44 turning points in the history of Poland

| |

Poland, 1000-year-old bridge between East and West, set in the heart of Europe, have experienced nearly all the historical wrongs and atrocities the world could inflict. Geographically squeezed between two aggressive powers, Germany and Russia, Poland was repeatedly invaded and fought upon. Its boundaries have shifted east and west as its power waxed and waned, from being the largest country in Europe in the 17th century, to being completely wiped off the map from the end of 18th century after WWI. The nation re-emerged at this point, only to be devastated just two decades later in WWII, losing six million people.

Poland changed the course of history in 1989 by becoming the first Eastern European state to break free of communism, proving the truth of Stalin's 1944 comment that fitting communism onto Poland was like putting a saddle on a cow. Since then, the economic, social and psychological changes have been tremendous.

But why Fourty Four?

Polish romantic poet and playwright, Adam Mickiewicz, who was a leading figure of the Polish era of Romanticism, in his tragedy "Dziady" (Forefathers' Eve) depicted the martyrdom of Poland and presented a vision of the future country in which the sufferings are equated with the Passion of Christ. This vision concludes with a prophecy about a mysterious future savior of Poland, bearing the name . "44".

Fourty Four Turning Points in Chronological Order:

747-722 BC: Biskupin, the Polish Pompeii
Many thousands years ago what now comprises the territory of Poland was merely a block of icy snow. Eventually the accumulated snow thawed and the queen of Polish rivers Vistula (which flows from the Tatra Mountains in the south, through Cracow and Warsaw towards the Baltic Sea) was born. The earliest human traces in the basins of the Vistula and Oder date back to about 100 000 BC. With time, partly due to invasions of Asian warrior tribes, the residents of the those territories began to organize themselves into larger social groups and established fortified strongholds. And so there it was, an island settlement surrounded by palisades, which provided shelter for some 1,000-1,200 people - Biskupin, the Polish Pompeii.
1st c. BC - 3rd c. AD: The Amber Trail
In later centuries, the area of the present-day Poland became a target for tribes from the East and West and later on even from the Roman empire. Those invasions, aside from destruction, brought achievements of the civilized world. They also raised merchant interest. The so-called Amber Trail (linking the Baltic Sea with Rome) dates back to the 5th c. BC. It has been acclaimed one of the oldest long-range merchant connections in Europe.
6th c. AD - 10th c. AD: The Arrival of Slavic Tribes
Around 6th c. AD. Slavic tribes begin to settle down in the territories of modern-day Poland and become dominant in that area over the centuries. They establish strong centers of administration based on tribal assembly and the power of the chieftain (e.g. Poznan), trade (e.g. Szczecin) or religion (e.g. Mt. Sleza). Amid the tribes there are the Polonians who soon begin to dominate and start to expand quickly thus creating the origins of Poland.
966: The Christianization of Poland
In 966 Prince Mieszko the First accepts Christianity in the name of the people he rules. From this moment Poland is regarded as an independent, centralized state modeled on Christian Europe.
1000: The Congress of Gniezno
Between 10th c. AD and 1370 Poland was reigned by the Piast dynasty and in that time its position in Europe was very strong. The most significant success of the early Piast foreign policy is the Congress of Gniezno, during which Emperor Otto III recognized Boleslaw Chrobry as his main ally in the process of uniting Europe under the imperial rule and gave consent to the establishment of an independent Polish see. Subsequently in 1025 Chrobry is crowned as the first king of Poland.
1257: Cracow's location
This is a particularly important date for the Cracovians. Though since the 10th century there were already some foundations on the Wawel hill and in 1138 Cracow became, according to the last will of the King Boleslaw Krzywousty, the capital of Poland, it was the Magdeburg law that legally sanctioned Cracow existence and granted it the rights of a city and furthermore gave it its awesome urbanistic structure. If you are curious of how this European Capital of Culture of year 2000 looked like in the 13th century, then all you have to do is start your stroll at the Main Market Square and walk towards the Wawel hill or have a look at the current map of the city center. It almost hasn't changed. Almost . and yet while the architecture remains the same, the contents of the streets and buildings continue to quickly change and there is always some interesting new café or a shop to discover.
1364: Vivat Academia!
Under the last Piast, Kazimierz Wielki, Poland became a strong, well-managed country actively participating in the political, economic and cultural life of Europe. At this time, when Cracow plays the role of a major diplomatic center, hosting the 1364 congress of monarchs, king Kazimierz Wielki establishes a university in the city. Being the second university in Central Europe (the first one was founded in Prague) the Jagiellonian University has always been an integral part of Cracow (and it's been over 600 years now). In the 15th century, the Jagiellonian was one of the most international universities in Europe with approximately 44% of the students coming from abroad.

