History at a glance

More than a thousand years of history – from being a major continental power through lost independence to becoming a Europe’s economic success story. Poland is a country whose history makes it “God’s Playground”. 

Middle Ages

966—Poland embraces Christianity

The process of Christianisation of Polish lands started in 966 with Mieszko I’s baptism. The ruler’s baptism and the establishment of an independent diocese brought the Gniezno state into the family of European Christian states and bound Poland to the Western sphere of Christian culture.

1000—Congress of Gniezno

Emperor Otto III and Duke Bolesław, later King of Poland, met in Gniezno. As a result, a metropolitan see of Gniezno was established, Poland’s first to be directly subordinate to the pope. The emperor was presented with the relics of St. Adalbert, the first Polish martyr.

1025 — first Polish royal coronation

Bolesław I Chrobry — the son of the Polish Prince Mieszko I and the Bohemian Princess Dobrawa, Poland’s first crowned king. Chrobry came from the Piast dynasty and was the sovereign prince of Poland following 992 (Mieszko I’s death). He is regarded by many historians as Poland’s most outstanding ruler, who made the state considerably stronger. In 1000, he hosted the Congress of Gniezno which—in the Emperor Otto III’s presence—decided to establish the archdiocese of Gniezno.It is thought that Bolesław was crowned the first king of Poland in Gniezno on 18 April 1025. He died 17 June 1025.

1364—first university

The Jagiellonian University in Krakow is the oldest university in Poland. Over the centuries it has educated many famous Poles, among them Nicolaus Copernicus, King John III Sobieski, Pope John Paul II, and the writer Stanisław Lem. It was founded by King Casimir III the Great on 12 May 1364 as the Krakow Academy. The Academy was the region’s second university, after Prague. The jewels of Queen Jadwiga Angevin, Władysław Jagiełło’s wife, provided funds for the restoration of the Academy to its full glory, with four faculties, including the prestigious faculty of theology. In 1407, Europe’s first autonomous departments of mathematics and astronomy were set up there. The university’s name got the “Jagiellonian” adjective only in 1817.

1364—Congress of monarchs in Krakow

On the initiative of the Polish King Casimir III the Great, a meeting of monarchs took place in Krakow between 22 and 27 September 1364. It was attended by Charles IV, German Emperor and King of Bohemia; the kings: Valdemar IV of Denmark, Louis of Hungary and Peter of Cyprus; and many dukes: Otto of Brandenburg, Siemowit III of Masovia, Bolko II the Small of Swidnica and Władysław Opolczyk. The reasoning behind convening the congress was the need to secure a political balance of power in Central Europe as well as a possible anti-Turkish crusade. The congress had a sumptuous ceremonial setting, with the lavish banquet in Wierzynek’s house in Krakow passing into legend. The congress, which reverberated widely in Europe, was also a manifestation of the Polish king’s power and wealth.

1385 – Union of Krevo

The Polish-Lithuanian Union, agreed to on 14 August 1385 in Krevo in Lithuania, created the foundations of a united state combining the Kingdom of Poland with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Poles made Wladyslaw II Jagiello, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, King of Poland and approved his marriage to Queen Jadwiga. In exchange, Jagiello and the whole of Lithuania converted to Christianity and Jagiello pledged to reclaim Polish and Lithuanian land lost to the Teutonic Order as well as to incorporate Lithuania into Poland. The Union with Lithuania helped created a strong military alliance which acted as a counterbalance to the threat posed to both nations by the Teutonic Order. It was a voluntary union between two nations that was unprecedented in this era. The Union of Krevo was consolidated with the Union of Horodlo, signed on 2 October 1413. The provisions of the alliance gave the Lithuanians the right to elect a new Grand Duke of Lithuania and 47 Lithuanian noble families were granted Polish coats of arms, giving Catholic Lithuanian boyars the same privileges enjoyed by Polish nobility. The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was founded as a result of the Union of Lublin in 1569.

1410—Battle of Grunwald

One of the largest battles in the history of Medieval Europe. On 15 July 1410, Grunwald fields were the knights of the site of a battle between the Teutonic Order commanded by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen and the combined Polish and Lithuanian forces led by the King of Poland, Władysław Jagiełło. It ended in a victory for the Polish-Lithuanian army.

