The Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska) is one of the largest countries in Central Europe, bordering Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany (see map).
Its northern frontier on the Baltic Sea gives it easy access to Scandinavian and North Sea ports. Poland’s shape is roughly square, measuring 400-440 miles across. The capital, Warsaw, is situated in the centre of the country. Poland’s surface area of 120,727 sq. miles ranks eighth in Europe.
The country lies almost entirely on the North European Plain and is a land of gentle relief, rarely rising above 350 feet except along the southern border with the Sudety and Carpathian mountain ranges. Rysy is the highest mountain peak, 8200 feet above sea level. The longest rivers which cross the country north-ward are the Vistula (667 miles in length) in the centre, and the Odra (530 miles) which flows along Poland’s western border.
Poland has a climate characterized by relatively cold winters and warm summers. Poland is in the Central European time zone and is thus one hour ahead of standard GMT in the winter months and two hours ahead from April to October.
Poland has substantial mineral and agricultural resources. It has the world’s fifth largest proven reserves of hard and brown coal in addition to deposits of copper, sulfur, zinc, lead, and silver, as well as magnesium and rock salt. All of these contribute significantly to Poland’s exports. There are also commercially viable deposits of chalk, kaolin, clays, potash, and natural gas. The main agricultural crops are wheat and other grains, potatoes, sugar-beets, and fodder crops. The livestock sector comprises 8 million beef and dairy cattle and 19 million pigs. Total arable land is 18.7 million hectares (47 mn. acres). In addition 8.9 million hectares (22 mn. acres) are forested, making timber an important resource.
The population of Poland, currently 38.4 million people. The cities are mostly small or medium sized. Some 43 cities have populations of more than 100,000 inhabitants. Warsaw, the capital and Poland’s largest metropolitan area, has a population of 1.7 million people.
The five other largest cities are: Łódź, Kraków, Wrocław, Poznań and Gdańsk. The population of Polish communities abroad is estimated at 12 million, with the largest living in the USA (5.6 mn.), CIS (2.5 mn.), France (1 mn.), Germany (800,000), Canada (790,000), Brazil (200,000), Australia (150,000), and the UK (140,000).
The overwhelming majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, followed by members of the Polish Orthodox Church and various Protestant denominations, mainly Lutherans. There is also a small number of Jews and Muslims. National Government Poland was the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to break out of communist rule. This move, soon followed throughout the region, started in early 1989 with discussions, which became known as the “Round Table Negotiations”, between the Communist dominated authorities and the opposition. As a result, major agreements were reached, including the legalization of the Solidarity trade union and an agreement to hold free elections on June 4, 1989.
This was the prelude to the development of a new system of government with a legal parliamentary opposition. Other developments included the creation of a position of the President as head of state, and a second chamber of Parliament, the Senate. All the contested seats in the June 1989 elections were won by the representatives of Solidarity, who formed the first non-communist government in the region since World War II.
Poland is a sovereign and democratic country whose institutions operate under the rule of law. There is a multiplicity of political parties across the entire political spectrum; five parties or political coalitions are represented in the current Parliament. Poland is a constitutional republic with a mixture of presidential and parliamentary models.
The National Assembly – made up of the two chambers of Parliament, the Sejm (Seym) and the Senate – approved the final draft of the country’s first post-Communist constitution April 2, 1997. After the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the referendum, and President Aleksander Kwaśniewski signed it into law, the new constitution went into effect Oct.17, 1997.
The long-awaited constitution, the result of several years of intensive debate and negotiations spanning five administrations across the entire political spectrum, is the country’s l0th since Poland’s first history-making Constitution of May 3, 1791.
The President is elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term, for a maximum of two terms.
The President is the commander-in-chief of the military forces. The President has the right do dissolve the Parliament if it is unable to approve the budget law or to form a government. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was elected President in November 1990 and his mandate expired in 1995. He was succeeded by Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who was elected for a second term in October 2000. In 2005 Lech Kaczyński was elected, after his death in the aircraft crash on April 10th, 2010 the office was taken over by Bronisław Komorowski. After winning in the election in 2015 the current president is Andrzej Duda.
The Parliament is composed of the Sejm (Seym) with 460 seats and the Senate with 100 seats, each elected to a four-year term.