Poland is located in Central Europe, to the east of Germany. It is slightly smaller than New Mexico. Poland is named after the Slavic tribe, Polane. The word polane in Slavic means field or plane. This describes Poland?s terrain. Most of Poland is covered with small planes and gently rolling hills. Towards the south Poland is covered in mountains. Historically, Poland was an area of conflict because of its flat terrain and the lack of natural barriers on the North European Plain.
In Poland during the mid 1900?s more than forty Polish cities had a population of over 100,000 inhabitants. Five major cities have a population of over 500,000. Warsaw is Poland?s capital and by far has the largest population.
During most of Poland?s history, Poland was a highly multiethnic society which included Byelorussians, Ukrainians, Jews and Germans. Territorial changes after World War II however, changed the countries ethnic makeup. Today Poland has a relatively small ethnic diversity. 97.6% of Poland?s citizens are Poles, 0.6% are Ukrainians, 0.5% are Byelorussians, and 1.3% are German. There are also small communities of Slovaks, Czechs, Lithuanians and Russians. There are 10 million Poles living outside of Poland. The United States has the largest number of Polish citizens. However, Russia, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, and countries of the former Soviet Union also have sizable Polish communities.
Before World War II there were 3 million Jewish people living in Poland. However, the amount of Jewish residents in Poland communities decreased after World War II ended. The Nazis killed more than 90% of Jewish Poles that lived in Poland at the time. Those who survived left Poland and moved to Israel or to the west. In the early 1990?s it has been estimated that there were 10,000 Jew living in Poland.
Before World War II Poland was mostly agricultural and most of the population lived in rural areas. It was transformed into an industrial nation in 1945 when communists took control of Poland?s government. Today Poland produces agricultural and industrial products. Poland exports potatoes, fruits, vegetables, wheat, poultry, eggs, pork, beef, milk, cheese, manufactured goods, chemicals, machinery and equipment, livestock, mineral fuels and many other products. Poland exports all of these products to Germany, Russia, Ukraine, the Netherlands and France.
Soccer is a favorite pastime for Poles. Other favorite pastimes of Poles include camping, hiking, skiing, sailing, swimming, canoeing, hunting, fishing and the ancient tradition of horseback riding. Poland is known for breeding horses.
About 95% of Poles are Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church exerts an important influence on many aspects of Polish Life. Church attendance levels are high, especially in rural areas. Poland also has nearly fifty non-Catholic churches and many other religious groupings, including Jehovah?s Witnesses. The largest churches represented in the Polish Ecumenical Council, which was founded to promote cooperation between churches, are the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Augsburg Church. Easter and Christmas are very important religious holidays to Poles and are a big part of Polish culture.
During the late 18th century through the early 20th century the foreign powers that controlled Poland limited education to the privileged elite. Today, education occupies an important position in Polish society. Virtually the entire population of Poland(99%) aged fifteen and older can read and write. Education in Poland is free for children seven to fifteen years of age. Children attend school six days a week, two-hundred and forty days a year. Upon completion of the eight year elementary school program nearly all children enter the secondary school system. Those who don?t, attend vocational and technical schools. There are also a number of private schools, many of which are affiliated with the Catholic church. Poland has over 100 institutions of higher education, including eleven universities, twelve medical schools, seventeen schools of art and music and a number of specialized vocational colleges.
Poland has attained its highest artistic recognition in the field of literature. The greatest literary period is generally regarded as the Romantic period of the 19th century. The chief figures of this period were Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Sowacki, Zygmunt Krasinski, and Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Romanticism was followed by Realism, most notably in the novels of Bolesaw Prus, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Wadysaw Stanisaw Reymont. Also, many Polish writer have received the Nobel Prize. Polish artists have been influenced by western movements and trends. Polish folk arts and crafts range from pottery, fabrics, and embroidery to sculpture, graphics and paintings. Many Polish filmmakers, including Roman Polanski, have achieved international renown.
There is a long tradition of folk music and dance in Poland. The best known composer from Poland is Frederic Chopin. Chopin is known for bringing together the Polish folk tradition and other European musical styles. Karol Szymanowski is often regarded as the most well-known after Chopin.
Poland is a democratic state. The chief of state is the president. The president is elected by popular vote for a five year term. The prime minister and deputy prime ministers are appointed by the president. Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the National Council of the Judiciary for an indefinite period. Constitutional Tribunal judges are chosen by the Sejm for nine year terms. The Roman Catholic Church, the Solidarity (trade union) and the OPZZ(All Poland Trade Union Alliance) all have political power. To vote in Poland you must be eighteen years of age.
Poland has many systems of transportation. There are 24,313 km of railways;377,048 km of highways and 3,812 km of navigable rivers and canals. Poland has many ports and harbors including Gdansk, Gdynia, Gliwile, Kolobrzeg, Szcecin, Swinoujscile, Ustka, Warsaw and Wrocaw. There are also three heliports and ninety-two airports, seventy-four of which have paved runways.
Poland?s military is separated into three divisions. The Polish military consists of the Army, Navy, and Air and Air Defense Force. Out of 10,417,314 males ages fifteen to forty-nine who are available to serve in the military 8,104,484 are fit to join the military. Currently Poland has no international disputes.
Polish traditions are still followed in the life of many poles today. There are still communities that celebrate Polish heritage in many parts of the world. Poland Has contirbuted much of its culture to American society today.