1410: The battle of Grunwald
King Wladyslaw Jagiello of the Jagiellonian dynasty is commonly associated with the great military success of combined Polish and Lithuanian forces - routing the Teutonic Order forces at Grunwald. On that fateful day, when the whole Europe held its breath, the Teutonic Order was defeated in a formidable battle, possibly one of the deadliest battles ever to have taken place. Eastern Europe was saved from germanisation while Polish and Lithuanian culture advanced into the next centuries.

1493: The beginnings of democracy
At the end of the 15th century the rule of King Jan Olbracht the First saw the formation of the national assembly which consisted of the King and the Senate (forming the so-called Royal Council), together with the Chamber of Representatives. The latter part of the assembly included representatives of the nobility, elected in regional assemblies (called sejmiki), as well as representatives of a few of the richest cities. It was one of the oldest European parliaments.
1541: Copernicus completes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium
In 1541 Mikolaj Kopernik (Copernicus) Polish astronomer, mathematician, physician, lawyer and economist, one of the seminal figures in the history of scientific thought, student of the Jagiellonian University, completes his masterpiece entitled "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" ("On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres"). In direct opposition to Aristotle and Ptolemy, who enunciated the details of the geocentric system, Copernicus proposed that Earth and other planets revolve around a stationary central Sun. The enunciation of Copernicus' heliocentric theory marked the beginning of the scientific revolution in the following century when Kepler determined the ellipticity of planetary orbits, Galileo formulated his new concept of motion and Newton espoused his theory of universal gravitation.
Copernicus' work forever changed the place of man in cosmos; no longer could the man take the central position amongst other creatures, that was immodestly assigned to him by the theologians, but had to come to terms with himself being the same as other living things.
1573: The land of tolerance
The most saliently liberal aspect of Jagiellonian Poland is its exceptional religious tolerance. This tolerance prevailed in Poland even during the religious upheavals, war, and atrocities associated with the Protestant Reformation and its repercussions in many parts of sixteenth-century Europe. Such broad-mindedness was derived as much from practical necessity as from principle, for Poland-Lithuania governed a populace of remarkable ethnic and religious diversity, embracing Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and numerous nonChristians. After the mid-sixteenth century the Polish lands supported the world's largest concentration of Jews, whose number was estimated at 150,000 in 1582. As a result, cultural and scientific life experienced an influx of new ideas and literary works, creating an image of Poland as a tolerant country. This was particularly true in view of the so-called Warsaw Confederation, signed in 1573, which gave Protestants equal rights to Catholics. The last Jagiellonian ruler, Zygmunt August made a famous address at the Sejm: "I do not rule your conscience".
1648-1667: The deluge
Those two decades subjected Poland to one of its most severe trials. This colorful but ruinous interval became known as the potop, or deluge, for the magnitude of its hardships (it is also a topic of a popular historical novels of the Nobel Prize laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz). Despite the unlikely survival of the Commonwealth in the face of potop, one of the most dramatic instances of Poles' knack for prevailing in adversity, the episode inflicted irremediable damage and contributed heavily to the ultimate demise of the state.
When Jan Kazimierz the Second abdicated in 1668 the population of Poland had been nearly halved by war and disease. War had destroyed the economic foundations of cities and raised a religious fervor that ended Poland's policy of religious tolerance.
1683: Sobieski brings relief to Vienna and defeats the Turks
The Commonwealth's last martial triumph took place in 1683 when King Jan Sobieski the Third drove the Turks away from the gates of Vienna with a cavalry charge. Nonetheless, this isolated success did little to mask the internal weakness and paralysis of the Polish-Lithuanian political system. The country was weakened and incapable of defending itself from the attacks of the neighboring superpowers. In 1772, Russia, Prussia and Austria completed the first partition of Poland (the Republic lost 1/3 of its territory), accompanied by the increasing internal chaos and noble confederacies.
1791: The Constitution of May Third. Second partition
May 3, after three years of intense debate the "Four Years' Sejm" produces Europe's first written constitution. Radical domestic reforms included in this document forced Russia and Prussia, conscious of the vision of strong Poland, to intervene. Polish opposition was defeated by overwhelming force, which resulted in the second partition in 1793. Although never fully implemented the Constitution gained an honored position in Polish political heritage; Nowadays May 3rd is celebrated as the country's most important civic holiday.
1794: The Kosciuszko Insurrection - "Finis Poloniae". Third Partition
The final blow to the Polish independence came after the failure of an anti-Russian uprising in 1794 (The Kosciuszko Insurrection). After several initial successes, the popular and brave "National Leader" Gen. Tadeusz Kosciuszko lost the decisive battle of Maciejowice and was taken prisoner by the Russians. In 1795, Russia, Austria and Prussia divided the remains of the Polish Republic among themselves. Poland is the only major state in European history to disappear from the map and reappear later after a lapse of more than a century.

