Poland , officially the Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country in Central Europe. Poland is bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north. The total area of Poland is 312,679 square kilometres (120,726 sq mi), making it the 69th largest country in the world and the 9th largest in Europe. Poland has a population of over 38 million people, which makes it the 34th most populous country in the world and the most populous Eastern European Member State of the EU.
The establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I, in 966 , when the state covered territory similar to that of present-day Poland. In 1025, Poland became a kingdom and in 1569, it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, by signing the Union of Lublin, forming the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth collapsed in 1795 and Poland's territory was partitioned among the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Austria. Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918, after World War I, but was later occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II. Poland lost over six million citizens in World War II, emerging several years later as the socialist People's Republic of Poland within the Eastern Bloc, under strong Soviet influence.
During the Revolutions of 1989, communist rule was overthrown and Poland became what is constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic". Poland is a unitary state, made up of sixteen voivodeships. Poland is also a member of the European Union, NATO, United Nations, World Trade Organization, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Poland is a democracy, with a President as a Head of State, whose current constitution dates from 1997. The government structure centres on the Council of Ministers, led by a prime minister. The president appoints the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minister. The president is elected by popular vote every five years.
Poland's current voivodeships (provinces) are largely based on the country's historic regions, whereas those of the past two decades (to 1998) had been centred on and named for individual cities. The new units range in area from less than 10,000 square kilometres (3,900 sq mi) for Opole Voivodeship to more than 35,000 square kilometres (14,000 sq mi) for Masovian Voivodeship. Administrative authority at voivodeship level is shared between a government-appointed voivode (governor), an elected regional assembly (sejmik) and an executive elected by that assembly.
The voivodeships are subdivided into powiats (often referred to in English as counties), and these are further divided into gminas (also known as communes or municipalities). Major cities normally have the status of both gmina and powiat. Poland currently has 16 voivodeships, 379 powiats (including 65 cities with powiat status), and 2,478 gminas.
|1. Greater Poland
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|3. Lesser Poland
|5. Lower Silesian
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|16. West Pomeranian
Poland is considered to have one of the healthiest economies of the post-communist countries, with GDP growing by 6.1% in 2006. Since the fall of the communist government, Poland has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalising the economy and today stands out as a successful example of the transition from a centrally planned economy to a primarily capitalistic market economy.
The privatisation of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed the development of an aggressive private sector. As a consequence, consumer rights organizations have also appeared. Restructuring and privatisation of "sensitive sectors" such as coal, steel, rail transport and energy has been continuing since 1990. Between 2007 and 2010, the government plans to float twenty public companies on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, including parts of the coal industry.
Poland has a large number of private farms in its agricultural sector, with the potential to become a leading producer of food in the European Union. Structural reforms in health care, education, the pension system, and state administration have resulted in larger-than-expected fiscal pressures. Warsaw leads Central Europe in foreign investment. GDP growth had been strong and steady from 1993 to 2000 with only a short slowdown from 2001 to 2002.
The prospect of closer integration with the European Union has put the economy back on track, with growth of 3.7% annually in 2003, a rise from 1.4% annually in 2002. In 2004, GDP growth equaled 5.4%, in 2005 3.3% and in 2006 6.2%. For 2007, the government has set a target for GDP growth at 6.5 to 7.0%. According to Eurostat data, Polish PPS GDP per capita stood at 57 per cent of the EU average in 2008.
As of first half of 2009, Polish economy seems to be one of the least hit by the current global recession. In the first quarter of 2009, Polish GDP rose by 0.8%, which was one of the best results in the European Union.
Commodities produced in Poland include: electronics, cars (including the luxurious Leopard car), buses (Autosan, Jelcz SA, Solaris, Solbus), helicopters (PZL Swidnik), transport equipment, locomotives, planes (PZL Mielec), ships, military engineering (including tanks, SPAAG systems), medicines (Polpharma, Polfa), food, clothes, glass, pottery (Boleslawiec), chemical products and others.
The Republic of Poland is a Central European country and member of the European Union and NATO, among others. In recent years, Poland has extended its responsibilities and position in European and Western affairs, supporting and establishing friendly foreign relations with both the West and with numerous European countries.
Poland has a good road and rail network, although its density varies across regions. Because of its location and topography Poland serves as a major route between western and eastern European countries. In recent years, trucks have become major carriers of goods from France, the Netherlands, Germany and other EU members, through Poland to Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine.
By 1999, Poland had 230,087 kilometers (143,000 miles) of well-developed railroad networks. With the increasing competition from buses and trucks, many unprofitable rail routes (12.7 percent between 1990 and 1999) have been closed. The state-owned railroad monopoly is being privatized, and the modernization of major railway lines undertaken in recent years has begun to reap benefits in shortened travel time. With the price of gasoline increasing, railways are once again becoming a competitive mode of passenger transport.
Poland has several well-known seaports. Starting from the northwest corner, the ports of Szczecin and Swinoujscie handle cargo, including coal exports and imports of fertilizer. The smaller ports of Kolobrzeg and Ustka mostly serve fishing fleets and coastal shipping, and handle cargo originating from, and destined for, other Baltic Sea ports. Further east, several small ports are used by fishermen and recreational sailors. Gdansk is the largest seaport. In 1999, 18.8 million tons of cargo-37 percent of all Polish cargo both incoming and outgoing-was loaded or unloaded at Gdansk. Next to Gdansk is Gdynia, Poland's youngest port, which was built as a matter of economic necessity in the 1920s. It handles various cargoes, including container shipping. East of Gdansk, the port of Elblag can only be accessed by a narrow strait belonging to Russia, and ships bound for Elblag can only pass through without delay by negotiated agreement with the Russians.
Several major rivers, including the Vistula, Oder, Warta, and Notec, are used for barge navigation. The total length of rivers and channels suitable for barge navigation was 3,813 kilometers (2,370 miles) in 1999. Through its system of channels and rivers, Poland is linked with the inland waterways of Western Europe. The economic importance of the west-east barge traffic is small because it cannot compete effectively with truck and rail shipments. However, the north-south barge traffic is competitive, plying goods between Poland's southern industrial towns and farms and the Baltic ports of Szczecin, Swinoujscie, and Gdansk.
Warsaw's Okecie airport is the largest in Poland. All major European air carriers operate services to Warsaw, while the Polish national airline, Lot, connects the capital with many cities in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia. Airports in Gdansk, Poznan, and Cracow also offer international connections. Airports of domestic importance are located in Szczecin, Katowice, and Wroclaw.
The country operates a very well-established postal service with 8,380 post offices in 1999, 58.8 percent of them located in rural areas. There is no weekend mail delivery, but many post offices in towns stay open in the evening and large cities typically have one 24-hour post office. Nearly 26,000 mailmen are employed in the daily delivery of mail. Courier services are provided by the post office and by private companies, which include branches of international couriers DHL and Federal Express.