Polish People's Republic

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Polish People's Republic

Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa  (Polish)
1947–1989
Anthem: "Mazurek Dąbrowskiego"
(English: "Poland Is Not Yet Lost")
Poland 1956-1990.svg
Polish People's Republic, during the Cold War.
StatusMember of the Warsaw Pact (1955–1989)
Satellite state of the Soviet Union
Capital Warsaw
Common languages Polish (official)
Silesian, Kashubian, German
Demonym(s) Pole, Polish
Government Unitary Marxist–Leninist one-party socialist republic
Under a military junta (1981–83)
First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party  
 1947–1952
Bolesław Bierut (first)
 1989–1990
Mieczysław Rakowski (last)
  Head of State
1952–1964


Aleksander Zawadzki (first)
 1985–1989
Wojciech Jaruzelski (last)
Prime Minister  
 19441947
Edward Osóbka-Morawski (first)
 1989
Tadeusz Mazowiecki (last)
Historical era Cold War
19 January 1947
  Workers' Party established
16–21 December 1948
22 July 1952
30 December 1989
Area
312,685 km2 (120,728 sq mi)
Population
 1989
37,970,155
Currency Polish złoty
Calling code 48
ISO 3166 code PL
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Provisional Government of National Unity
Third Polish Republic Flag of Poland (with coat of arms, 1980-1990).svg

The Polish People's Republic (Polish : Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, PRL) was a state in Central Europe that existed from 1947 to 1989, and the predecessor of the modern democratic Republic of Poland. With a population of approximately 37.9 million inhabitants near the end of its existence, it was the most populous state of the Eastern Bloc after the Soviet Union. [1] Having a unitary Marxist–Leninist communist government, it was also one of the main signatories of the Warsaw Pact. The official capital since 1947 and largest city was Warsaw, followed by industrial Łódź and cultural Kraków.

Polish language West Slavic language spoken in Poland

Polish is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group. It is spoken primarily in Poland and serves as the native language of the Poles. In addition to being an official language of Poland, it is also used by Polish minorities in other countries. There are over 50 million Polish language speakers around the world and it is one of the official languages of the European Union.

Rzeczpospolita Name of the Polish State

Rzeczpospolita Polska is a traditional and official name of the Polish State – Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska.

State (polity) organised community living under a system of government; either a sovereign state, constituent state, or federated state

A state is a political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly by use of force within a certain geographical territory.

Contents

The former country covers the history of contemporary Poland between 1952 and 1989 under the Soviet-backed communist government established after the Red Army's release of its territory from German occupation in World War II. The name People's Republic was introduced and defined by the Constitution of 1952 which was based on the 1936 Soviet Constitution. The state's name was the Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska) between 1947 and 1952 in accordance with the temporary Constitution of 1947. [2] From 1952, the Sejm exercised no real power, [3] and Poland was regarded as a puppet entity set up and controlled by the Soviet Union. [4] With time, Poland developed into a satellite state in the Soviet sphere of influence. [5]

Poland republic in Central Europe

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 (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

History of Poland (1945–1989) Communist rule in Poland

The history of Poland from 1945 to 1989 spans the period of Soviet dominance and communist rule imposed after the end of World War II over Poland, as reestablished within new borders. These years, while featuring general industrialization and urbanization and many improvements in the standard of living, were marred by social unrest, political strife and severe economic difficulties.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

The Polish People's Republic was a one-party state characterized by constant internal struggles for democracy and better living conditions. The Polish United Workers' Party became the dominant political faction, officially making Poland a socialist country, but with more liberal policies than other states of the Eastern Bloc. Throughout its existence, economic hardships and social unrest were common almost in every decade. [6] The nation was split between those who supported the party, those who were opposed to it and those who refused to engage in political activity. Despite this, some groundbreaking achievements have been established during the People's Republic such as rapid industrialization, urbanization of smaller or larger cities and access to free healthcare and education was made available. The birth rate was high and the population almost doubled between 1947 and 1989. The party's most successful accomplishment, however, was the rebuilding of ruined Warsaw after World War II and the complete riddance of illiteracy, which stood at 30% in 1931 [7] and at 2% in 1988. [8]

A one-party state, single-party state, one-party system, or single-party system is a type of state in which one political party has the right to form the government, usually based on the existing constitution. All other parties are either outlawed or allowed to take only a limited and controlled participation in elections. Sometimes the term de facto one-party state is used to describe a dominant-party system that, unlike the one-party state, allows democratic multiparty elections, but the existing practices or balance of political power effectively prevent the opposition from winning the elections.