1812: Napoleon - a new hope for Poland
The turn of the 19th century meant hopes for regaining independence, connected with the military successes of Napoleon. The Polish Legions, organized in Italy, fought in many battles of the Napoleonic era. But Napoleon never fully fulfilled the hopes vested in him. After defeating Austria and Prussia out of a part of the territories of the former Republic he formed the Duchy of Warsaw. However, the disastrous invasion of Russia and the emperor's downfall changed the fate of both Europe and Poland. Duchy of Warsaw was replaced by the Kingdom of Poland. It had its own constitution, Sejm, army and treasury except this time it was strongly tied to Russia by a personal union with. The remaining territories were united into a Grand Duchy of Poznan and put under the Prussian rule and the Free City of Cracow, "supervised" by the three occupying powers.
1830: The November Uprising
Poles did not want to give up the idea of independence. As early as 1830 an armed November Uprising broke out in the Kingdom of Poland. Czar was dethroned and the National Government was created. Despite the initial success it ended in failure. The Kingdom was integrated with the Russian Empire and all economic and political gains of the 1815-1830 period were lost.
1842-43: Chopin composes Polonaise As-dur Op. 53
Fryderyk Chopin, Polish composer and pianist publishes one of his most famous works - Polonaise As-dur Op. 53 ( click here to listen ).
Frederic Chopin is often called "The Poet of the Piano". Some say that no one understood the piano better than him. Most of Frederic Chopin's tunes were relatively short but at the same time packed with versatile emotions: happiness or sadness, passion and romance. This combined with the perfection of form and style sufficies to say that he was one of the most original and innovatory composers of all times.
1863: The January Uprising
The idea of an uprising was born once again in the 1860s. The January Uprising, however, met with a defeat so severe that the idea of restoring the country by way of an armed conflict was subsequently given up for many years.
1905: Nobel Prize for Sienkiewicz
Owing to the struggle to keep the national spirit, and to the ideals of the so-called "organic work" (fortifying the nation through the subtler means of education, economic development, and modernization), Polish culture enjoyed dynamic growth. The climax was reached when Henryk Sienkiewicz was awarded the Polish first ever Nobel Prize in literature for a novel "Quo Vadis".
1914-1918: World War I
The first general European conflict since the Napoleonic Wars exerted a huge impact on the Poles, although their place in Europe was not an issue for the combatants. Once again, Poland's geographical position between Germany and Russia meant a tough struggle and heavy human and material losses for the Poles between 1914 and 1918. The war ended with Russia, Austrian Empire and Germany losing - a true miracle for Poland. The treaty of Versailles, which ended the World War I, simply sanctioned Poland's independence. Jozef Pilsudzki took over the country as provisional president of an independent Poland, which had been absent from the map of Europe for 123 years.

