The origins of the names of the country, Polska, and of the nationality, the Poles, remain unclear. A common opinion holds that the name Polska comes from the Polanes tribe who established the Polish state in the 10th century (Greater Poland). Their name may derive from the Slavic word pole (field), or it may come from the tribal name Goplanie - people living around Lake Goplo - the cradle of Poland mentioned as Glopeani having 400 strongholds circa 845 (Bavarian Geographer).
Conventional etymology of the ethnic name of the Poles relates it more widely to the Polish Polanie, "dwellers of the field"; pol, "field", analogous to Russian polyî, "open land", from Indo-European pelè-, "flat" + -anie, "inhabitants", analogous to Latin -anus, "originating from".
In old Latin chronicles the terms terra Poloniae (land of Poland) or Regnum Poloniae (kingdom of Poland) appear. Parallel to this terminology, another one came into use, thought to derive from the tribe name Lędzianie. It gave rise to an alternative name for "Pole": Lach in Ruthenian, Lyakh in Russian, as well as to old GermanLechien, HungarianLengyel and Lithuanianlenkas.
The Polish nation started to form itself into a recognisable unitary territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century. Poland's golden age occurred in the 16th century during its union with Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The citizens of Poland took pride in their ancient freedoms and parliamentary system, though the Szlachta (see "Nobles' Democracy" article) monopolised the benefits thereof. Since that time Poles have regarded freedom as their most important value. Poles often call themselves the Nation of the free people.
The Second Polish Republic lasted until the start of World War II when Germany and the Soviet Union split the Polish territory between them (September 271939). Poland suffered greatly in this period (see General Government). Of all the countries involved in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over 6 million perished, half of them Polish Jews. Poland's borders shifted westwards; pushing the eastern border to the Curzon line and the western border to the Oder-Neisse line. After the shift Poland emerged smaller by 76 000 km sq or by 20% of its pre-war size. The shifting of borders also involved the migration of millions of people of different nationalities. Eventually, Poland became, for the first time in history, an ethnically unified country.
The victory of the Soviet Union brought a new communist government to Poland, analogously to much of the rest of Central Europe. In 1948 a turn towards Stalinism brought in the beginning of the next period of totalitarian rule. In 1956 the régime became more liberal, freeing many people from prison and expanding some personal freedoms.
Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union, "Solidarity", which over time became a political force. It eroded the dominance of the Communist Party; by 1989 it had triumphed in parliamentary elections, and a Solidarity candidate eventually won the presidency.
A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust (according to the criteria of neoliberal economics) in Central Europe. Despite the regression in levels of social and economic human rights standards, some improvements in other human rights standards occurred. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999.
Following a massive advertising campaign by the government in favour of joining the European Union, Polish voters voted yes to the EU in a referendum in June 2003. Poland joined the European Union on 1 May2004.
Polish government structure centres 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 bicameral legislature's lower house (the Sejm). The president, elected by popular vote every 5 years, serves as the head of state.
The citizens of Poland elect a parliament, the National Assembly (PolishZgromadzenie Narodowe), consisting of 460 members of the Lower House (Sejm) and 100 members of the Senate (Senat), chosen by a majority vote on a provincial basis to serve four-year terms. The current constitution dates from 1997, and stipulates that with the exception of two guaranteed seats for small ethnic parties, only political parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote can enter parliament.
The judicial branch plays a minor role in decision-making. Its major institutions include the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy), (judges appointed by the president of the republic on the recommendation of the National Council of the Judiciary for an indefinite period), and the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny) (judges chosen by the Sejm for nine-year terms).
The Sejm (on approval of the Polish Senate) 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 the human being and of the citizen, the law and principles of community life and social justice.
The Polish landscape consists almost entirely of the lowlands of the North European Plain, at an average height of 173 metres, though the Sudetes (including the Karkonosze) and the Carpathian Mountains (including the Tatra mountains, where one also finds Poland's highest point, Rysy, at 2,499 m.) form the southern border. Several large rivers cross the plains, for instance the Vistula (Wisła), Oder (Odra), Warta the (Western) Bug. Poland also contains over 9,300 lakes, predominantly in the north of the country. Masuria (Mazury) forms the largest and most-visited lake district in Poland. Remains of the ancient forests survive: see list of forests in Poland.
Poland enjoys a temperateclimate, with cold, cloudy, moderately severe winters with frequent precipitation and mild summers with frequent showers and thundershowers.
Since its return to democracy, Poland has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalising the economy and today stands out as one of the most successful and open examples of the transition from communism to a market economy.
The privatisation of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed for the rapid development of an aggressive private sector, but without any development of consumer rights organisations.
Restructuring and privatisation of "sensitive sectors" (e.g., coal, steel, railroads, and energy) has begun.
Poland has a large agricultural sector of private farms, that can be leading producer of food in the European Union. Challenges remain, especially under-investment.
Structural reforms in health care, education, the pension system, and state administration have resulted in larger-than-expected fiscal pressures.
Warsaw leads the region of Central Europe in foreign investment and allegedly needs a continued large inflow.