Most Germans left Poland at the end of the war, while many Ukrainians and Belorussians lived in territories incorporated into the then-U.S.S.R. Small Ukrainian, Belorussian, Slovakian, and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders, and a German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole.
Independence for Poland was one of the 14 points enunciated by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Many Polish–Americans enlisted in the military services to further this aim, and the United States worked at the postwar conference to ensure its implementation.
However, the Poles were largely responsible for achieving their own independence in 1918. Authoritarian rule predominated for most of the period before World War II.
On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Ribbentrop–Molotov nonaggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet–controlled zones. On September 1, 1939, Hitler ordered his troops into Poland. On September 17, Soviet troops invaded and then occupied eastern Poland under the terms of this agreement. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Poland was completely occupied by German troops.
The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a government–in–exile, first in Paris and later in London, which was recognized by the Soviet Union. During World War II, 400,000 Poles fought under Soviet command, and 200,000 went into combat on Western fronts in units loyal to the Polish government–in–exile.
In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke relations with the Polish government–in–exile after the German military announced that they had discovered mass graves of murdered Polish army officers at Katyn, in the U.S.S.R. (The Soviets claimed that the Poles had insulted them by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports.) In July 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Poland and established a communist–controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" at Lublin.
Resistance against the Nazis in Warsaw, including uprisings by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and by the Polish underground, was brutally suppressed. As the Germans retreated in January 1945, they leveled the city.
During the war, about 6 million Poles were killed, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labor. More than 3 million Jews (all but about 100,000 of the Jewish population) were killed in death camps like those at Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Treblinka, and Majdanek.
Following the Yalta Conference in February 1945, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed in June 1945; the U.S. recognized it the next month. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the Communist Party. The communists then established a regime entirely under their domination.
Communist Party Domination
In October 1956, after the 20th ("de–Stalinization") Soviet Party Congress at Moscow and riots by workers in Poznan, there was a shakeup in the communist regime. While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime of First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka liberalized Polish internal life.
In 1968, the trend reversed when student demonstrations were suppressed and an "anti–Zionist" campaign initially directed against Gomulka supporters within the party eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population. In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, triggered by a price increase for essential consumer goods, reflected deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions in the country. Edward Gierek replaced Gomulka as First Secretary.
Fueled by large infusions of Western credit, Poland's economic growth rate was one of the worlds highest during the first half of the 1970s. But much of the borrowed capital was misspent, and the centrally planned economy was unable to use the new resources effectively. The growing debt burden became insupportable in the late 1970s, and economic growth had become negative by 1979.
In October 1978, the Bishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Polish Catholics rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.
In July 1980, with the Polish foreign debt at more than $20 billion, the government made another attempt to increase meat prices. A chain reaction of strikes virtually paralyzed the Baltic coast by the end of August and, for the first time, closed most coal mines in Silesia. Poland was entering into an extended crisis that would change the course of its future development.
The Solidarity Movement
On August 31, 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, led by an electrician named Lech Walesa, signed a 21–point agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecin and in Silesia. The key provision of these agreements was the guarantee of the workers' right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. After the Gdansk agreement was signed, a new national union movement––"Solidarity"––swept Poland.
The discontent underlying the strikes was intensified by revelations of widespread corruption and mismanagement within the Polish state and party leadership. In September 1980, Gierek was replaced by Stanislaw Kania as First Secretary.
Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the PZPR's authority following the Gdansk agreement, the Soviet Union proceeded with a massive military buildup along Poland's border in December 1980. In February 1981, Defense Minister Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski assumed the position of Prime Minister as well, and in October 1981, he also was named party First Secretary. At the first Solidarity national congress in September–October 1981, Lech Walesa was elected national chairman of the union.
On December 12–13, the regime declared martial law, under which the army and special riot police were used to crush the union. Virtually all Solidarity leaders and many affiliated intellectuals were arrested or detained. The United States and other Western countries responded to martial law by imposing economic sanctions against the Polish regime and against the Soviet Union. Unrest in Poland continued for several years thereafter.
In a series of slow, uneven steps, the Polish regime rescinded martial law. In December 1982, martial law was suspended, and a small number of political prisoners were released. Although martial law formally ended in July 1983 and a general amnesty was enacted, several hundred political prisoners remained in jail.
In July 1984, another general amnesty was declared, and 2 years later, the government had released nearly all political prisoners. The authorities continued, however, to harass dissidents and Solidarity activists. Solidarity remained proscribed and its publications banned. Independent publications were censored.