Modernity

1515—The First Congress of Vienna

July 1515 was marked by a meeting of the Jagiellonians and the Habsburgs, attended by Sigismund I the Old, King of Poland, Vladislas II the Jagiellonian, King of Bohemia and Hungary, and Emperor Maximilian I. The congress concluded on 22 July with the Treaty of Vienna, whereby the emperor undertook to stop supporting the Teutonic Order and Muscovy in their operations against Poland. The Jagiellonians in turn consented to the marriages of Vladislas II’s children—Anna and Louis—with Emperor Maximilian I’s grandchildren, Ferdinand and Mary.

1543—Copernicus’ groundbreaking discovery

“De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” by Nicolaus Copernicus was published in Nuremberg; a work which laid the foundations for modern astronomy. The Polish scientist presented a theory about a heliocentric and heliostatic universe—he claimed that it is the Earth that orbits the Sun, and not the other way round, as had been previously believed. The publication of the book marked the end of the Middle Ages in science, and the theory earned itself the name ‘Copernican Revolution,’ leading to a deep change in the way the world was perceived, affecting religion, politics and philosophy.

1569—Union of Lublin

It was the crowning of Poland and Lithuania’s unification efforts. The act was passed by the Sejms (parliaments) of the two nations in 1569 in Lublin. Under the Union, the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from then on formed the Commonwealth of the Two Nations, with a jointly elected king, common parliament and foreign policy. The Commonwealth became one of the biggest states of Europe, and the 17th century was an era of its biggest economic, scientific, political and military might, dubbed “the golden age of Poland.” The end of the Union of Lublin came in the 18th century with the partitions of Poland.

1573—Warsaw confederation

One of the first acts granting broad religious tolerance in Europe, it was passed by the gentry at a session of the Sejm (called upon the monarch’s death) in Warsaw on 28 January 1573. It guaranteed unconditional and permanent peace between different denominations, equal rights for religious dissenters and the Catholic gentry, and enshrined the freedom of conscience and tolerance.

1648 – The Chmielnicki Uprising

The uprising of the Zaporozhian Cossacks and peasants against the nobility and gentry, led by Bohdan Chmielnicki. It was the most important – and most bloody – Cossack uprising. In order to defeat the monarchy’s army, Chmielnicki joined forces with the Tatars. His forces came out victorious in the Battles of Zhovti Vody (literally “Yellow Waters”), Korsun and Pyliavtsi. 1648 was concluded with the successful defence of Lviv by the Commonwealth. One year later, the monarchy’s army managed to stop the Cossack-Tatar coalition in their tracks, successfully defending itself for several weeks in Zbaraz. The subsequent years brought further hostilities interrupted by short-lived deals. In 1651. one of the largest land battles of the seventeenth century took place in Beresteczko, resulting in a great victory for the Commonwealth army. However, the rebellion had not been completely suppressed and more hostilities would take place over the following years. January 1654 is regarded as the symbolic end of the Chmielnicki Uprising as it is the date when Chmielnicki signed an agreement with the Russian Tsar in Pereyaslav, under which the Cossacks pledged loyalty to the Tsar. What followed was the Russo-Polish War, which lasted until 1667, when both sides reached a ceasefire in Andrusovo. The war was finally concluded with a peace treaty finalized in 1686, confirming the terms agreed to in Andrusovo. It established the Republic’s borders with Russia for 86 years, until the first partitions of 1772. As a result of these and other wars waged at the same time, the Republic suffered serious territorial losses and resigned from its active role in Eastern Europe.

1655 – The Swedish Deluge

Taking advantage of the fact that the Polish Republic, its main Baltic Sea rival, was mired in conflict with the Cossacks and Russia, Sweden attacked the Poles in July 1655. Very quickly, like a sudden deluge, the Swedes occupied Polish territory, defeating its army, taking over cities and looting and pillaging material goods and works of art. A trigger for widespread resistance was the successful defence of the Pauline monastery at Jasna Gora, led by Father Augustyn Kordecki. The Swedish Deluge was also called the Second Northern War and involved other European countries. The Danes, Brandenburgers, Hungarians, Poles and Swedes all took part in the conflict. The Deluge was concluded with the Treaty of Oliva, a peace treaty signed in 1660. Poland did not lose any territory but it suffered enormous demographic and material losses.

1683—Battle of Vienna

Fought on 12 September 1683 between a coalition of Polish, Austrian (led by Charles V, Duke of Lorraine) and German (led by Prince Georg Friedrich of Waldeck) forces under the command of Polish King John III Sobieski, and an Ottoman army led by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa. The battle was decisive for Europe’s future. It ended in a defeat of the Ottomans, who thereafter would no longer pose a threat to Christian Europe.

