POLAND
     
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The establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I in 966, over the territory similar to that of present-day Poland. The Kingdom of Poland was formed in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin, forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth ceased to exist in 1795 as the Polish lands were partitioned among the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Old Austria. Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918. Two decades later, in September 1939, World War II started with the Nazi Germany and Soviet Union invasion of Poland (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). Over six million Polish citizens died in the war. The People's Republic was declared in 1952 although Poland was a client state of the Soviet Union from 1944. During the Revolutions of 1989, the communist state was overthrown and democratic rule was re-established in the form of the current Poland, constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic".Despite the vast destruction the country experienced in World War II, Poland managed to preserve much of its cultural wealth. There are currently 14 heritage sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in Poland. Since the end of the communist period, Poland has achieved a "very high" ranking in terms of human development.

Poles are not averse to drama and heroism. In the nineteenth century, when the Polish state was divided between
Germany, Russia and Austria, Poland compared the fate of the Polish nation with OLH on the cross. The Poles died for the good of Europe. Since then a lot has happened. Poland came back on the map (in 1918), and then to disappear again in 1939. After World War II, Poland literally shifted and came (again) under the authority of imperial Russia. Only in 1989, Poland was again fully independent and sovereign.
There are many aspects of the past that continues to work to this day in Polish politics and society: the desire for independence and sovereignty, the enormous influence of the Second World War and the Cold War on the Polish national identity, the special nature of Polish communism, the unique 'experiment' Solidarity and the fall of communism, and accession to NATO and the European Union.
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On politics

 

 

The Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN) was established by the Polish Parliament.

The resolution on the establishment of the IPN, made by the coalition of parties, stemming from the Solidarity movement (which took over the power from the post-Communist coalition)

 

Lecture Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs 12 June 2013 on common challenges
"EU needs to return to its pragmatic self"

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Mr. Radoslaw Sikorski, lectured 12 June 2013 at Leiden University on common challenges. In Berlin in 2011, during the speech Poland and the future of the European Union Sikorski lectured the German government on its lack of European leadership in the eurocrisis: 'I fear German tanks less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity'. In Oxford last year the Polish minister lectured the British government on its plans for a referendum on Europe: 'DON'T DO IT...

Britain today is living with false consciousness. Your interests are in Europe. It's high time for your sentiments to follow. .... Britain is famous through the ages for its practical good sense and policies based on reality not myths. We hope you can return to this tradition soon.' In the Netherlands, the minister stressed that the EU's foundations were built on the spirit of solidarity.

The minister also brought up the EU's chances of coming out of its economic crisis, restoring stability and of creating more jobs. Levelling disparities and securing prosperity for all parts of Europe lies in the very heart of the European project," emphasized the minister. He added that Poland advocates EU solidarity and openness, even though the crisis has demonstrated that there is less of that solidarity now.

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Financial Times June 30, 2011 3:16 am. Poland to focus on crises as it leads EU, By Jan Cienski in Brussels

 

Poland’s six-month leadership of the European Union will largely be concerned with “reacting to sudden events”, says its prime minister, who faces the challenge of steering the 27-state institution amid turbulent conditions. Donald Tusk told the Financial Times he had been forced to reassess the conditions in which Poland would be conducting its EU presidency. “Today, I understand that the presidency will mainly consist of reacting to sudden events,” he said, with the Greek crisis, widespread austerity and immigration concerns all threatening cohesion.

 

On Friday, Poland took over the presidency for the first time. However, Mr Tusk said he was determined to preserve the EU’s accomplishments, including its open borders policy and commitment to foreign aid. He would also “push through” projects including building relationships with the EU’s eastern neighbours Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, and working on enhanced energy security. The most important task would be to “rebuild trust and faith in the idea that Europe makes sense – that the EU is truly a worthwhile invention”. “Sometimes I have the impression that Europeans have lost faith in the sense of Europe, that they live in the best place on earth. Europe remains a source of inspiration for people around the world,” he said.

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EU Presidency

The key for Warsaw would be to not allow the rush of crises to derail some of the EU’s proudest achievements, such as the Schengen open border policy and the enormous aid sent to poorer countries – where Poland has been the greatest beneficiary, garnering €67bn ($97bn) in the current seven-year budget cycle.

One certainly cannot bring in border controls because of the crisis in north Africa ... That is not an answer to what is happening there – it is instead a response to the internal problems of some member states,” said the Polish premier. “The same can be said of the financial crisis, which is of a global nature. Reacting by cutting the budget is a false medicine.” Poland has put a lot of effort into organising itself for the presidency, and hopes to outperform the generally lacklustre presidencies of other ex-communist states such as the Czech Republic – during whose 2009 presidency the country’s government collapsed, and Hungary, whose six-month term that ends now has been marked by controversy over the new media law.

