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History

Sunday, 24 June 2007
European wars have raged Poland for hundreds of years, resulting in the partitioning of the Polish State and the destruction of its cities several times over.

The beginnings of the Polish State date back to the 10th century, when prince Mieszko I, founder of the Royal Piast Dynasty, took under his rule most of the ethnically Polish territories and accepted Christianity. Poland gained in strength in the 11th century under Boleslaw Chrobry, the first Polish king. Frequent battles with the Teutonic Knights, the German military and religious orders, marked the next several hundred years. In 1226 the Knights occupied most of Poland and it was not until 1410, a date that is still remembered today, that the Poles finally defeated them in the Battle of Grunwald.

In the 15th century, under the rule of the Jagiellonian Dynasty, Poland became one of the mightiest states in Europe. The years that followed until the late 17th century make up Poland's Golden Age, a time of relative peace and prosperous development.

Beginning in the late 17th century and continuing throughout the 18th century, life becomes more difficult for the Poles. Starting in 1772, Prussia, Austria and Russia began to conquer and divide up parts of Poland, and by 1795 nothing was left. The Polish State had simple ceased to exist. The Polish people tried to regain independence through a number of armed risings, the biggest of these, in 1830 and in 1863. Poland did not appear again on European maps for 123 years, until it was re-established in the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I on 11th of November 1918.

On September 1st, 1939 Nazi Germany attacked Poland. Some 2 ½ weeks later Soviets attacked eastern Poland, in accordance with the secret Nazi-Soviet Pact. Over the next six years, six million Poles were killed; three million of whom were Jews. Almost every Pole you meet lost a relative in World War II. In 1945, the boundaries of Poland were moved west in accordance with the Big Power agreements, and 3 ½ million people were forced to move out of the eastern Polish territories that were incorporated into the Soviet Union. In 1944 a socialist government was established in Poland.

Poland's post-war years have been marked by great reconstruction: today, many of the cities that where completely destroyed in World War II exist again. Economic problems and worker unrest have also marked the past 40 years, most notably in 1956, 1970 and 1980-1981. The details of the 1980-1981 unrest are the best known. After months of domestic strikes and protest, the government concluded the Gdansk Agreement in August 1980 with the representatives of the trade union Solidarity. This agreement allowed free and independent trade unions the right to strike, and respect for freedom of publication for the first time in the Eastern Block.


 

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