1772 — first partition of Poland

Annexation of Polish lands by Prussia, Austria and Russia; it reduced the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by over 200,000 sq. km. The excuse given for seizing a portion of Polish land was Poland’s alleged inability to retain internal order and unity, which the neighbouring powers held as a threat. Their rulers signed the partition treaties in St Petersburg on 5 August 1772. Austria seized entire southern Poland with Lwow but without Krakow; Prussia took Varmia and Royal Prussia (Gdansk Pomerania), without Gdansk and Torun. Russia acquired Polish Livonia and Poland’s lands east of the Dnieper, Drut and Dvina Rivers.

1791—Constitution of May 3

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations was adopted on 3 May 1791. It was the first codified constitution in modern day Europe, and the world’s second after the American one. Unfortunately, the Constitution did not prevent Poland’s downfall. In 1793, the second partition of the Commonwealth by Russia and Prussia was enforced, and in 1795 the third partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria was carried out. Poland lost its statehood tand would only recover it in the autumn of 1918.

1793 — second partition of Poland

The second partition of Poland was finalised on 23 January 1793. The Russian Empress Catharine II and Prussia’s King Frederick Wilhelm II signed the partition treaties in St Petersburg. Prussian troops entered Great Poland, annexing around 58,000 sq. km of land area (including Gdansk and Torun), and a Russian army captured around 250,000 sq. km of Poland’s eastern lands. The Habsburg Empire, owing to the ongoing war against France, did not take part in the second partition of Poland.

1794 — Kościuszko uprising

The Kościuszko uprising, or Kościuszko insurrection, broke out on 24 March 1794 and was directed against Russia and Prussia. The insurrection’s leader was Tadeusz Kościuszko, who was given the rank of Supreme Commander of the National Armed Force. Kościuszko was an outstanding general and engineer, and a hero of the American War of Independence (he played a part in the Continental Army’s victory in the Battle of Saratoga, and designed the West Point fortifications). The Kosciuszko uprising was not a success—it was supressed by the Russian forces, and the decisive battle was fought near the village of Maciejowice on 10 October 1794. A wounded Kościuszko was taken prisoner by the Russians.

1795 — third partition of Poland

It obliterated Poland from the map of Europe and upset the geopolitical balance of the Old Continent. On 24 October 1795, Russia, Prussia and Austria signed the partition treaty. Russia received the largest area: all land east of the Niemen and Bug Rivers. Austria took the Lublin province, the remaining parts of Little Poland with Krakow, and a portion of Podlasie and Mazovia. Prussia incorporated a section of Mazovia with Warsaw, Podlasie, Lithuania, and a part of the Krakow province. It was not until 1918 that Poland regained full independence.

1806 – Greater Poland Uprising

The uprising broke out in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war, and Napoleon’s army’s entry into the Polish region of Wielkopolska, or Greater Poland. The fighting began in November 1806, after freshly formed insurgent troops, heeding a call by General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, set about disarming Prussian garrisons and deposing Prussian civilian authorities. The struggle ended in June 1807 with the surrender of Königsberg. The uprising’s success contributed to establishing the Duchy of Warsaw under the Treaties of Tilsit.

1830 — November Uprising

A Polish national uprising directed against Russia. It broke out in the night of 29-30 November 1830, and covered the territory of the Kingdom of Poland. The Poles rose up against the rule of the Russian emperor Nicholas I, who had repeatedly violated the Constitution of 1815, imposed censorship, and suppressed patriotic organizations. The insurgents managed to seize temporary control of Warsaw by removing the Russian garrison. 54,000 Polish soldiers took part in the fighting, pitted against 115,000 members of the Russian army. Following the fall of the insurrection in October 1831, the Russians abolished the Polish parliament (Sejm) and local government, and shut down Polish universities in the Kingdom of Poland. What ensued was the so-called Great Emigration, which saw eleven thousand Polish intellectuals leave the country mainly for France. The Paris residence of Prince Adam Czartoryski at the Hotel Lambert became the centre of post-insurrection political life. With visitors such as Adam Mickiewicz and Frederic Chopin, the palace became a haven of Polishness and Polish culture.

1863 — January Insurrection

The Insurrection lasted for almost two years, and was directed against the Russian Empire. It broke out during the night of 22-23 January 1863 in the Kingdom of Poland, and on 1 February in Lithuania. Fighting also spread to Belarus and Ukraine. Romuald Traugutt was the last leader of the Insurrection. Arrested by the Russians, he was executed at the Warsaw Citadel in August 1864. Though unsuccessful, the Insurrection aroused patriotic sentiments in Polish society. It was an important step towards regaining independence by Poland in November 1918.