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Joining the EU is still seen as Poland’s greatest foreign policy success, cementing the country to the democratic west. Despite its commitment to a more coherent EU, Poland has not been afraid of prioritising its own needs, blocking an attempt to toughen up the commitment to cut emissions because 90 per cent of its electricity is generated from coal. Transcript of interview with Donald Tusk: Optimism is keynote for the nation.
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CRACOW

Cracow is one of the oldest cities. The city dates back to the 7th century and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural and artistic life and is one of Poland's most important economic centres. The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland's second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading center of Slavonic Europe in 965. Kraków, the unofficial cultural capital of Poland, was named the official European Capital of Culture for the year 2000 by the European Union. It is a major attraction for both local and international tourists, attracting seven million visitors a year.

Major landmarks include the Main Market Square with St. Mary's Basilica and the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, the Wawel Castle, the National Art Museum, the Zygmunt Bell at the Wawel Cathedral, and the medieval St Florian's Gate with the Barbican along the Royal Coronation Route. Among the most notable historic districts of the city are: Wawel Hill, home to Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, where many Polish kings are buried; the medieval Old Town, with its Main Market Square (200 metres, or 656 feet, square); dozens of old churches and museums; the 14th-century buildings of the Jagiellonian University; and Kazimierz, the historical center of Kraków's Jewish social and religious life.
Wawel lies on a small hill above the Vistula and it was here that the earliest settlements in the city began, some fifty thousand years ago
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Wawel cathedral Wawel castle Wawel castle Many concerts in the city. Watch the pianist playing Chopin
Kraków is a major centre of education. More than ten university or academy-level institutions offer courses in the city, with 170,000 students. Jagiellonian University, the oldest and best known university in Poland and ranked by the Times Higher Education Supplement as the best university in the country, was founded in 1364 as the Cracow University and renamed in 1817 to commemorate the Jagiellonian dynasty of Polish-Lithuanian kings. Its principal academic asset is the Jagiellonian Library, with more than 4 million volumes, including a large collection of medieval manuscripts like Copernicus' De Revolutionibus and the Balthasar Behem Codex.

The Old Town district of Kraków is home to about six thousand historic sites and more than two million works of art. Its rich variety of historic architecture includes Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic buildings. Kraków's palaces, churches and mansions display great variety of color, architectural details, stained glass, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings. Kraków has 28 museums and public art galleries. Among them are the main branch of Poland's National Museum and the Czartoryski Museum, the latter featuring works by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.

The metropolitan city of Kraków is known as the city of churches. The abundance of landmark, historic temples along with the plenitude of monasteries and convents earned the city a countrywide reputation as the "Northern Rome" in the past.

The churches of Kraków comprise over 120 places of worship of which over sixty were built in the 20th century. Denominations include Roman Catholicism (48 Churches,), Jehovah's Witnesses (10 Kingdom Hall), Protestantism (8 Churches), Buddhism (5), Polish Orthodox Church (1 Church), Polish Catholic Church (1 Church) and Mariavite Church. In the Franciscan Church, where the stained-glass window God the Creator can be found, was founded in the first half of the 13th. century and it was one of the first brick constructions in Krakow.

In the 15th. century the church recieved its final Gothic form, with the nave adjoining the Passion of Christ Chapel. The Franciscan monastery has been built in stages beginning in the 14th. century.

In 1850 the church and monastery went up in flames. The reconstruction and redecoration took several dozen years. The present neo-Gothic interior was made by Stanislaw Wyspianski. Wyspianski designed not only the murals that cover the interior of the church, but also the marvellous stained glass windows. Most famous is the huge 'Let it Be', which stands above the Western facade and shows God in the act of creation.

Now the most authentic part of the church is the northern elevation of the transept, surviving almost intact in its 13th. century form. The stocky proportions of the transept facade show the spirit of the early phase of Gothic. The arcaded moulded-brick frieze adorning the gable is a dircet borrowing from Lombardian architecture. The straight wall of the presbytery was replaced by a three-sided apse in the 15th. century.

Kraków contains also an outstanding collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture unmatched anywhere in Poland.

Kraków was an influential center of Jewish spiritual life before the outbreak of World War II, with all its manifestations of religious observance from Orthodox to Chasidic and Reform flourishing side by side.

There were at least ninety synagogues in Kraków active before the Nazi German invasion of Poland, serving its burgeoning Jewish community of 60,000–80,000 (out of the city's total population of 237,000), established since the early 12th century.

God the Creator in the Franciscan church

Altar St Mary's Church Krakow

 

Katyn massacre victims commemoration Warsaw 2007 THE NEXT ARTICLES ARE ABOUT the 1940 MASSACRE of POLISH OFFICERS and the 2010 POLISH AIR FORCE TU-154 CRASH

THE MASSACRE

The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre, was a mass murder of thousands of Polish military officers, policemen, intellectuals and civilian prisoners of war by Soviet NKVD, based on a proposal from Lavrentiy Beria to execute all members of the Polish Officer Corps. Dated March 5, 1940, this official document was then approved (signed) by the entire Soviet Politburo including Joseph Stalin and Beria. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000, the most commonly cited number being 21,768. The victims were murdered in the Katyn forest in Russia, the Kalinin (Tver) and Kharkov prisons and elsewhere.

