Prehistory of Poland
Stone Age people lived in what is now Poland around 200,000 years ago. However, finds come only from the south of the country. It wasn’t until about 20,000 years ago that the border of the human-populated land shifted north. Around 5400 BC BC the people settled down and now practiced agriculture.
Different cultures followed one another, including ribbon ceramics and funnel cup cultures. From 3100 BC The culture of spherical amphora came up, followed by band ceramics. From 1500 to 500 BC The Lusatian culture occupied most of today’s Poland. It belongs to the Bronze Age. From around 750 BC Germanic tribes such as Goths and Vandals settled in the region. These moved on from 200 to the south and west. Western Slavs and Balts settled here from 500. The Western Slavs settled on the rivers, while the Prussians lived on the Baltic Sea.
From the Duchy to the Kingdom of Poland
In 960 Mieszko I rose to the rank of Duke of Poland. He came from the Slavic tribe of the Polans, from which the name Poland is derived. He subjugated the other West Slavic tribes and founded the Piast dynasty, which ruled Poland until 1386. Miezko converted to Christianity in 966, which Christianized Poland. Miezko’s son Boleslaw became the first king of Poland in 1025.
In 1040 the capital was moved from Gniezno to Krakow. In 1138 Poland was divided into the six duchies of Lesser Poland, Greater Poland, Pomerania, Pomerania, Silesia and Mazovia. They were not reunited until 1320 under Wladyslaw I.
Prince Jogaila of Lithuania married the heir to the throne of the deceased Polish king in 1386 and received the Polish royal crown. Lithuania and Poland were now ruled by one king in personal union. Jogaila founded the ruling house of the Jagellions.
In 1569 Poland and Lithuania merged into one state in the Union of Lublin. They were now not only ruled by a monarch, which is also called a personal union, but were also given joint administration. This is called a real union.
As an elective monarchy, the king was not determined by succession but by election. There was also a parliament, the Sejm. The nobility had a strong position. That is why one speaks of an aristocratic republic. Poland-Lithuania existed until 1791 and was one of the largest states in Europe for a long time.
History of Poland from the 18th century to today
Poland is divided
In the 18th century Poland lost its powerful position within Europe. Wars against Sweden and Russia weakened the country. Poland was divided for the first time in 1772. It lost a quarter of its land area to Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary.
Reforms in the remaining Poland and the adoption of a constitution should strengthen the state again. But that did not happen: Another two partitions followed and so from 1795 there was no longer a Polish state. The map on the left shows the partitions of Poland, a country beginning with P according to Countryaah.
In 1807 a small duchy of Warsaw was established as a vassal of France. In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, this became the so-called “Congress Poland”, which as a kingdom was bound to Russia in personal union and had to give up its remaining rights from the 1860s.
The second republic
It wasn’t until 1918, with the end of World War I, that Poland was re-established. This is how the Second Republic of Poland came into being. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 also determined the cession of territory by the German Reich to Poland. There were regions in West Prussia, Posen, Upper Silesia and East Prussia. This led to uprisings in Poznan and Upper Silesia. Upper Silesia was eventually divided.
The border in the east had not been precisely determined. This led to wars between Poland and Russia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania. Inside, the country had to be completely rebuilt. In addition to Poles, other nations also lived in the border areas. The former chief of staff Józef Pilsudski used Poland’s weakness for a coup. Until his death in 1935 he ruled Poland authoritarian.
Poland in World War II
In the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the German Reich and Soviet Russia divided Eastern Europe among themselves. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland (Polish campaign, invasion of Poland). The Second World War began. On September 17, 1939, the Red Army occupied eastern Poland.
During the occupation, the Germans murdered around three million Polish Jews. They set up concentration and extermination camps like Auschwitz or Treblinka. But Poles were also expelled and deported. 2.4 to 3 million Poles were murdered.
In 1944 the Warsaw Uprising broke out: Polish resistance fighters fought against the German occupiers for 63 days, then they had to give up in view of the hopeless situation. The Germans then murdered countless people – 150,000 to 200,000 people are assumed – and destroyed the city.
People’s Republic of Poland (1945-1989)
With the end of the Second World War, the borders were redrawn. The Oder-Neisse Line, i.e. a border along these two rivers, became the western border of Poland. Around five million Germans had fled the areas east of the border during the war. Now they could not return to East Prussia, Silesia or Pomerania. More people were displaced after the war.
The area around Kaliningrad (Königsberg), which formerly belonged to East Prussia, was conquered and incorporated by the Soviet Union. Poland came under the influence of the Soviet Union and became a communist state. Poland became part of the Eastern Bloc.
Over time, the economic problems grew. In 1980 there were numerous strikes. An electrician from the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, Lech Walesa, became the leader of the strikes and the newly formed independent union Solidarność (Polish for solidarity).
Loyal to the line, General Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law in December 1981. The leaders of Solidarność were arrested and the union banned. But there were also internal power struggles among the communists. To return to normal, martial law was finally repealed in July 1983. The detained opponents of the regime were released. Reforms have begun.
The round table
A referendum in 1987 resulted in a clear defeat for the government. Strikes broke out again. In 1989 the party leaders sat down at a “round table” with the opposition. Solidarność was permitted again. Free elections and the admission of other parties followed. The Third Polish Republic was founded.
Third Republic (since 1989)
The economy has now been transformed from a planned economy to a market economy. Lech Walesa was elected President in 1990 and remained in office for five years. A new constitution came into force in 1997. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.
From 2005 to 2007 the conservative PiS party won the elections. Its chairman is Jarosław Kaczyński. His twin brother Lech Kaczyński became president of the country in the same year. He died in a plane crash in 2010.
The PiS lost the early parliamentary elections in 2007 and the PO, a liberal-conservative party, took over the government until 2015. Donald Tusk was Prime Minister during this time (until 2014), followed by Ewa Kopacz for one year.
In 2015 Andrzej Duda became the new president of the country and the PiS won the parliamentary elections. She rules with an absolute majority. Beata Szydlo became the new Prime Minister. In December 2017, Mateusz Morawiecki replaced her after her resignation.