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Cityscape of Kraków, Poland's former capital
Cityscape of Kraków, Poland's former capital
Coat of arms of Poland
Coat of arms of Poland

osm-intl,4,52,19,190x190.png Poland is a country in Central Europe, 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 Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north. It is an ancient nation whose history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century when it united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to form the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements in the late 18th century, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned Poland amongst themselves. It regained independence as the Second Polish Republic in the aftermath of World War I only to lose it again when it was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. The nation lost over six million citizens in the war, following which it emerged as the communist Polish People's Republic under strong Soviet influence within the Eastern Bloc. A westward border shift followed by forced population transfers after the war turned a once multiethnic country into a mostly homogeneous nation state. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union called Solidarity (Solidarność) that over time became a political force which by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country completed, Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, but has experienced a constitutional crisis and democratic backsliding under the rule of the populist Law and Justice party since 2015.

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Cover of 1791 printed edition of the Constitution of 3 May
Cover of 1791 printed edition of the Constitution of 3 May
The Polish Constitution of 1791, the world's second oldest written constitution after that of the United States, was adopted by the Great Sejm on 3 May 1791. The document was designed to redress political defects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, such as the system of "Golden Liberty", which had corrupted the country's politics. It sought to supplant the prevailing anarchy, fostered by some of the country's magnates, with a more democratic constitutional monarchy. It introduced elements of political equality between townspeople and nobility, and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, thus mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom. It also banned pernicious parliamentary institutions such as the liberum veto, which allowed any single deputy to undo all the legislation that had been passed during a given session of the Sejm. The constitution remained in force for less than 15 months and was abolished following the Constitution War against Russia and the Russian-supported Targowica Confederation, a coalition of Polish magnates and landless nobility who opposed reforms that might have weakened their influence. In the words of two of the document's co-authors, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaj, it was "the last will and testament of the expiring Country." (Full article...)

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A Polish bagpiper from the Żywiec Beskid Mountains
A Polish bagpiper from the Żywiec Beskid Mountains
Przemysław Ficek, the leading member of the folk band Fickowo Pokusa, plays the bagpipes during the 43rd Beskidy Mountain Folk Week of Culture, a festival promoting the culture and lifestyle of the Gorals, or mountain folk, of the Beskid Mountains along Poland's southern border. Ficek represents an ethnic group known as górale żywieccy, living in the Żywiec Beskids around the town of Żywiec.

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Marie Curie Museum in Warsaw

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Megitza with her double bass
Megitza with her double bass
Małgorzata Babiarz (born 1984), also known by her stage name Megitza, is a Polish singer, double bass player, and composer. She combines Polish and Eastern European folk music, Romani music and gypsy jazz with world music, worldbeat, Latin American music, pop, and Americana. Born in Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, she was introduced to the traditional music of Polish Highlanders (górale) by her father, and began performing in a children folk dance ensemble. She moved to Chicago in 2003 and started her professional career in 2008, when she formed the Megitza Quartet and released her debut album, Boleritza. The Sound Culture Center for Global Arts described Megitza as "a true concert revelation – an unusual voice, charisma and beauty", describing her music as "dynamic, vibrant, full of energy, uniting listeners of all ages." She performs mostly in the United States and in her native Poland. (Full article...)

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Medieval port crane in Gdańsk
Medieval port crane in Gdańsk
Gdańsk is Poland's principal seaport located in the Kashubian region on the Baltic Sea. Together with the spa town of Sopot and the industrial city of Gdynia, it forms a conurbation known as Trójmiasto ("Tricity"). It has a complex political history with long spells of Polish rule interspersed with periods of German control and two spells as a free city. As an important port and shipbuilding center, the picturesque city was a member of the Hanseatic League. For much of its history the majority of its inhabitants were German speakers who referred to their city as Danzig, but after World War II it became firmly Polish. Gdańsk is the birthplace of the Solidarity movement which, led by Lech Wałęsa, played a role in bringing down the communist rule across Central Europe. (Full article...)

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