About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, the rest being Poles arrested for allegedly being "intelligence agents, gendarmes, saboteurs, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, priests, and officials." Since Poland's conscription system required every unexempted university graduate to become a reserve officer, the Soviets were able to round up much of the Polish intelligentsia, and the Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian and Belarusian intelligentsia of Polish citizenship.

Originally, "Katyn massacre" referred to the massacre at Katyn Forest, near the villages of Katyn and Gnezdovo (ca. 19 km west of Smolensk, Russia), of Polish military officers in the Kozelsk prisoner-of-war camp. It now is applied to the simultaneous executions of prisoners of war from geographically distant Starobelsk and Ostashkov camps, and the executions of political prisoners from West Belarus and West Ukraine, shot on Stalin's orders at Katyn Forest, at the NKVD (Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, the Soviet secret police) headquarters in Smolensk, at a Smolensk slaughterhouse, and at prisons in Kalinin (Tver), Kharkov, Moscow, and other Soviet cities.

Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest in 1943. The revelation led to the end of diplomatic relations between Moscow and the London-based Polish government-in-exile. The Soviet Union continued to deny the massacres until 1990, when it finally acknowledged the perpetration of the massacre by NKVD, as well as the subsequent cover-up.

An investigation by the Prosecutor's General Office of the Russian Federation has confirmed Soviet responsibility for the massacres, yet does not classify this action as a war crime or as an act of genocide. This acknowledgement would have necessitated the prosecution of surviving perpetrators, which is what the Polish government had requested. In addition the Russian government also does not classify the dead as victims of Stalinist repression, which bars formal posthumous rehabilitation.

THE AIR CRASH

The 2010 Polish Air Force Tu-154 crash occurred on 10 April 2010, when a Tupolev Tu-154M aircraft of the Polish Air Force crashed near the city of Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board. These included the Polish president Lech Kaczyński and his wife, the chief of the Polish General Staff and other senior Polish military officers, the president of the National Bank of Poland, Poland's deputy foreign minister, Polish government officials, 12 members of the Polish parliament, senior members of the Polish clergy, and relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre. They were en route from Warsaw to attend an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre; the site of the Katyn massacre being approximately 19 kilometres (12 mi) west of Smolensk.

The pilot attempted to land at Smolensk North Airport, a former military airbase, in thick fog that reduced visibility to about 500 metres (1,600 ft). The plane was too low as it approached the runway. It struck trees in the fog, rolled upside down, impacted the ground, broke apart, and eventually came to rest 200 metres (660 ft) short of the runway in a wooded area.
On 1 June 2010, the Polish Prime Minister released a full transcript of the last 39 minutes (from 10:02:48.6 to 10:41:05.4 MSD) of the cockpit voice recording.

In accordance with the Polish Constitution, on the President's death his duties were taken on by the Marshal of the Sejm (chairman of the lower house of the parliament)—currently Bronisław Komorowski, who thus became Acting President of Poland. Within two weeks he was obliged to announce the date of the popular presidential election, to be held within a further 60 days on a weekend. Kaczyński was up for re-election in late September or early October, before the end of his first five-year term.

Despite the deaths of the president and numerous officials, the crash is not expected to impair the functions of the Polish government, since no cabinet ministers were aboard the plane. The Polish Armed Forces were dealt a severe blow, however, since all of their senior commanding officers were killed; their duties were automatically taken over by respective deputy commanders, following standard contingency plans for such a situation.

The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre was split up because of the political conflict between the Liberal government of prime minister Donald Tusk and Conservative president Kaczyński.

On 7 April, Tusk, along with government officials and members of his Civic Platform party, went to Katyn on invitation from the prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin. The official commemoration, organized by Polish Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, was scheduled on 10 April. Nevertheless, both ruling coalition and opposition were represented on the plane, with six and nine members of the Sejm, as well as one and two from the Senate, respectively, some of them well known in Poland. Many passengers were actively opposed to Tusk's policies, including:

  • President Kaczyński himself,

  • president of the National Bank of Poland, Sławomir Skrzypek,

  • chief of Institute of National Remembrance, Janusz Kurtyka,

  • Polish Ombudsman Janusz Kochanowski,

  • Jerzy Szmajdziński, the left-wing candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

The President of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and former CIA analyst has written that political violence should not be ruled out under the circumstances of the plane crash.

The Marshal of the Sejm, Bronisław Komorowski, had previously been announced as the Civic Platform's candidate in the presidential election. He has suggested that the date of the elections should be decided by the parliamentary opposition, with him acting merely to guarantee that the Constitution is respected.

On 17 April, one week after the crash, a memorial service, including a two-minute silence, was held to honour the victims of the crash. It was reported that over 100,000 mourners attended the event, held in Piłsudski Square; however, up to 1.5 million had been expected.

State funeral

The funeral service for the presidential couple took place in the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków on April 18. The couple was buried in a crypt below the cathedral, a place traditionally reserved for people considered to be heroes of Polish history.

Presidential election

The first round of the election to elect President Kaczyński's successor was held on June 20, 2010. Since no candidate obtained an absolute majority, a run-off will be held on July 4, 2010, between the two highest-polling candidates: the acting president Bronisław Komorowski, and the late president's brother Jarosław Kaczyński.