921The Modern Polish constitution was formed. Poland was a republic (until 1926), the national bank reformed, mining was developed in Silesia and the construction of the first Polish port in Gdynia took place. The country was unstable though. The first President, Narutowicz, was assassinated in Warsaw one year later. To introduce order, Józef Pilsudski organizes q coup in 1926.
1939September 1st, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi’s begin bombing Westerplatte, Gdansk and WW II begins. The Soviet Union invades eastern Poland on September 17. Within one month Poland defeated. These happenings are a consequence of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23rd.T the pact stipulated non-aggression between Germany and the USSR.
1943The Warsaw Ghetto uprising (April 19th): It was the Heroic, yet hopeless action of Jews besieged in the small Warsaw ghetto. It followed mass transports of Jews from Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka and Auschwitz concentration camps. Out of 450.000 people, which had originally been squeezed into the small ghetto’s area a mere 300 survived. The ghetto area was turned into complete rubble.
1944The Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupants breaks out on August 1st – The city fought back for two months until all resistance is violently suppressed two and a half moths later. In an act of revenge, the whole city is then systematically destroyed and completely flattened.
1945Poland finally liberated by the Russian Red Army, the exiled government returns from London, but the country finds itself gradually under the Soviet dominance. Following the Potsdam agreement the borders change significantly – the whole country moves geographically 300 -500 kilometres to the west. Originally Polish areas in the east are incorporated into the USSR and their inhabitants settle originally German cities in the West: Wroclaw (Breslau), Gdansk (Danzig) and Szczecin (Stettin).
1955The Warsaw Pact was signed with a goal to compete with NATO. It comprised of the USSR and also Eastern Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. Albania was a member just for a short time. The huge Palace of Culture (Stalin’s apologetic gift to Poland) was completed at the same time.
1956Mass anti-Soviet riots in Poznan. The era of socialist revisionism begins and the truth about Stalin’s action’s revealed.
1967Rolling Stones play at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.
1978The Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla is elected as Pope John Paul II, becoming the first non-Italian pope since the 15th century. His pontificate is marked by attempts to bring the church closer to people, apostolic pilgrimages and respect to life.
1980A small strike in Gdansk spreads to the whole country. The Solidarity (Solidarnosc) trade-union movement began in the Gdansk shipyards. The movement has both political and economic goals and amazingly gained 10 million members almost immediately. Its leader, was a young electrician, Lech Walesa, who later received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.
1981December 13th: Martial Law was declared by Communist President General Wojciech Jaruzelski. A Curfew was introduced and the army exercises control over the country. The strong suppressive check on public and social life in Poland begins. Communist dignitaries explain later that it was necessary because the Soviet Union could invade the country just like what happened in Czechoslovakia (The Prague Spring) in 1968.
1989“Round table” negotiations took place and the communist party is forced to allow free elections. The elections end with an overwhelming victory of the non-communist Solidarity Party headed by Lech Walesa and Taduesz Mazowiecki. All new MPs are Solidarity’s candidates, and Mazowiecki becomes the first Non-Communist Prime Minister since the end of World War II. A year later Lech Walesa is elected President of Poland. He survived only one term and was defeated by former communist party representative Aleksander Kwasniewski. The former communists re-invented themselves as the SLD (Social Democrats). Kwasniewski was a highly popular President and remained in power for the maximum length of time allowed by the constitution. He is due to stand down in November 2005.
1991The Warsaw Pact dissolved, and The Cold War is officially ended.
1998Poland accepted into NATO and it begins the process of moving west.
2004May 1st. Poland joins the European Union, along with nine other candidate countries. It is difficult to foresee what the European future be like for Poland. Whatever Europe may be, Poland has always played (and often suffered) a visible part in its history and deserves to participate on this common project. The majority of European population is in its favor and let us hope that this ambitious project will prove successful and beneficial for the world.
2005April 2nd. Poland, and indeed the whole world suffers a huge loss when Polish Pope Jean Paul II dies in the Vatican, Rome. During late 2004 and his death, The Pope had suffered a number of illnesses, but vowed to continue his papacy. Until his death, The Pope had continued to touch the lives of millions worldwide, also reaching to those who weren’t catholic and showing them his love and faith in life. The world showed its grief in the final ours of this remarkable mans life as millions of people worldwide sat by TVs and radios waiting for news breaking only to say a prayer. Such a remarkable man was Pope Jean Paul II that new Pope Benedict XVI has already moved to make the Polish Pope a Saint.
2005 In 2005 October: Lech Kaczynski, centre-right politician, a former mayor of Warsaw defeated Donald Tusk who was a candidate of liberals, during presidential elections.
966 The ruler of Poland becomes a Christian and his people follow
1201-1238 Henry the Bearded rules Poland. His wife encourages German merchants and craftsmen to come and live in Poland
1241-42 The Mongols invade Poland but soon withdraw
1308 The Teutonic Knights take Pomerania including Gdansk
1333-70 Under Kazimierz the Great Poland expands her territory
1374 The Privilege of Koszyce makes the nobles exempt from most kinds of tax
1410 Poland and Lithuania utterly defeat the Teutonic Knights at the battle of Grunwald
1505 The king of Poland agrees that no political changes will be made without the consent of the nobles
1543 Copernicuspublishes his theory that the Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun
1569 Poland and Lithuania form a federation
1572 The Polish monarchy becomes elective
1573 The Compact of Warsaw allows freedom of worship in Poland
1767 Russia forces Poland to accept a treaty
1772 The first Partition of Poland takes place
1793 A second Partition of Poland takes place
1795 A third partition of Poland takes place
1815 At the Congress of Vienna the great powers divide up Poland
1830 Poles under Russian rule rebel but they are defeated
1863 Again the Poles rebel against the Russians but once again they are defeated
1918 After the First World War ends Poland becomes independent
1919-1921 Poland fights Russia
1921 A new constitution is published
1926 Pilsudski becomes dictator of Poland
1935 Pilsudski dies
1939 Germany invades Poland from the west. Russia invades Poland from the east.
1944 The Warsaw Uprising takes place
1945-47 The Russians impose Communism on the Poles
1956 Anti Communist riots take place in Poland
1970 More anti Communist riots take place
1980 Strikes take place in Poland
1981 The Communists impose martial law
1988 The Communists are forced to give and call elections
1989 Elections are held in Poland
1997 A new constitution is introduced in Poland
1999 Poland joins NATO
2004 Poland joins the EU