Roundtable Talks and Elections
The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May, and August 1988. In an attempt to take control of the situation, the government gave de facto recognition to Solidarity, and Interior Minister Kiszczak began talks with Lech Walesa on August 31. These talks broke off in October, but a new series––the "roundtable" talks––began in February 1989.
These talks produced an agreement in April for partly open National Assembly elections. The June election produced a Sejm (lower house), in which one–third of the seats went to communists and one–third went to the two parties which had hitherto been their coalition partners. The remaining one–third of the seats in the Sejm and all those in the Senate were freely contested; virtually all of these were won by candidates supported by Solidarity.
The failure of the communists at the polls produced a political crisis. The roundtable agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of some Solidarity deputies, elected General Jaruzelski to that office. Two attempts by the communists to form governments failed, however.
On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist/Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in more than 40 years, Poland had a government led by noncommunists.
In December 1989, the Sejm approved the government's reform program to transform the Polish economy rapidly from centrally planned to free–market, amended the constitution to eliminate references to the "leading role" of the Communist Party, and renamed the country the "Republic of Poland." The Polish United Workers' (Communist) Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. Most of the property of the former Communist Party was turned over to the state.
The May 1990 local elections were entirely free. Candidates supported by Solidarity's Citizens' Committees won most of the races they contested, although voter turnout was only a little over 40%. The cabinet was reshuffled in July 1990; the national defense and interior affairs ministers––hold–overs from the previous communist government––were among those replaced.
In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In December, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.
Poland in the 1990s
Poland in the early 1990s made great progress toward achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Walesa was elected President for a 5–year term. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, at Walesa's request, formed a government and served as its Prime Minister until October 1991, introducing world prices and greatly expanding the scope of private enterprise.
Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, representing a full spectrum of political views. No single party received more than 13% of the total vote. After a rough start, 1993 saw the second group of elections, and the first parliament to actually serve a full term. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) received the largest percentage of votes.
After the election, the SLD and PSL formed a governing coalition. Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the junior partner PSL, became Prime Minister. Relations between President Walesa and the Prime Minister remained poor throughout the Pawlak government, with President Walesa charging Pawlak with furthering personal and party interests while neglecting matters of state importance. Following a number of scandals implicating Pawlak and increasing political tension over control of the armed forces, President Walesa demanded Pawlak's resignation in January 1995. In the ensuing political crisis, the coalition removed Pawlak from office and replaced him with the SLD's Jozef Oleksy as the new Prime Minister.
In November 1995, Poland held its second post–war free presidential elections. SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski defeated Walesa by a narrow margin--51.7% to 48.3%. Soon after Walesa's defeat, Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski accused then-Prime Minister Oleksy of longtime collaboration with Soviet and later Russian intelligence. In the ensuing political crisis, Oleksy resigned. For his successor, The SLD–PSL coalition turned to deputy Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz--who was linked to, but not a member of, the SLD. Polish prosecutors subsequently decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Oleksy, and a parliamentary commission decided in November 1996 that the Polish intelligence services may have violated rules of procedure in gathering evidence in the Oleksy case.
Poland's most recent parliamentary elections were in September 1997 when two parties with roots in the Solidarity movement--Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW)--won 261 of the 460 seats in the Sejm and formed a coalition government. Jerzy Buzek of the AWS has been Prime Minister since these elections in 1997. Today the AWS and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) hold the majority of the seats in the Sejm. Marian Krzaklewski is the leader of the AWS, and Leszek Miller leads the SLD. In June 2000, UW withdrew from the governing collation, leaving AWS at the helm of a minority government.
Former SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski was elected President in November 1995. President Kwasniewski has supported Polish membership in NATO and the EU and backed the SLD's legislative agenda on issues such as redrafting of the constitution and abortion liberalization.
The parliament, consisting of 460 members of the Sejm and 100 members of the Senate, was elected in September 1997 in free and fair elections in which 16 political parties participated. A 1993 electoral law stipulated that with the exception of guaranteed seats for small German and Ukrainian ethnic parties, only parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote could enter parliament. As of June 2000, nine parties are represented in the Sejm.
Currently, Poland is lead by a minority government, comprised of the AWS party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. The coalition has maintained generally pro–market economic policies and made clear its commitment to a democratic political system. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is the opposition to the ruling coalition and holds 161 seats in the Sejm and 26 seats in the Senate. The UW and SLD currently dominate the Warsaw municipal council, which has lead to some clashes recently between the three dominant political parties.
