Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Poland (Polska)

Capital : Warsaw (Warszawa)

Size: 35 700 sq m Popn: 38 356 000


Around 800 BC, most of this area was inhabited by the Lusatian group who were probably ancestors of the Slavs. In Roman Imperial times, it was part of Germania which was never fully conquered. Poland became a Catholic Christian country in the C10th but tried to remain independent from the Franks by putting its churches under the direct protection of Rome. Mieszko, or Mieczyslaw, I (960-92), united the tribes of Greater or northern Poland in the late C10th. Under his son, Boleslav Chrobry (992-1025), the small Polish state acquired Masovia to the north, Lausitz, Silesia and Little Poland to the west and south and temporarily occupied Meissen, Bohemia and Moravia. In 1241, the country was devastated by the Mongols. German and Jewish refugees were encouraged to settle among the Slav population.

The first parliament met in 1331 and the country became prosperous under Casimir the Great (1333-70). Silesia became part of the kingdom of Bohemia in 1368 but under Casimir, Poland became a major territorial power in Europe, acquiring Ruthenia to the south in 1366. The northern coastal area was under the Germanic Order of Teutonic Knights but Poland profited from the trade route they opened to the Baltic Sea. However, their attempts to link their territory in Prussia with Livonia to the east and Pomerania in the west led to war with Poland after which Pomerelia, Danzig and other lands passed into Polish control. In 1386, Jadwiga, heiress to the Polish throne, married Jagiello of Lithuania (who became king as Wladyslaw II). The two countries were united to form the largest state in Europe although religious differences caused some problems and the empire of Casimir IV (1447-92) was short-lived. After the death of the last of the Jagiellonian dynasty in 1572, a series of elected kings followed.

The nobility became more powerful but Poland began to decline although there were some military successes. Stephen B« thory defeated Ivan the Terrible of Russia in 1581 and in 1683, John III Sobieski forced the Turks to end their siege of Vienna. The Cossacks of the Ukraine rebelled in 1648 and there was a long period of warfare in which the Ottoman Turks were also involved. Poland never recovered from its defeat in the war against Russia Sweden and Brandenburg and signed a treaty in 1686 which ceded Kiev and lands around the middle of the Dnieper to Russia. Dissension among the nobles, arguments over the royal elections, serfdom and the persecution of Protestants and Greek Orthodox Catholics left Poland open to interference by Austria, Russia and Prussia which led to the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772. In 1793, Prussia and Russia seized more land and a patriotic uprising led by Tadeusz Koíciusko was defeated. Russia, Austria and Prussia occupied the rest of Poland in 1795. After a brief period as the Duchy of Warsaw under Napoleonic France, the Congress of Vienna rearranged the division and reconstituted the Russian part as a kingdom under the Tsar. Severe repression followed uprisings in 1830 and 1863 and Russification attempts increased.

Germany occupied Poland during World War I and after the war the country was revived as an independent republic under JÙzef Pilsudski. He took advantage of the internal problems in Russia to invade Lithuania and the Ukraine but was driven back by the Red Army. Poland and the USSR agreed on a frontier east of the Curzon Line proposed by the British foreign secretary at the Versailles conference of 1919. The first years of independence were politically unstable, with 14 multi-party coalition governments from 1918-26. Pilsudski seized complete power in a coup and his government grew increasingly authoritarian. He died in 1935 and was succeeded by a military regime under Edward Ÿmigly-Rydz.

In April 1939, France and Britain made a pact to give Poland military aid if it was attacked. Germany invaded in September, beginning the Second World War, during which eastern Poland became part of the Nazi Reich. The rest was briefly occupied by the USSR in 1940-1 and was then treated as a German colony. Between four and six million Poles died as a result of Hitler's eugenic policies, about half of them Jewish. The country regained its independence after the war, and in 1946, ratified a treaty with the USSR which established its eastern frontier at the Curzon Line. Poland lost land in the east to Russia but gained land in the west from Germany. After elections, a 'people's republic' was formed in 1947 and Poland joined Comecon in 1949 and the Warsaw Pact in 1955. It was closely supervised by the USSR with Soviet marshal Roskossovsky serving as minister for war from 1949-56. Boleslaw Bierut brought in a harsh, Stalinist rule which led to the establishment of rural collectives and the persecution of Catholic Church opposition, including the arrest of Cardinal Stefan WyszyÕski in 1953. Opposition to Soviet 'exploitation' and food shortages led to serious strikes and riots in 1956.

