An Introduction to Poland
This is a preview to the chapter An Introduction to Poland from the book Buying Property in Poland by Tim Hill.
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The nation borders Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Lithuania. Almost 30% of the land mass is covered by forests and the largest rivers (the Vistula, Odra, Warta and Bug) are evenly dispersed from East to West, running South to North.
Along the 500 km North coast there is plenty of variety from golden beaches to secluded bays as well as lively tourist towns and major sea ports (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Szczecin and Świnoujście) handling both global freight and commercial ferry services, especially to Scandinavian countries and the Baltic States.
In the North East the Mazurian lake district has more post-glacial lakes than any other European country except Finland. The middle is predominantly flat or rolling hills, which lead up to the Southern Tatra Mountains with the highest peak at 2,499 meters above sea level.
With regards to the weather summers tend to be stable and sunny with temperatures reaching between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius while in the winter they can drop to minus 20. During these months regular snowfalls occur but the Poles have an exceptional ability to keep roads clear and the infrastructure operating smoothly.
With a population of 38 million it is the 7th largest country in Europe. 62% live in urban areas and 63% are of working age (making it broadly similar in its working population to that of the United Kingdom). Approximately 1.7 million live in the capital Warsaw and this figure is expected to grow considerably over the next decade.
The official language is Polish but almost all of the population that live in urban areas also speak either English, German or Russian. Russian was the predominant second language at state schools up until the early nineties. German then became more popular as many believed it was with their Western neighbour that they would do most business.
However in the past decade, and with the rise of the internet, English is now chosen by the majority of students and is a compulsory subject from primary school onwards with large numbers of private schools for those who want to become more fluent than the state system allows.
For administrative purposes the country is split into sixteen counties (voivodships). Each of these is further divided into districts (poviats) and within these are local municipalities (gminas).
Both the government and president are democratically elected and members of parliament are chosen using a system of proportional representation.
A Brief Historical Context
If you are making a large financial investment in a country it is worth knowing something of its history as this goes a long way to understanding the mentality of its people. There is nowhere that this is more true than in Poland where the population are proud of a nation that has been through more than a few hard knocks.
The first Polish state could be said to have officially been recognised when it was baptised by the Catholic church in 966 and its borders were broadly as they are today. The country went from strength to strength both in terms of its military might as well as it culture and arts. It quickly formed alliances and in 1569 created Europe’s first economic zone via trade agreements with the then much larger Lithuania.
A great deal of the country’s wealth was built on trade, especially as it stood between the amber mines in the North and the Mediterranean countries in the South with their insatiable appetite for this stone. Rock salt also proved a natural resource much exploited and exported and the impressive mines outside Krakow, now open to the public and a listed UNESCO site are a strong reminder of the income they once generated.
Early dates of note include 1410 when a much outnumbered Polish army defeated the Knights of the Teutonic Order at Grunwald, now a suburb of Poznan. 1669 and 1671 are also well known as the years when small Polish armies defeated Turkish forces including one incident where 3,000 Poles attacked a 20,000 strong Ottoman army and not only defeated them but succeeded in releasing 40,000 prisoners. In the 1600s the Swedish were also pushed back ending their plans for European expansion.
Equally important and taught at Polish schools across the land is 1791 when Poland introduced the first constitution in Europe (the second in the world after America) and 1747 when the first public library in mainland Europe was opened in Warsaw.
Unfortunately internal bickering in the late 1700s weakened the country to such an extent that it was annexed with some ease by Germany, Austria and Russia.
The following 125 years are always referred to as the time when Poland did not officially exist. With great pride Poles will tell you that despite the extremely oppressive tactics of the occupiers the language, educational system and culture remained alive and taught at underground institutions or from generation to generation.
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What else is in the chapter 'An Introduction to Poland'?
The Poles are not only proud of their country, they are equally proud of numerous historical figures. These can start with a list of generals and kings who defeated various ...