Along with AWS, other parties represented in parliament are the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), the Polish Alliance (PP), the Independent Party, the Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPNO), the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland (ROP), the Polish Socialist Party-Movement of Labor People (PPS-RLP), and the Polish Raison d'Etat (PRS).
General parliamentary elections are scheduled for September of 2001. Poland's next presidential election is scheduled for October 8, 2000.
Poland maintains an embassy in the United States at 2640 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202–234–3800/3801/3802); the consular annex is at 2224 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202–234–3800). Poland has consulates in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles.
The United States and other Western countries have supported the growth of a free enterprise economy by reducing Poland's enormous foreign debt burden, providing economic aid, and lowering trade barriers. Poland will graduate from USAID assistance in 2000.
Agriculture employs 27% of the work force but contributes only 5% to the gross domestic product (GDP), reflecting a relatively low level of productivity compared to other sectors of the economy. Unlike the industrial sector, Poland's agricultural sector remained largely in private hands during the decades of communist rule. Most of the former state farms are now being leased to farmer tenants. Lack of credit is hampering efforts to sell former state farmland. Currently, Poland's 2 million private farms occupy 90% of all farmland and account for roughly the same percentage of total agricultural production. These farms are small--8 hectares (ha) on average--and often fragmented. Farms with an area exceeding 15 ha accounted only for 9% of the total number of farms but cover 45% of total agricultural area. Over half of all farming households in Poland produce only for their own needs with little, if any, commercial marketings.
Privatization within the food processing sector is the most advanced in the food concentrate, brewery, and confectionery industries and the weakest in the grain milling, sugar refining, and potato processing industries. Poland net exports confectionery, processed fruit and vegetables, meat, and dairy products. Processors often rely on imports to supplement domestic supplies of wheat, feed grains, vegetable oil, and protein meals, which are generally insufficient to meet domestic demand. However, Poland is the leading producer in Europe of potatoes and rye and is one of the ten-largest producers of sugarbeets. Poland also is a significant producer of rapeseed, grains, hogs, and cattle. Attempts to increase domestic feed grain production are hampered by the short growing season, poor soil, and the small size of farms.
Pressure to restructure the agriculture sector is intensifying as Poland prepares to accede to the European Union, which is unwilling to subsidize the vast number of subsistence farms that do not produce for the market. The changes in agriculture are likely to strain Poland's social fabric, tearing at the heart of the traditional, family-based small farm as the younger generation drifts toward the cities.
Before World War II, Poland's industrial base was concentrated in the coal, textile, chemical, machinery, iron, and steel sectors. Today it extends to fertilizers, petrochemicals, machine tools, electrical machinery, electronics, and shipbuilding.
Poland's industrial base suffered greatly during World War II, and many resources were directed toward reconstruction. The communist economic system imposed in the late 1940s created large and unwieldy economic structures operated under a tight central command. In part, because of this systemic rigidity, the economy performed poorly even in comparison with other economies in central Europe.
In 1989, the Mazowiecki government began a comprehensive reform program to replace the centralized command economy with a market–oriented system. Many largescale state–owned industrial enterprises, particularly in the mining and steel sectors, have remained resistant to the change and downsizing required to survive in an open market economy.
In the past years, the percentage of those employed in Polish industry has declined. Some possible reasons for this are that the mining industry has been experiencing internal conflicts. There also has been somewhat of an attempt to restructure agriculture.
Economic Reform Program
Poland was the first former centrally planned economy in central Europe to end its recession and return to growth after a deep recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since 1992, the Polish economy has enjoyed an accelerated recovery. The private sector now accounts for nearly two–thirds of GDP and employs some 60% of the work force. However, unemployment remains relatively high (13.7% as of April 2000), especially in rural areas.
The sweeping economic reforms introduced in 1989 removed price controls, eliminated most subsidies to industry, opened markets to international competition, and imposed strict budgetary and monetary discipline. These reforms have achieved positive results in reducing inflation––from almost 600% in 1990 to an estimated 7.3% in 1999––and in bringing budget deficits under control. Poland's GDP grew by 4.1% in 1999 and is estimated to grow by over 5.1% in 2000.