1903—First Nobel for Maria Skłodowska-Curie

The Warsaw-born Maria Skłodowska-Curie was the first woman in history to become a Nobel Prize laureate. Together with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel, a French physicist, she was awarded in physics for their research into radioactivity, discovered by Becquerel in 1896. The discovery gave an impulse for the development of new branches of physics, chemistry and medicine. It has contributed to progress made in fighting cancer.

Contemporary Period

1918—Independence

After 123 years under Russian, Prussian and Austrian rule, Poland regained independence. Although it was a gradual process, 11 November 1918 has come to be regarded as the symbolic date of regaining independence. On that day a truce between the Entente and the German Empire was signed in Compiègne, France, ending the First World War. Also on that day the Regency Council handed over military authority and the supreme command over its subordinate Polish troops to Józef Piłsudski. Polish independence was forged during the wars fought over the country’s borders, which lasted until 1923. In the south, the Czech armies occupied Cieszyn Silesia (Poland lost Spisz, Zaolzie and Orawa), a result of the Bolshevik offensive on Warsaw. From 1919, in the East a war raged on with Bolshevik Russia. In August 1920, Poles emerged victorious from the Battle of Warsaw, pushing the Bolshevik army out of Poland. However, from 1 November 1918 an armed conflict over the ownership of Eastern Galicia broke out between Poles and Ukrainians, lasting eight months. The conflict started in Lviv when Ukrainian forces took over the city. Polish units, consisting largely of youths, bravely stood in defence of their city – they became known as the Lviv Eaglets. Eventually, in November 1919, the members of the Entente gave Poland the mandate over Eastern Galicia. The course of Poland’s eastern border was confirmed by the Entente’s Council of Ambassadors in March 1923. Between 1919 and 1921 three Silesian uprisings against the Germans took place. The inhabitants of Upper Silesia demanded that this piece of land be connected to the now separated Polish Republic, which lost the territory during the partitions. The Third Uprising took place in the night of 2/3 of May. It was led by Wojciech Korfanty, a social activist. The fighting lasted for two months – the insurgents managed to take over almost the whole area subjected to a plebiscite aimed at deciding the ownership of the territory. As a result of this uprising, the Council of Ambassador decided to divide Silesia in a way that was favourable to Poland. Cities such as Katowice, Świętochłowice, Królewska Huta (currently Chorzów), Rybnik, Lubliniec, Tarnowskie Góry and Pszczyna were allocated to Poland.

1918 – Wielkopolska Uprising

The uprising began on 27 December 1918, sparked by the arrival in Poznan of the internationally acclaimed composer and pianist Ignacy Paderewski. Enthusiastically welcomed by crowds, Paderewski delivered a speech that stirred pro-independent demonstrations in the city. Meanwhile, German attempts to suppress Polish political rallies escalated into clashes. The uprising spread to many cities and towns in the region of Wielkopolska; the insurgents were able to achieve many of their military and political objectives. The fighting ended on 16 February 1919, upon the signing of the Trier ceasefire. The success of the insurgency and the liberation of Wielkopolska from Prussian rule had a significant impact on international peace negotiations, and the final shape of the Versailles Treaty

1920—the Battle of Warsaw

Known as the Miracle on the Vistula, Poland’s victorious battle fought between 12-25 August 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War, is considered a turning point in world history. It not only sealed Poland’s independence, but also saved the whole of Europe from the spread of communism and Soviet totalitarianism. A decisive moment in the battle was when the Polish army, led by Commander-in-Chief Jozef Pilsudski, encircled the Red Army. On 19 August, the Bolshevik army led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky, was forced to retreat behind the Neman River. By 25 August, Polish military units had liberated numerous towns, reaching the East Prussian border and cutting off the retreat path of the Bolshevik forces. The Polish-Bolshevik War started on 14 February 1919. It was triggered by a conflict between the Polish state, revived after 123 years of partitions, and Bolshevik Russia, over Poland’s eastern border and its independence. One of its most important milestones was the so-called Kiev Offensive. On 25 April 1920, upon the signing of an agreement between Poland and Semen Petlura, the leader of the Ukrainian Peoples’ Republic (URL) regarding the establishment of a common front against the Red Army, Polish forces started an offensive on Ukrainian territory. The manoeuvre was successful and the forces managed to reclaim Kiev from Bolshevik control. The war was concluded with the signing of a peace treaty, the Peace of Riga, in March 1921.

