Poland (Polish: Polska), officially the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country in Central Europe. It is bordered to the west by Germany (Oder-Neisse border), to the south by the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to the east by Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine and to the north by the Baltic Sea and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Poland has an area of 311,888 km² and a population of 38,512,000 (2011). The capital and largest city of the country is Warsaw. Politically, Poland is a parliamentary republic and a unitary state, divided into 16 voivodeships. Poland is a member of many international organizations, including the European Union, the United Nations, NATO, the World Trade Organization and the OECD.
Despite the ravages of World War II, much of Poland's cultural heritage has been preserved. In 2019, 16 Polish heritage sites were on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since the end of communism and the transition to a free market economy, Poland has been a strong economic power in Central Europe.
The word Polen comes from the Polish word Pole, which means field or plain. However, the word Polska, meaning Poland in Polish, is derived from the words pola and lasy, meaning fields and forests.
Most historians place the foundation of a Polish state in 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of a territory more or less similar to modern-day Poland, converted to Christianity. His son Bolesław the Brave was crowned first king and strengthened the position of the young state in Central Europe. In 1025 the Kingdom of Poland (1025-1385) was founded.
Under King Casimir the Great (reign from 1333 to 1370), Poland modernized; the University of Krakow (1364) was founded, the economy grew strongly and the country expanded eastwards. In 1386 Poland and Lithuania were merged in personal union into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under the rule of Władysław II Jagiełło, King of Poland, Grand Prince of Lithuania (1386-1444). The Polish-Lithuanian Empire was the largest empire in Europe by area between 1386 and 1572, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, with present-day Belarus and large parts of present-day Ukraine within its borders.
Poland received the first written constitution in Europe in 1791. The reform process ended with the division of Poland under Russia, Austria and Prussia (1772, 1792 and 1795, see: Polish Divisions). The Duchy of Warsaw, founded during the Napoleonic Wars, was annexed by the Russian tsars.
Between 1795 and 1918, two major uprisings took place with the aim of restoring a sovereign Poland. Both revolts, in 1830 and 1863, failed, resulting in greater repression of the rulers. However, Poland experienced a strong flourishing of (mostly clandestine) cultural life, which was important in maintaining the Polish aspiration for independence. In 1915 Austria-Hungary and the German Empire established the Regency of Poland in the former Congress Poland, but old Polish areas such as the province of Posen (Poznań, Wielkopolska) were not part of this.
In 1569, Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the Union of Lublin. This union lasted until 1795, when the Polish territory was divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia.
Poland regained its independence in 1918 in the form of the Second Polish Republic. In that war Poland stood with its back against the wall for a long time. In the end they won and took a large piece of Russian territory as a buffer zone. The Russians had never forgotten that, and was one of the reasons why the Soviet Union concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
World War II began in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Russians got their leave