As a result of Poland's growth and investment–friendly climate, foreign investment flows are now increasing at record levels. However, the restructuring of industry to adapt to the new conditions of a market economy, a necessary accompaniment to macroeconomic stabilization, has often proceeded more slowly than expected. In certain sectors, such as coal and steel, state–owned enterprises continue to operate at a loss. Efforts to privatize them have encountered many snags, including worker apprehensions about large job losses and management fears of bankruptcy. Government budget deficits have been brought under control, but spending cuts in areas such as education, health care, infrastructure, and public safety were necessary to reduce the deficit. Meanwhile, the burden on the budget for subsidies to the Social Insurance Fund has mushroomed, especially due to the massive number of workers retiring early since 1989.
Poland became a full member of NATO in March 1999 and has set an objective of joining the European Union in 2003. The Polish economy continues to grow, and new investment continues to be strong. Government reforms are making progress in many areas. A growing middle class and rapidly developing distribution networks are turning Poland into a more attractive market for small and medium exporters. With a population of 39 million, Poland's market potential is huge. Many European firms have recognized this potential and are beginning to expand operations and sales in Poland, and there is a high level of direct American investment.
With the collapse of the ruble–based COMECON trading bloc in 1990, Poland scrambled to reorient its trade. By 1996, 70% of its trade was with European Union (EU) members, with Germany alone accounting for more than 30%. While membership in the EU is Poland's primary goal, it has fostered regional integration and trade through the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), which includes Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and Slovenia.
Poland faced a growing trade and current account deficit in 1996, despite nearly $7 billion in unrecorded cross-border exports (mostly to Germany but also to the Ukraine, Belarus, and the Czech Republic). Much of this trade consists of imports of capital goods needed for industrial retooling and for manufacturing inputs, rather than imports for consumption. Therefore, a deficit is expected, and even positive at this point. Poland, a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), has been steadily lowering tariffs in line with its WTO and EU commitments.
Opportunities for trade and investment continue to exist across virtually all sectors of Poland. The American Chamber of Commerce in Poland, founded in 1991 with seven members, now has more than 300 members. Constant economic growth, the size of the Polish market, and a high level of political stability are the top reasons the U.S. and other foreign companies do business in Poland. Most believe that Poland is the best market in central and eastern Europe for their products and investments.
Poland also has forged ahead on its economic integration with the West. Poland became an associate member of the European Union (EU) and its defensive arm, the Western European Union (WEU) in 1994. In 1996 Poland achieved full OECD membership and submitted preliminary documentation for full EU membership. Poland is negotiating for early entry into join the European Union.
Changes since 1989 have redrawn the map of central Europe, and Poland has had to forge relationships with seven new neighbors. Poland has actively pursued good relations with all its neighbors, signing friendship treaties replacing links severed by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. The Poles have forged special relationships with Lithuania and particularly Ukraine in an effort to firmly anchor these states to the West.
In 1974 Gierek was the first Polish leader to visit the United States. This action, among others, demonstrated both sides wish to facilitate better relations.
The birth of Solidarity in 1980 raised the hope that progress would be made in Poland's external relations as well as in its domestic development. During this time, the U.S. provided $765 million in agricultural assistance. Human rights and individual freedom issues, however, were not improved upon, and the U.S. revoked Poland's most-favored-nation (MFN) status in response to the Polish Government's decision to ban solidarity. MFN status was reinstated in 1987, and diplomatic relations were upgraded.
The United States and Poland have enjoyed warm bilateral relations since 1989. Every post–1989 Polish government has been a strong supporter of continued American military and economic presence in Europe and has identified membership in NATO, the European Union and other Western security and economic structures as Poland's principal foreign policy priority. Poland became a member of the OECD in November 1996 and served successfully as the Chairman in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1998. It has done a superb job as the formal protector of American interests in Iraq since the Gulf War and cooperates closely with American diplomacy on such issues as nuclear proliferation, human rights, regional cooperation in central and eastern Europe, and United Nations reform.
The street address and international mailing address of the U.S. embassy in Poland is Aleje Ujazdowskie 29/31, 00540 Warsaw, Poland; tel: 48-22-628-3041; fax 48-22-628-8298. The Consulate General in Krakow is at Ulica Stolarska 9, 31043 Krakow, Poland; tel: 48-12-211-400, 216-767, 226-040 or 229-764; fax: 48-12-218–292; and a Consular Agency in Poznan is at Ulica Paderewskiego 8, 61708 Poznan, Poland; tel: 48-61-518–516; fax: 48-61-518–966.