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Facts


Population: 37,97 million(2017)
Area: 312 679 km²
Capital City: Warsaw


About Poland
Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres. Poland’s capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk and Szczecin.
The establishment of the Polish state can be traced back to A.D. 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of the realm coextensive with the territory of present-day Poland, converted to Christianity. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented its longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin. This union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest (about 1 million km2) and most populous countries of 16th- and 17th-century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system which adopted Europe’s first written national constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.

Currency

Poland uses the Zloty (PLN), with 1 Zloty divided into 100 groszy. Bank notes are available in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Zloty, while coins are available in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 Zloty, and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 groszy.
ATMs are available in many parts of Warsaw – ensure you inform your bank before travelling abroad, and be aware you may be charged for cash withdrawals. It is advisable to exchange some cash before arriving in Warsaw.


Climate


The climate is mostly temperate throughout the country. The climate is oceanic in the north and west and becomes gradually warmer and continental towards the south and east. Summers are generally warm, with average temperatures between 18 and 30 °C (64.4 and 86.0 °F) depending on the region. Winters are rather cold, with average temperatures around 3 °C (37.4 °F) in the northwest and −6 °C (21 °F) in the northeast. Precipitation falls throughout the year, although, especially in the east, winter is drier than summer.
The warmest region in Poland is Lower Silesia in the southwest of the country, where temperatures in the summer average between 24 and 32 °C (75 and 90 °F) but can go as high as 34 to 39 °C (93.2 to 102.2 °F) on some days in the warmest months of July and August. The warmest cities in Poland are Tarnów in Lesser Poland, and Wrocław in Lower Silesia. The average temperatures in Wrocław are 20 °C (68 °F) in the summer and 0 °C (32.0 °F) in the winter, but Tarnów has the longest summer in all of Poland, which lasts for 115 days, from mid-May to mid-September. The coldest region of Poland is in the northeast in the Podlaskie Voivodeship near the borders with Belarus and Lithuania. Usually the coldest city is Suwałki. The climate is affected by cold fronts which come from Scandinavia and Siberia. The average temperature in the winter in Podlaskie ranges from −6 to −4 °C (21 to 25 °F). The biggest impact of the oceanic climate is observed in Świnoujście and Baltic Sea seashore area from Police to Słupsk.


Languages


Polish (język polski, polszczyzna) is a Slavic language spoken primarily in Poland and the native language of Poles. It belongs to the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages. Polish is the official language of Poland, but it is also used throughout the world by Polish minorities in other countries. It is one of the official languages of the European Union. Its written standard is the Polish alphabet, which has 9 additions to the letters of the basic Latin script (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż), with the notable exclusion of q,v, and x, which are used mainly for foreign words. The deaf communities use Polish Sign Language belonging to the German family of Sign Languages. Languages having the status of national minority’s language are Armenian, Belarusian, Czech, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Russian, Slovak and Ukrainian. Languages having the status of ethnic minority’s language are Karaim, Rusyn (called Lemko in Poland) and Tatar. Also, official recognition is granted to two Romani languages: Polska Roma and Bergitka Roma.


Economy


Poland’s economy is considered to be one of the more resilient of the post-Communist countries and is one of the fastest growing within the EU. Having a strong domestic market, low private debt, low unemployment rate, flexible currency, and not being dependent on a single export sector, Poland is the only European economy to have avoided the late-2000s recession. Since the fall of the communist government, Poland has pursued a policy of liberalising the economy. It is an example of the transition from a centrally planned to a primarily market-based economy. The country’s most successful exports include machinery, furniture, food products, clothing, shoes and cosmetics. Poland’s largest trading partner is Germany.
The privatization of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed the development of the private sector. Also, several consumer rights organizations have become active in the country. Restructuring and privatisation of “sensitive sectors” such as coal, steel, rail transport and energy has been continuing since 1990. The biggest privatisations have been the sale of the national telecoms firm Telekomunikacja Polska to France Télécom in 2000, and an issue of 30% of the shares in Poland’s largest bank, PKO Bank Polski, on the Polish stockmarket in 2004.