Democracy system of government in which citizens vote directly in or elect representatives to form a governing body, sometimes called "rule of the majority"

Democracy is a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting. In a direct democracy, the citizens as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. In a representative democracy the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives meet to form a governing body, such as a legislature. In a constitutional democracy the powers of the majority are exercised within the framework of a representative democracy, but the constitution limits the majority and protects the minority, usually through the enjoyment by all of certain individual rights, e.g. freedom of speech, or freedom of association. "Rule of the majority" is sometimes referred to as democracy. Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes.

Polish United Workers Party political party

The Polish United Workers' Party was the Communist party which governed the Polish People's Republic from 1948 to 1989. Ideologically it was based on the theories of Marxism-Leninism. It also controlled the armed forces, the Polish People's Army.

The Soviet Union, an exemplar state, had some influence over both internal and external affairs, and the Red Army was stationed in Poland as in all other Warsaw Pact countries. [5] The Polish People's Army was the main branch of the Armed Forces. The official police organization, responsible for supposed peacekeeping and violent throttling of protests, was renamed Citizens' Militia. Under the command of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland "UB", the Militia committed serious crimes to maintain the Communists in power, including the harsh treatment of protesters, arrest of opposition leaders and in extreme cases murder, [9] with at least 22,000 people killed by the regime during its rule. [10] [11] As a result, Poland had a high-imprisonment rate but one of the lowest crime rates in the world. [12] This was often fictitiously glorified by the ruling Polish Worker's Party, which described Poland as a safe and educated near-Utopian society.

Warsaw Pact international military alliance of Communist states

The Warsaw Pact, formally known as the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, was a collective defense treaty signed in Warsaw, Poland among the Soviet Union and seven Soviet satellite states of Central and Eastern Europe in May 1955, during the Cold War. The Warsaw Pact was the military complement to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CoMEcon), the regional economic organization for the socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact was created in reaction to the integration of West Germany into NATO in 1955 per the London and Paris Conferences of 1954, but it is also considered to have been motivated by Soviet desires to maintain control over military forces in Central and Eastern Europe.

Polish Peoples Army former army of the Polish Peoples Republic

The Polish People's Army constituted the second formation of the Polish Armed Forces in the East (1943–1945) and later the armed forces (1945–1989) of the Polish communist government of Poland along with the ruling Polish United Workers' Party.

Milicja Obywatelska

Milicja Obywatelska, commonly abbreviated to MO, was the national police organization of the Polish People's Republic. It was created on 7 October 1944 by the Soviet-sponsored Polish Committee of National Liberation, effectively replacing the pre-war police force. The Citizen's Militia would remain the predominant means of policing in Poland until 6 April 1990, when it was transformed back into Policja.

History

Poland's fate was heavily discussed at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Joseph Stalin, whose Red Army occupied the entire country, presented several alternatives which granted Poland industrialized territories in the west whilst the Red Army simultaneously permanently annexed Polish territories in the east, resulting in Poland losing over 20% of its pre-war borders. Stalin then imposed upon Poland a Soviet-backed puppet communist government following the war, forcibly bringing the nation into the Soviet sphere of influence. Yalta Conference 1945 Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt.jpg
Poland's fate was heavily discussed at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Joseph Stalin, whose Red Army occupied the entire country, presented several alternatives which granted Poland industrialized territories in the west whilst the Red Army simultaneously permanently annexed Polish territories in the east, resulting in Poland losing over 20% of its pre-war borders. Stalin then imposed upon Poland a Soviet-backed puppet communist government following the war, forcibly bringing the nation into the Soviet sphere of influence.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Stalin was able to present his western allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, with a fait accompli in Poland. His armed forces were in occupation of the country, and his agents, the communists, were in control of its administration. The USSR was in the process of incorporating the lands in eastern Poland which it had invaded and occupied between 1939 and 1941.

Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference, held from 4 to 11 February 1945, was the World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union for the purpose of discussing Germany and Europe's postwar reorganization. The three states were represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin, respectively. The conference convened near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, within the Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov Palaces.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician. He led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). While initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, he ultimately consolidated enough power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies became known as Stalinism.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and British imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

In compensation, the USSR gave Poland former German populated territories in Pomerania, Silesia, and Brandenburg east of the Oder–Neisse line, plus the southern half of East Prussia. These awards were confirmed at the Tripartite Conference of Berlin, otherwise known as the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 after the end of the war in Europe. Stalin was determined that Poland's new government would become his tool towards making Poland a Soviet puppet state controlled by the communists. He had severed relations with the Polish government-in-exile in London in 1943, but to appease Roosevelt and Churchill he agreed at Yalta that a coalition government would be formed. The communists held a majority of key posts in this new government, and with Soviet support they soon gained almost total control of the country, rigging all elections.

Pomerania Place

Pomerania is a historical region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea in Central Europe, split between Germany and Poland.

Silesia Historical region

Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic and Germany. Its area is about 40,000 km2 (15,444 sq mi), and its population about 8,000,000. Silesia is located along the Oder River. It consists of Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia.

Brandenburg State in Germany

Brandenburg is a state of Germany.

In June 1946 the "Three Times Yes" referendum was held on a number of issues—abolition of the Senate of Poland, land reform, and making the Oder–Neisse line Poland's western border. The communist-controlled Interior Ministry issued results showing that all three questions passed overwhelmingly. Years later, however, evidence was uncovered showing that the referendum had been tainted by massive fraud, and only the third question actually passed. [13] Władysław Gomułka then took advantage of a split in the Polish Socialist Party. One faction, which included Prime Minister Edward Osóbka-Morawski, wanted to join forces with the Peasant Party and form a united front against the Communists. Another faction, led by Józef Cyrankiewicz, argued that the Socialists should support the Communists in carrying through a socialist program, while opposing the imposition of one-party rule. Pre-war political hostilities continued to influence events, and Stanisław Mikołajczyk would not agree to form a united front with the Socialists. The Communists played on these divisions by dismissing Osóbka-Morawski and making Cyrankiewicz Prime Minister.

Between the referendum and the January 1947 general elections, the opposition was subjected to persecution. Only the candidates of the pro-government "Democratic Bloc" (the PPR, Cyrankiewicz' faction of the PPS, and the Democratic Party) were allowed to campaign completely unmolested. Meanwhile, several opposition candidates were prevented from campaigning at all. Mikołajczyk's Polish People's Party (PSL) in particular suffered persecution; it had opposed the abolition of the Senate as a test of strength against the government. Although it supported the other two questions, the Communist-dominated government branded the PSL "traitors". This massive oppression was overseen by Gomułka and the provisional president, Bolesław Bierut.

Border changes of Poland after World War II. The eastern territories (Kresy) were annexed by the Soviets. The western so-called "Recovered Territories" were granted as war reparations. Despite the western lands being more industrialized, Poland lost 77,035 km (29,743 sq mi) and major cities like Lviv and Vilnius Westverschiebung.Polens.gif
Border changes of Poland after World War II. The eastern territories ( Kresy ) were annexed by the Soviets. The western so-called "Recovered Territories" were granted as war reparations. Despite the western lands being more industrialized, Poland lost 77,035 km (29,743 sq mi) and major cities like Lviv and Vilnius

The official results of the election showed the Democratic Bloc with 80.1 percent of the vote. The Democratic Bloc was awarded 394 seats to only 28 for the PSL. Mikołajczyk immediately resigned to protest this so-called 'implausible result', and fled to the United Kingdom in April rather than face arrest. Later, some historians announced that the official results were only obtained through massive fraud. Government officials didn't even count the real votes in many areas, and simply filled in the relevant documents in accordance with instructions from the Communists. In other areas, the ballot boxes were either destroyed or replaced with boxes containing prefilled ballots.

The 1947 election marked the beginning of undisguised Communist rule in Poland, though it was not officially transformed into the Polish People's Republic until the adoption of the 1952 Constitution. However, Gomułka never supported Stalin's control over the Polish Communists, and was soon replaced as party leader by the more pliable Bierut. In 1948, the Communists consolidated their power, merging with Cyrankiewicz' faction of the PPS to form the Polish United Workers' Party (known in Poland as 'the Party'), which would monopolise political power in Poland until 1989. In 1949, Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky became Polish Minister of National Defence, with the additional title Marshal of Poland, and in 1952 he became Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (deputy premier).