1939—Second World War

On 1 September 1939, 4:45 a.m., a salvo from the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein was fired at the Polish Military Transit Depot on the Westerplatte peninsula near Gdansk started the hostilities between Poland and Germany. At the same time German aircraft bombed the town of Wielun. The Battle of Westerplatte sparked off an armed conflict which would ultimately involve 110 million soldiers from 61 countries. The Republic of Poland, which was the first to mount armed resistance against the Nazis, paid for it with the lives of around 5,800,000 citizens, the destruction of 38% of its national wealth and over a half century of lost independence, having found itself within the Russian sphere of influence. On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union’s Red Army entered Poland from the East. Around 250,000 Polish soldiers were taken prisoner by the Soviets, including around 10,000 officers who were then murdered on Soviet territory in 1940. Katyn has become the symbol of this mass crime. Hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens were deported deep into the Soviet Union. At the time, Poland had non-aggression agreements with both countries – the Soviet Union, signed in 1932, and with Germany, signed in 1934.The war lasted until 8 May 1945, when the Germans signed the act of unconditional surrender.

1940—Katyn crime

In the spring, in the vicinity of Katyn near Smolensk, Miednoye near Tver, Bykovnia near Kyiv, Piatykhatky on the outskirts of Kharkiv, and most probably also in Belarus, NKVD—or the Soviet political police— murdered almost 22,000 Polish citizens, including more than 10,000 army and police officers, Most of those murdered were shot in the back of the head. The decision to execute “prisoners of war” was made by the highest authorities of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was included in a resolution of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) dated 5 March 1940 (the so-called Katyn decision). Only in 1990 did the USSR officially admit that the crime had been perpetrated by the NKVD (before that, the Soviet authorities had denied responsibility for the crime).

1944—Warsaw Rising

The Warsaw Rising was launched by the Polish Home Army during the Second World War against the German forces that had been occupying Poland’s capital since 1939. It broke out on 1 August and, despite being very poorly armed, held out for as many as 63 days, until 3 October 1944. A testimony to the courage of the Polish people, it did not let Western countries forget about the tragic fate of German-occupied Poland. The Home Army was part of Poland’s Underground State. Although resistance movements existed in all parts of occupied Europe, Poland was the only country with its own secret state comprising of its own army, ministries, parliament, police and even social care.

1956 – Polish October

The term “Polish October” stands for shifting domestic politics as well as social and economic changes in the Polish People’s Republic (PRL), also referred to as the October thaw. The changes were brought about by the death of Stalin in March 1953, the speech of Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in which he denounced the abuses of the Stalin era, followed by changes in the Soviet Union itself. Particularly seminal were the events of June 1956 in Poznan, i.e. the first general strike in the PRL, initiated by ten thousand employees of the Cegielski railway carriage plant in Poznan, and violently suppressed street demonstrations, which turned into anti-government street battles. The October thaw coincided with a split in the governing Polish United Workers’ Party and the return of Władysław Gomułka to power. That period saw the release of some political prisoners and the clergy from prisons and internment centres, including Stefan Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland.

1968 – March 1968

The term “March events” mostly refers to student strikes and protests started by the students of the University of Warsaw and the Warsaw University of Technology, violently suppressed by the Communist authorities. They were sparked by disappointment over the policies of Władysław Gomułka who, despite his liberalism shown in October, quickly deviated from the reforms secured by the society in the autumn of 1956. Popular discontent rose with political repressions, fight against the Church and restrictions in the freedom of speech, culminating in the banning of Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) play directed by Kazimierz Dejmek, on 30 January 1968. This performance was considered a patriotic manifesto against the Soviet Union. The events of March 1968 led to the birth of “generation ‘68”, whose members went on to become opposition activists. In that period, the country’s Communist authorities also launched a campaign against Polish citizens of Jewish origin. The authorities spoke against the alleged promotion of Jewish Zionism, which according to them posed a threat to the Polish People’s Republic (PRL). As a result of these measures, a lot of Jewish people lost their jobs, and were discriminated against in various ways and forced to emigrate.

1970 – December events

A wave of workers’ protests and strikes that between 14 and 22 December 1970 engulfed the entire coast: Gdynia, Gdansk, Szczecin, Elblag and Slupsk. The workers demanded cancelling the rise in the prices of food and everyday items that had been introduced by the Communist authorities on 13 December. The protests were bloodily suppressed by the police and the army. Several dozen people were killed and over a thousand injured.