Since the gradual opening of the European Union labor market from 2004, Poland has had mass emigration of over 2.3 million, due to higher wages abroad and mass unemployment at home, even as Poland avoided the Great Recession of 2008. The emigration has increased the average wages for the workers who remained in Poland, in particular for those with intermediate level skills. Unemployment also gradually decreased; in September 2018 the unemployment rate in Poland was estimated at 5.7%, one of the lowest in the European Union.
Products and goods manufactured in Poland include: electronics, buses and trams (Solaris, Solbus), helicopters and planes (PZL Świdnik, PZL Mielec), trains (Pesa SA), ships (Gdańsk Shipyard, Szczecin Shipyard, Gdynia Polish Navy Shipyard), military equipment (FB “Łucznik” Radom, Bumar-Łabędy SA), medicines (Polpharma, Polfa), food (Tymbark, Hortex, E. Wedel), clothes (LLP), glass, pottery (Bolesławiec), chemical products and others.
Poland is also one of the world’s biggest producers of copper, silver and coal, as well as potatoes, rye, rapeseed, cabbage, apples, strawberries and ribes.


Education


The Commission of National Education (Komisja Edukacji Narodowej) established in 1773, was the world’s first state ministry of education. The education of Polish society was a goal of the nation’s rulers as early as the 12th century. The library catalogue of the Cathedral Chapter of Kraków dating back to 1110 shows that in the early 12th-century Polish academia had access to European and Classical literature. The Jagiellonian University was founded in 1364 by King Casimir III in Kraków—the school is the world’s 19th oldest university.
As of 2012, Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ranks Poland’s educational system higher than the OECD average.
Education in Poland starts at the age of five or six (with the particular age chosen by the parents) for the ‘0’ class (Kindergarten) and six or seven years in the 1st class of primary school (Polish szkoła podstawowa). It is compulsory that children participate in one year of formal education before entering the 1st class at no later than 7 years of age. Corporal punishment of children in schools is officially prohibited since 1783 (before the partitions) and criminalised since 2010 (in schools as well as at home).
At the end of the 6th class when students are 13, students take a compulsory exam that will determine their acceptance and transition into a specific lower secondary school (gimnazjum—middle school or junior high). They will attend this school for three years during classes 7, 8, and 9. Students then take another compulsory exam to determine the upper secondary level school they will attend. There are several alternatives, the most common being the three years in a liceum or four years in a technikum. Both end with a maturity examination (matura—similar to French baccalauréat), and may be followed by several forms of higher education, leading to licencjat or inżynier (the Polish Bologna Process first cycle qualification), magister (second cycle qualification) and eventually doktor (third cycle qualification).
In Poland, there are 500 university-level institutions for the pursuit of higher education. There are 18 fully accredited traditional universities, 20 technical universities, 9 independent medical universities, 5 universities for the study of economics, 9 agricultural academies, 3 pedagogical universities, a theological academy, 3 maritime service universities and 4 national military academies. Also, there are a number of higher educational institutions dedicated to the teaching of the arts—amongst these are the 7 academies of music.


Health


Poland’s healthcare system is based on an all-inclusive insurance system. State subsidised healthcare is available to all Polish citizens who are covered by this general health insurance program. However, it is not compulsory to be treated in a state-run hospital as a number of private medical complexes exist nationwide.
All medical service providers and hospitals in Poland are subordinate to the Polish Ministry of Health, which provides oversight and scrutiny of general medical practice as well as being responsible for the day-to-day administration of the healthcare system. In addition to these roles, the ministry is tasked with the maintenance of standards of hygiene and patient-care.
Hospitals in Poland are organised according to the regional administrative structure, resultantly most towns have their own hospital (Szpital Miejski). Larger and more specialised medical complexes tend only to be found in larger cities, with some even more specialised units located only in the capital, Warsaw. However, all voivodeships have their own general hospital (most have more than one), all of which are obliged to have a trauma centre; these types of hospital, which are able to deal with almost all medical problems are called ‘regional hospitals’ (Szpital Wojewódzki). The last category of hospital in Poland is that of specialised medical centres, an example of which would be the Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology, Poland’s leading, and most highly specialised centre for the research and treatment of cancer.
In 2012, the Polish health-care industry experienced further transformation. Hospitals were given priority for refurbishment where necessary. As a result of this process, many hospitals were updated with the latest medical equipment.
In 2016, the average life expectancy at birth was 77.6 years (73.7 years for infant male and 81.7 years for infant female).