1920: Miracle on the Vistula
Two years later Poland faced another danger. Under the banners of "revolutionary march across Europe", the Bolshevik Russia was close to victory in the war of 1920, when the Russian forces reached the outskirts of Warsaw. Although many observers deemed Poland a lost cause and were sure of its prompt collapse and bolshevization, Pilsudzki halted the Soviet advance before they reached Warsaw and resumed the offensive. A British diplomat, Lord D'Aberno spoke of this battle as "the eighteenth decisive battle of the world".
1937: Madame Bovary
Barbara Apolonia Chalupiec, also known as Pola Negri, the world-famous Polish actress, conquers Hollywod with a movie "Madame Bovary". The explosion of independent culture continues. In 1924, Wladyslaw Reymont receives the Nobel Prize in literature for "The Peasants" (the jurors were also considering the candidacy of another Polish writer Stefan Zeromski). In music, Poland was represented by Ignacy Jan Padarewski and Karol Szymanowski.
1939: The outbreak of World War II
Year 1939. September 1, Germany invades Poland. September 17, the Soviet Union attacks from the east. Hitler and Stalin had reached terms defining their respective gains, and the Polish lands has been subjected once more to occupation. The most important element of resistance, the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) operated under direction of the London government-in-exile, comes into existence. The Home Army, which by 1944 claimed 400,000 members, became one of the largest and most effective underground movements of the World War II.
1940: Massacre in Katyn
By 1941 the Soviets send 1.5 million Poles into labor camps all over the Soviet Union, and Stalin's secret police murders thousands of Polish prisoners. Politicians, intelligence and figures of public administration become their primary goal. The most infamous incident is the murder of thousands of Polish military officers in 1940; the bodies of about 4,000 of them were discovered in a mass grave in the Katyn forests near Smolensk in 1943. Soviet authorities refused to admit responsibility until nearly the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Katyn Massacre became the ultimate symbol of Soviet cruelty and mendacity.
1941: Auschwitz - the blackest page in the history
All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by the Nazis in 1940, in the suburbs of the city of Oswiecim. Beginning in 1942, the camp became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler's plan for their complete annihilation. The majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported to Auschwitz were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers immediately after arrival. During the WWII the Nazis murdered some 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland, together with over 2 million Poles. Several hundred thousand Poles and Jews were deported east by the Soviet authorities, where many of them died.

1944: Warsaw in ruins
The Warsaw Uprising, the biggest battle of the occupied Europe is crushed by Germans after two months of intense fighting. In retaliation against the Poles, the Germans demolished Warsaw before retreating westward, leaving 90 percent of the city in ruins.
1945: Conference of Jalta
The shattered Poland emerging from the rubble of the World War II was reconstituted as a communist state and incorporated within the newly formed Soviet sphere of influence in the Eastern Europe, despite the will of the overwhelming majority of Poles. The deciding factor being the dominant position of the victorious Red Army at the end of the war. At the conference of Yalta in 1945, the U.S. president F.D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with Stalin to decide on the postwar political conditions, including the disposition of Polish territory occupied by the Red Army. Poland again found itself in the Soviet sphere of influence.
1948: PZPR (the Polish United Workers' Party).
Ever since 1948 Poland was to be ruled by the PZPR (Polish United Workers' Party). Between 1948 and 1956 Poland was under the absolute control of the communist party, largely supported by the political police and "Soviet advisers". Repressions were directed not only against political opposition, prisons were filled with AK soldiers and Catholic priests as well as inconvenient PZPR members. At that time, Poland was one of the faithful satellites of the USSR. The economy was almost completely devoid of private entrepreneurs and non-party specialists, agriculture was organized into collective farms and the forceful industrialization caused significant drop of the living standard and deep discontent of the people.

