Poland: Historical Overview                                  

For more in depth history of Poland navigate your way through different time periods here (scroll to any European section and click the down arrow to start)!

700 BC                      

The most famous archeological find from Poland's prehistory and proto-history is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as a museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BC.


10th century           

Poland began to form into a recognizable unitary and territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century under the Piast Dynasty.


16th century           

Poland’s “Golden Age.” During this century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation.



In a series of agreements Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland amongst themselves.



Napoleon I (image) of France recreated a Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw.



 After the Napoleonic Wars, Poland was again divided in by the victorious Allies at the Congress of Vienna. The eastern portion was ruled by the Russian tsar as a Congress Kingdom which possessed a liberal constitution. However, the tsars soon reduced Polish freedoms and Russia eventually annexed the country.



 Shortly after the armistice with Germany in 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic.



The 1926 May Coup of Józef Piłsudski (photo) turned rule of the Second Polish Republic over to the Sanacja movement.



The Sanacja movement controlled Poland until the start of World War II in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded and the Soviet invasion of Poland followed by breaking the Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact. Of all the countries involved in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over six million perished, half of them Polish Jews. Poland made the 4th largest troop contribution to the Allied war effort, after the Soviets, the British and the Americans.



The Soviet Union instituted a new communist government in Poland. Military alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War was also part of this change. The People's Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was officially proclaimed in 1952.


Labor turmoil led to the formation of the independent trade union “Solidarity” that, over time, became a political force.



“Solidarity” swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. Leszek Balcerowicz’s (photo) reforms enabled the country to transform its economy into a market economy. As with all other post-communist countries, Poland suffered temporary slumps in social and economic standards.



Poland became a member of the Visegrád Group.



 Poland became the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels, which it achieved by 1995 because of its booming economy. Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in human rights, such as the freedom of speech.



 Poland joined NATO along with the Czech Republic and Hungary.



Solidarity” suffered a major defeat in the parliamentary elections when it failed to elect a single deputy to the lower house of Parliament, and the new leaders of the Solidarity Trade Union subsequently pledged to reduce the union's political role.



Via a referendum, Poles voted to join the EU.



Poland became a full EU member.



The President, Lech Kaczyński (photo), along with 89 other high-ranking Polish officials died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia.


Present Day            

Poland still faces the lingering challenges of high unemployment, underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure, and a poor rural underclass. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.