Religion


In the year 966, Duke Mieszko I accepted Christianity, and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, Poland has been a predominantly Catholic nation, however throughout its history, religious tolerance was an important part of the political culture. In 1264, the Statute of Kalisz, also known as a Charter of Jewish Liberties, granted Jews living in the Polish lands unprecedented legal rights not found anywhere in Europe. In 1424, the Polish king was pressed by the Bishops to issue the Edict of Wieluń, outlawing early Protestant Hussitism. Then in 1573, the Warsaw Confederation marked the formal beginning of extensive religious freedoms granted to all faiths in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The act was not imposed by a king or consequence of war, but rather resulted from the actions of members of the Polish-Lithuanian society. It was also influenced by the events of the 1572 French St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which prompted the Polish-Lithuanian nobility to see that no monarch would ever be able to carry out such reprehensible atrocities in Poland. The act is also credited with keeping the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth out of the Thirty Years’ War, fought between German Protestants and Catholics.
Religious tolerance in Poland spurred many theological movements such as Calvinist Polish Brethren and a number of other Protestant groups, as well as atheists, such as ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz Łyszczyński, one of the first atheist thinkers in Europe. Also, in the 16th century, Anabaptists from the Netherlands and Germany settled in Poland—after being persecuted in Western Europe—and became known as the Vistula delta Mennonites.


In 2014, an estimated 87% of the population belonged to the Catholic Church. Though rates of religious observance are lower at 52%, Poland remains one of the most religious countries in Europe. Contemporary religious minorities include Polish Orthodox (about 506,800), various Protestants (about 150,000) — including 77,500 Lutherans in the Evangelical-Augsburg Church, 23,000 Pentecostals in the Pentecostal Church in Poland, 10,000 Adventists in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and other smaller Evangelical denominations — Jehovah’s Witnesses (126,827), Eastern Catholics, Mariavites, Jews, and Muslims, including the Tatars of Białystok region. There are also several thousand neopagans, some of whom are members of the Native Polish Church.
From 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, Karol Józef Wojtyła reigned as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the only Polish Pope to date. Additionally he is credited with having played a significant role in hastening the downfall of communism in Poland and throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
Freedom of religion is now guaranteed by the 1989 statute of the Polish Constitution, enabling the emergence of additional denominations. The Concordat between the Holy See and Poland guarantees the teaching of religion in state schools. According to a 2007 survey, 72% of respondents were not opposed to religious instruction in public schools; alternative courses in ethics are available only in one percent of the entire public educational system.
Famous sites of Roman Catholic pilgrimage in Poland include the Monastery of Jasna Góra in the southern Polish city of Częstochowa, Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń, Divine Mercy Sanctuary, Kraków. Many tourists also visit the Family home of John Paul II in Wadowice just outside Kraków. Orthodox pilgrims visit Mountain Grabarka near Grabarka-Klasztor.


Culture


The culture of Poland is closely connected with its intricate 1,000-year history. Its unique character developed as a result of its geography at the confluence of European cultures. With origins in the culture of the Proto-Slavs, over time Polish culture has been profoundly influenced by its interweaving ties with the Germanic, Latinate and Byzantine worlds as well as in continual dialog with the many other ethnic groups and minorities living in Poland. The people of Poland have traditionally been seen as hospitable to artists from abroad and eager to follow cultural and artistic trends popular in other countries. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Polish focus on cultural advancement often took precedence over political and economic activity. These factors have contributed to the versatile nature of Polish art, with all its complex nuances.


Politics


Poland is a representative democracy, with a president as a head of state, whose current constitution dates from 1997. Poland ranks in the top 20 percent of the most peaceful countries in the world, according to the Global Peace Index. The government structure centers on the Council of Ministers, led by a prime minister. The president appoints the cabinet according to the proposals of the prime minister, typically from the majority coalition in the Sejm. The president is elected by popular vote every five years. The current president is Andrzej Duda and the prime minister is Mateusz Morawiecki.
Polish voters elect a bicameral parliament consisting of a 460-member lower house (Sejm) and a 100-member Senate (Senat). The Sejm is elected under proportional representation according to the d’Hondt method, a method similar to that used in many parliamentary political systems. The Senat, on the other hand, is elected under the first-past-the-post voting method, with one senator being returned from each of the 100 constituencies.


With the exception of ethnic minority parties, only candidates of political parties receiving at least 5% of the total national vote can enter the Sejm. When sitting in joint session, members of the Sejm and Senat form the National Assembly (the Zgromadzenie Narodowe). The National Assembly is formed on three occasions: when a new president takes the oath of office; when an indictment against the President of the Republic is brought to the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu); and when a president’s permanent incapacity to exercise his duties due to the state of his health is declared. To date only the first instance has occurred.
The judicial branch plays an important role in decision-making. Its major institutions include the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy); the Supreme Administrative Court (Naczelny Sąd Administracyjny); the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny); and the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu). On the approval of the Senat, the Sejm also appoints the ombudsman or the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) for a five-year term. The ombudsman has the duty of guarding the observance and implementation of the rights and liberties of Polish citizens and residents, of the law and of principles of community life and social justice.