1956: The end of the Stalinist era.
Poles had to wait until 1956 for the political terror to wane. That year Stalinism was officially condemned and after the death of Boleslaw Bierut (PZPR leader) and workers' unrests in Poznan, the regime ruling Poland was replaced. The country under reconstruction after the war, entered the period of the "little stabilization". The PZPR still had absolute power in the country. Open conflicts between the government and the society become more commonplace. The conflict between the state and Church during Poland's millennium celebrations, together with the student turmoil (March 1968), and anti-Semitic campaign started by the PZPR in 1968 showed the evident lack of support on the nation's part.
1961: Lem discovers Solaris.
Stanislaw Lem, one of the world's most widely read sci-fi writers, publishes his cult novel "Solaris". In this book the author, Cracow citizen and Jagiellonian University graduate, explores one of his favorite subjects - the limitations of human understanding. Andrei Tarkovsky's excellent film adaptation of the novel from 1972 has been called the "2001: A Space Odyssey" of Russian sci-fi cinema. Soderbergh's 2002 remake of "Solaris" is a radical attempt to bring science fiction back to its roots.
"Evolution provided by history is, for Lem, merely a consoling myth: he visualizes the future only to find more proof to support his suspicion that human fate has remained and will remain essentially the same, regardless of all the successes of technology and social progress. In his "robot tales" he suggests half-jokingly that even artificial intelligence, if created by humans, is bound to inherit human flaws." (Stanislaw Baranczak in Contemporary World Writers)
1967: Only rock'n'roll?
The biggest music event behind the Iron Curtain. In April 1967 the Rolling Stones played two legendary concerts in Warsaw. Thousands of fans who had unknowingly bought forged tickets were denied the entrance. A riot broke out. Police deployed water cannons to disperse the crowd. The best seats in the Kongress Hall turned out to be reserved for the Polish United Workers' Party members. The shows were good, but anyone who stood up to express their enjoyment during the concert was reprimanded by the police to sit quietly. This demonstration of force angered the Stones, who after the concerts canvassed Warsaw streets for Polish fans to distribute all of the albums and singles they had as an apology.

1972: Liquid imperialism
Coca-Cola, called for many years by the communist regime "the enemy of the state" or "liquid imperialism", finally becomes available also in Poland. In July 1972 the first made-in-Poland bottles of this most popular soft drink enter shops all over the country. Still, however, empty shelves in the majority of stores and kilometer-long queues for the toilet paper are a nightmare for the Polish society.
1974-1986: The golden era of football (well, soccer if you are American)
The thought of Polish football conjures up images of the 1974 World Cup in West Germany; the goals of Grzegorz Lato and Andrzej Szarmach; the silky midfield prowess of Kazimierz Deyna and Robert Gadocha; the iron-like defense of Wladislaw Zmuda and Jerzy Gorgon and the performance of a giant goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski. By finishing third in 1974, Poland placed themselves firmly on the football map and they would continue to challenge the world's best teams for the next 12 years.