1976 — June ‘76

A bout of strikes and protests by residents of Radom, Ursus and Plock, caused directly by a huge increase in prices of many foods announced on 24 June by Prime Minister Piotr Jaroszewicz in the Sejm. Streets were the scene of confrontations and clashes with the police. The wave of the June strikes was compared to the strikes of December 1970. The attempted price increases were scrapped. A campaign to help those repressed for their participation in the June protest gave rise to the Workers’ Defence Committee in September 1976, which was the beginnings of the opposition. In March 1977, opposition groups established the Movement for Defence of Human and Civic Rights (ROPCiO).

1978—Karol Wojtyła is elected Pope John Paul II

The election of a Pole to the papacy in October 1978 stirred up emotions around the world. The conclave broke the rule that the Supreme Pontiff had to be Italian, and elected a man from behind the Iron Curtain. Cardinal Karol Wojtyła became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. He chose the name John Paul II. Many historians believe that John Paul II was instrumental in toppling communism.

1980—Birth of Solidarity

A wave of strikes, which started on the Polish coast, led to the signing of an agreement between a government commission and an Inter-Factory Strike Committtee, in Gdansk on 31 August 1980. As a result, the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity” was born—the first legal and independent trade union in the communist bloc. The slogan “No freedom without Solidarity” was a cry known to everyone in Poland in the 1980s. The emergence of Solidarity ushered in the democratic transition of 1989— leading to the overthrow of communism.

1981 – Martial Law

Martial law was declared on the night of 12-13 December 1981, on the entire territory of Poland, by the Communist government led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski. The government justified its decision by pointing to the threat of civil war, economic collapse, and a possible coup by the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity. Throughout the martial law period, several dozen people died as a result of repressions (pacification of sit-downs, quelling of street protest). The authorities curtailed basic civil rights, and arrested and interned over ten thousand people, including Lech Wałęsa – the leader of Solidarity. Those oppressed received help from, among others, the Catholic Church (via local diocese and parish committees) and foreign charity organisations. Those activists who managed to avoid internment went underground to rebuild the Solidarity structures. Martial law brought a wave of international condemnation on Poland, especially among the Western states that decided to impose economic and political sanctions against Polish Communist authorities. On 31 December 1982, martial law was suspended, and on 22 July 1983, it was revoked (while keeping part of the repressive legislation in place). Modern Polish society is divided whether declaring martial law was a good idea. Some think it was the right thing to do (martial law was supposed to prevent a potential Soviet intervention), while others look at it more critically – as the decision hampering democratic reforms and delaying the regaining of full sovereignty by Poland.

1989—Round-table talks

In February, negotiations began between the democratic opposition linked to the “Solidarity” Independent Self-Governing Trade Union, led by Lech Wałęsa, and the communist authorities. The talks were also attended by observers from the Catholic and Lutheran church. The immediate cause for entering the talks were two waves of strikes in 1988. The negotiations between the government and opposition were concluded in April 1989 at the Round Table, with the two sides agreeing to pluralistic elections, the first elections of this kind to be held after the Second World War.

4 June 1989 – Parliamentary Elections

With the parliamentary elections of 4 June 1989, Poles voted communist authoritarianism out of power, and momentous changes started to sweep through across Central and Eastern Europe. The elections ended in a landslide victory for the opposition movement represented by the Citizens’ Committee with Lech Wałęsa. It won 99% of the seats in the Senate and all of the available seats in the Sejm. On that day the Polish people chose freedom. On 12 September a government was formed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki—the first non-communist prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe in over 40 years.

1999—Poland becomes NATO member

On 12 March in Independence, Missouri, Professor Bronisław Geremek, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, with the instrument of Poland’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty. Poland joined NATO alongside the Czech Republic and Hungary. NATO membership was one of the fundamental objectives for the Polish foreign and security policy of the 1990s.

2004—Poland joins European Union

On 1 May Poland acceded to the European Union pursuant to the Accession Treaty signed on 16 July 2003 in Athens. Alongside Poland, the Union welcomed nine other states: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta. The idea of including Poland in Western Europe’s integration processes was first put forward by Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government. Already in the early 1990s, securing the full membership of the European Communities was considered to be a strategic goal for Poland’s foreign policy. In the accession referendum held in June 2003, 77.45% of Poles said “yes” to Poland’s accession to the European Union (with a turnout of 58.85%).