Poland: Country and Foreign Investment
History, Geography, Population and Culture
This page was last updated on 20 November 2020.
Poland is named after the Polanie tribe (the name literally means ‘field-dwellers’), who established the Piast dynasty in the 10th century under the leadership of Mieszko I, marking the start of Poland as a nation proper and bringing about its increasing influence in central Europe.
By the end of the 14th century, Poland, in personal union with Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was the largest state in Europe. However, their monarchs were elected by the nobility, a system that was highly susceptible to foreign manipulation.
After a golden age in the 16th century, the country was undermined by Swedish incursions and various internal disputes, and disappeared at the end of the 18th century after being divided up between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland was reconstituted as the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon and then divided again, following French defeats, at the Congress of Vienna.
Poland regained its independence in 1918, only to lose it again to Nazi Germany in 1939. Eastern Europe was reconquered by Soviet Union by 1945, and Poland became a Soviet satellite state in the post-war period.
A period of martial law in early 1980s, as the government attempted to crack down on opposition to the communist leadership, was followed by several years of repression. Resistance was centred on independent trade union ‘Solidarity’ (Solidarnosc), the country's first non-communist controlled trade union.
In 1990, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa become president, hastening the weakening of the hold of communism on Eastern Europe. During the 1990s, the Polish economy was transformed and has continued to develop since then. On 1 May 2004, Poland became a member of the European Union, further boosting its economic progress.
Poland has a land area of 312, 685 km2 (120,726 sq mi). It lies in central Europe and borders on Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany. To the north lies the Baltic Sea. Approximately 40% of the land is arable and a further 28% is forested, the latter mostly in the southern uplands. Poland has many natural resources, including coal, sulphur, copper, natural gas, silver, lead and salt. The climate is temperate though the winters are usually cold.
The population of approximately 37.9 million (2020 estimate) is slowly declining. The vast majority of the people are of Polish origin and there is a strong (90%) Roman Catholic influence.