Wladyslaw Gomulka took over as leader of the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP), reintroduced private farming and released the Cardinal. A sudden rise in food prices led to further strikes and riots in Gdansk (Danzig), Gdynia and Szczecin in 1970 and Edward Gierek replaced Gromulka as PUWP leader. He introduced a programme to raise living standards and the production of consumer goods but foreign debt rose and there were more strikes and demonstrations in 1976. After a visit by the newly elected Polish Pope, John Paul II, in 1979, opposition to the Gierek regime mounted and it was accused of corruption. There was poor harvest and an increase in meat prices in 1980, leading to strikes in Warsaw which spread across the country. The government tried to calm the situation by negotiations with unofficial strike committees but the Gdansk shipyard workers demanded the right to form free, independent trade unions. They were given the right to strike and the Solidarity (Solidarnoíc) union was formed under Lech Walesa. Gierek was replaced by Stanislaw Kania, but unrest continued as Solidarity's ten million members continued the campaign for a five-day working week and established a rural section.

Mounting food shortages and Soviet army activity on the Polish border led to the new PUWP leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, imposing martial law in December 1981. Trade union activity was banned, the leaders of Solidarity were arrested and a curfew was introduced. Jaruzelski headed a Military Council of National Salvation and five months of severe repression led to the USA imposing sanctions. When the curfew was removed in June 1992, further serious riots took place. Lech Walesa was released in November, martial law was suspended in December and the Military Council disbanded. The US sanctions were relaxed when large numbers of political prisoners and activists were released in 1984. There was some reform under Jaruzelski, including liberalization of the electoral system but Solidarity remained illegal. The economy and farm output improved slowly but a huge foreign debt remained and during 1988, industry and export were paralysed by a huge Solidarity-led strike for higher wages to cope with recent price rises. The government of Prime Minister Zbigniew Messner resigned and was replaced by a new administration under reform communist Mieczyslaw Rakowski.

Solidarity was legalized again in April 1989, the formation of opposition parties was tolerated and the Catholic Church given legal rights. A new 'socialist pluralist' constitution was drafted and in the national assembly elections of June, Solidarity took all but one of the seats they were allowed to contest (most were reserved for PUWP-backed candidates). Parliament elected Jaruzelski president in July and continued in the post after the formation of the 'grand coalition' in September under prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, editor of Solidarity's newspaper. The Western powers gave large amounts of aid and the IMF approved a tough austerity programme but living standards fell and unemployment rose. The PUWP became the Social Democracy Party in January 1990 and censorship was abolished in April. In July, members of the Solidarity caucus formed the Citizens' Movement Democratic Action Party (ROAD) under Zbigniew Bujak and Wladyslaw Frasyniuk to provide a credible alternative to the Walesa-oriented Solidarity Centre Alliance (SCA). The rupture within Solidarity became obvious when both Walesa and Mazowiecki contested the post of president in November 1990. Walesa won, but Mazowiecki only came third behind the previously obscure Stanislaw Tyminski, who had returned from Canada. Walesa chose economist and former Solidarity activist Krzysztof Bielecki as prime minister and his government included IMF-backed finance minister Lescek Balcerowicz and others from the previous administration.

Relations with the USSR deteriorated in early 1991 when Walesa was told that it would take three years to withdraw the 50 000 Soviet troops stationed in Poland. He refused to allow troops to pass through Poland on their way back to the USSR from other countries and a treaty was signed providing for their withdrawal by the end of 1993. A treaty of good-neighbourliness and friendly co-operation was signed with Germany in 1991. This confirmed the Oder-Neisse border and recognized the rights of the 500 000 Germans living in Poland. Three new political parties were formed. The Centre Alliance, a right of centre Christian Democratic group supported by Walesa and the Catholic Church, favoured a market economy. The Democratic Social Movement under Bujak was the successor of ROAD was supported by workers and farmers, demanded complete separation of church and state and was seen as the main rival of the SCA. Party X was led by Tyminski.

The IMF approved more major loans to support Poland's economic reform programme but discontent at the recession and decline of living standards caused industrial unrest. Bielecki offered his resignation in August 1991, complaining that the Sejm still contained many communists who did not support him, but parliament would not accept it or the government's budget cut proposals. Walesa asked it to give the government emergency powers to rule by decree until the next general election but it refused. Bielecki agreed to stay until Poland's first free elections were held in October. The voting did not produce a dominant party and Walesa suggested that he should combine the posts of president and prime minister for two years and head a 'national unity' grand coalition government but did not gain broad support. Broneslaw Geremek's left-of-centre coalition failed and in December, Walesa allowed the Centre Alliance representative, Jan Olszewki, a former Solidarity defence lawyer, to form a five-party centre-right coalition. It promised a more gradual approach to reform and to slow down privatization by concentrating on helping ailing state industries. Walesa asked for greater powers as president in April 1992 and Olszewski was ousted on a vote of no confidence in June but his successor, Waldemar Poldak, could not hold together a workable coalition. Walesa nominated Hanna Suchocka as his successor and Poland's first female premier.

During 1991-2, Poland's unemployment figures rose to over 11% and the GNP fell but inflation was reduced from 684% in early 1990 to 60%. Poland made an association agreement with the EC in 1992.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

tekeli.li home|Onomastikon home