Cuisine


Polish cuisine has evolved over the centuries to become very eclectic due to Poland’s history. Polish cuisine shares many similarities with other Central European cuisines, especially German and Austrian as well as Jewish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, French and Italian culinary traditions. It is rich in meat, especially pork, chicken and beef (depending on the region) and winter vegetables (cabbage in the dish bigos), and spices. It is also characteristic in its use of various kinds of noodles the most notable of which are kluski as well as cereals such as kasha (from the Polish word kasza). Polish cuisine is hearty and uses a lot of cream and eggs. Festive meals such as the meatless Christmas Eve dinner (Wigilia) or Easter breakfast could take days to prepare in their entirety.


The main course usually includes a serving of meat, such as roast, chicken, or kotlet schabowy (breaded pork cutlet), vegetables, side dishes and salads, including surówka [suˈrufka] – shredded root vegetables with lemon and sugar (carrot, celeriac, seared beetroot) or sauerkraut (Polish: kapusta kiszona, pronounced [kaˈpusta kʲiˈʂɔna]). The side dishes are usually potatoes, rice or kasza (cereals). Meals conclude with a dessert such as sernik, makowiec (a poppy seed pastry), or drożdżówka [drɔʐˈd͡ʐufka] yeast pastry, and tea.
The Polish national dishes are bigos [ˈbiɡɔs]; pierogi [pʲɛˈrɔɡʲi]; kielbasa; kotlet schabowy [ˈkɔtlɛt sxaˈbɔvɨ] breaded cutlet; gołąbki [ɡɔˈwɔ̃pkʲi] cabbage rolls; zrazy [ˈzrazɨ] roulade; pieczeń roast [ˈpʲɛt͡ʂɛɲ]; sour cucumber soup (zupa ogórkowa, pronounced [ˈzupa ɔɡurˈkɔva]); mushroom soup, (zupa grzybowa, [ˈzupa ɡʐɨˈbɔva] quite different from the North American cream of mushroom); zupa pomidorowa tomato soup pronounced [ˈzupa pɔmidɔˈrɔva];[282] rosół [ˈrɔɕuw] variety of meat broth; żurek [ˈʐurɛk] sour rye soup; flaki [ˈflakʲi] tripe soup; barszcz [barʂt͡ʂ] and chłodnik [ˈxwɔdɲik] among others.


Traditional alcoholic beverages include honey mead, widespread since the 13th century, beer, wine and vodka (old Polish names include okowita and gorzałka). The world’s first written mention of vodka originates from Poland. The most popular alcoholic drinks at present are beer and wine which took over from vodka more popular in the years 1980–98. Tea remains common in Polish society since the 19th century, whilst coffee is drunk widely since the 18th century. Other frequently consumed beverages include various mineral waters and juices, soft drinks popularized by the fast-food chains since the late 20th century, as well as buttermilk, soured milk and kefir.


Tourism


Poland experienced an increase in the number of tourists after joining the European Union in 2004. Tourism contributes significantly to the overall economy and makes up a relatively large proportion of the country’s service market. Tourist attractions in Poland vary, from the mountains in the south to the sandy beaches in the north, with a trail of nearly every architectural style. The most visited city is Kraków, which was the former capital of Poland and serves as a relic of Polish Golden Age of Renaissance. Kraków also held royal coronations of most Polish kings. Among other notable sites in the country is Wrocław, one of the oldest cities in Poland. Wrocław possesses a huge market square with two city halls, as well as the oldest Zoological Gardens with one of the world’s largest number of animal species and is famous for its dwarfs. The Polish capital Warsaw and its historical Old Town were entirely reconstructed after wartime destruction. Other cities attracting tourists include Gdańsk, Poznań, Szczecin, Lublin, Toruń and the historic site of the German Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim.


Poland’s main tourist offerings include outdoor activities such as skiing, sailing, mountain hiking and climbing, as well as agrotourism, sightseeing historical monuments. Tourist destinations include the Baltic Sea coast in the north; the Masurian Lake District and Białowieża Forest in the east; on the south Karkonosze, the Table Mountains and the Tatra Mountains, where Rysy, the highest peak of Poland, and the famous Orla Perć mountain trail are located. The Pieniny and Bieszczady Mountains lie in the extreme south-east. There are over 100 castles in the country, many in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship and along the popular Trail of the Eagles’ Nests.

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