1978: Karol Wojtyla elected Pope John Paul the Second
The archbishop of Cracow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, becomes the first non-Italian pope since the sixteenth century, as John Paul the Second. The election of the Polish pope sparked a surge of joy and pride in the country, and John Paul's triumphant visit to his homeland in 1979 inspired his countrymen to unite against repression. His 1979 homily in Victory Square ended with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for "renewal of the face" of Poland.
1980: "Solidarnosc" (Solidarity)
In August 1980 Lech Walesa led the Gdansk-based Lenin shipyard strike. Subsequently a wave of strikes flooded the country and Walesa was perceived as the leader. The primary demands concerned the workers' rights. The authorities were forced to capitulate and negotiated with Walesa the Gdansk Agreement of August 31, 1980. It gave the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent union. Solidarity, although primarily a labor movement, attracted a diverse membership that quickly swelled up to over 10 million people, which meant more than one in four Poles. Because of its size and massive support, the organization assumed the status of a national reform lobby. Although it disavowed overtly political ambitions, the movement became a de facto vehicle of opposition to the communists, who were demoralized but still in power. With the encouragement of Pope John Paul the Second, the church gave Solidarity vital material and moral support that further legitimized it in the eyes of the Polish population.
1981 - 1983: Martial law
On a cold and snowy Sunday morning of December 13, 1981, Poles woke up to find their country under Martial Law. The prime minister Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski had ordered the army and special police units to seize control of the country, apprehend Solidarity's leaders, and prevent all further union activity in order to "defend socialism".
Under Martial Law, the communist regime applied draconian restrictions on civil liberties, closed all universities, and imprisoned thousands of Solidarity activists, including Lech Walesa. During the following months the government undid much of Solidarity's work and finally dissolved the union itself. Official pressure overcame repeated attempts by the Solidarity supporters to force the nullification of the December coup. By the end of 1982, the junta felt sufficiently secure to free Walesa, whom it now characterized as the "former leader of a former union". After gradually easing the most onerous features of the state of emergency, Warsaw lifted martial law in July 1983, but Jaruzelski and his generals continued to control the most influential party and government posts. In October 1983 Walesa received a Nobel Peace Prize which raised the spirits of the underground movement, but the award was attacked by the government press.
1989: Roundtable negotiations . End of Communistic Era
After months of haggling, the roundtable talks yielded a historic compromise in early 1989: Solidarity would regain legal status and the right to post candidates in parliamentary elections (with the guarantee of the majority of seats granted to the communists). Although to many observers the guarantee seemed a foolish concession by Solidarity at the time, the election of June 1989 swept communists from nearly all the contested seats, demonstrating that the PZPR's presumed advantages in organization and funding could not overcome society's disapproval of its ineptitude and oppression. Thus the first noncommunist government in the Central and Eastern Europe is born. Poland enters the postcommunist era.
1989: Queen of the World
Aneta Kreglicka wins the first ever World Miss title for Eastern Europe. A beautiful blonde girl from Poland beats 77 competitors in Hong Kong. That same year when the Berlin Wall falls in Germany and Eastern European countries enter a transition from communism to capitalism in "fast forward" mode.
1999: Poland admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Poland signs the Washington Treaty and becomes a member of NATO. For the first time in the history the safety of our country is guaranteed by the biggest forces of the Western Europe, USA and Canada.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bronislaw Geremek, at the ceremony of deposition of Protocols of Accession in Independence, Missouri said: "This is a great day for Poland, as well as for millions of Poles scattered all over the World. Poland for ever returns where she has always belonged - to the free World. Poland is no longer alone in the defence of her freedom. We are in NATO "for your freedom and ours"".
2000: The era of "the Polish Batman"
Adam Malysz becomes something of a Polish Michael Jordan of ski jumping. Having won his country's first in thirty years winter Olympic medal in Salt Lake City (2002). After winning three World Champion titles and an unprecedented three consecutive World Cups throphies, this shy sportsmen from Wisla became a symbol of hope for the country in a desperate need of something to look forward to.
2000: Andrzej Wajda voted Honorary Academy Award
Huge success of the Polish cinematography. Director Andrzej Wajda has been voted an Honorary Academy Award and received an Oscar statuette on March 26. The Academy described Wajda as "one of the most respected filmmakers of our time, a man whose films have given audiences around the world an artist's view of history, democracy and freedom, and who in so doing has himself become a symbol of courage and hope for millions of people in postwar Europe. (.) Wajda belongs to Poland, but his films are part of the cultural treasure of all mankind". Wajda's Oscar statuette was presented by the director to the Jagiellonian University Museum in Cracow.
Three years later, the Academy Award for Achievement in Directing went to another well-know Polish director - Roman Polanski ("Chinatown", "Rosemary's Baby") for "The Pianist".

2003: Poland says YES to Europe
Bidding a final farewell to the country's Communist past, Polish public opinion overwhelmingly approved entry into the European Union in a two-day nationwide referendum. "We are returning to the place which Poles and Poland deserve in 1,000 years of history" - president Aleksander Kwasniewski said triumphantly. Among the more curious sights of the referendum was the appearance of Poland's last Communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who told journalists after casting his ballot that if someone had predicted this would happen 20 years ago, "I would have said that it is science fiction, the theater of the absurd."
"But that's it," he went on, "the beauty of life. Realities change, domestically, internationally, historically. It's a new reality and you have to take it into account. I took account of it by voting for Poland's entry into the E.U."
2004: Poland joins the European Union
On 1 May 2004 "an act of historic justice" (as Pope John Paul the Second described this moment) will come true and Poland, along with eight other former Communist countries and Malta and Cyprus, will join the European Union.
Nowoczensne projekty domów