3xtak.jpg
A propaganda poster enhancing to vote for Communist policies in the "Three Times Yes" 1946 referendum
Konstytucja PRL draft with Stalin remarks.jpg
Draft of Constitution of the Polish People's Republic (in Russian) with Stalin remarks, 1952

Over the coming years, private industry was nationalised, the land seized from the pre-war landowners and redistributed to the peasants, and millions of Poles were transferred from the lost eastern territories to the lands acquired from Germany. Poland was now to be brought into line with the Soviet model of a "people's democracy" and a centrally planned socialist economy. The government also embarked on the collectivisation of agriculture, although the pace was slower than in other satellites: Poland remained the only Soviet bloc country where individual peasants dominated agriculture.

Through a careful balance of agreement, compromise and resistance — and having signed an agreement of coexistence with the communist regime — cardinal primate Stefan Wyszyński maintained and even strengthened the Polish church through a series of failed government leaders. He was put under house arrest from 1953 to 1956 for failing to punish priests who participated in anti-government activity. [14] [15] [16]

Bierut died in March 1956, and was replaced with Edward Ochab, who held the position for seven months. In June, workers in the industrial city of Poznań went on strike, in what became known as Poznań 1956 protests. Voices began to be raised in the Party and among the intellectuals calling for wider reforms of the Stalinist system. Eventually, power shifted towards Gomułka, who replaced Ochab as party leader. Hardline Stalinists were removed from power and many Soviet officers serving in the Polish Army were dismissed. This marked the end of the Stalinist era.

1970s and 1980s

The 1970 Polish protests were ruthlessly crushed by the Communist authorities and Citizens' Militia. The riots resulted in the death of 42 people and over 1000 wounded Polish 1970 protests - Zbyszek Godlewski body.jpg
The 1970 Polish protests were ruthlessly crushed by the Communist authorities and Citizens' Militia. The riots resulted in the death of 42 people and over 1000 wounded

In 1970, Gomułka's government had decided to adopt massive increases in the prices of basic goods, including food. The resulting widespread violent protests in December that same year resulted in a number of deaths. They also forced another major change in the government, as Gomułka was replaced by Edward Gierek as the new First Secretary. Gierek's plan for recovery was centered on massive borrowing, mainly from the United States and West Germany, to re-equip and modernize Polish industry, and to import consumer goods to give the workers some incentive to work. While it boosted the Polish economy, and is still remembered as the "Golden Age" of socialist Poland, it left the country vulnerable to global economic fluctuations and western undermining, and the repercussions in the form of massive debt is still felt in Poland even today. This Golden Age came to an end after the 1973 energy crisis. The failure of the Gierek government, both economically and politically, soon led to the creation of opposition in the form of trade unions, student groups, clandestine newspapers and publishers, imported books and newspapers, and even a "flying university."

Queues waiting to enter a state-run store were a typical sight in the 1950s and 1980s. The availability of goods varied at times and most sought after basic item was toilet paper Kolejka.jpeg
Queues waiting to enter a state-run store were a typical sight in the 1950s and 1980s. The availability of goods varied at times and most sought after basic item was toilet paper

On 16 October 1978 the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, was elected Pope, taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying effect on what had been, even under Communist rule, one of the most devoutly Catholic nations in Europe. Gierek is alleged to have said to his cabinet, "O God, what are we going to do now?" or, as occasionally reported, "Jesus and Mary, this is the end". When John Paul II made his first papal tour of Poland in June 1979, half a million people heard him speak in Warsaw; he did not call for rebellion, instead encouraged the creation of an "alternative Poland" of social institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came, the nation would present a united front.

A new wave of strikes undermined Gierek's government, and in September Gierek, who was in poor health, was finally removed from office and replaced as Party leader by Stanisław Kania. However, Kania was unable to find an answer for the fast-eroding support of communism in Poland. Labour turmoil led to the formation of the independent trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) in September 1980, originally led by Lech Wałęsa. In fact, Solidarity became a broad anti-communist social movement ranging from people associated with the Roman Catholic Church, to members of the anti-stalinist left. By the end of 1981, Solidarity had nine million members—a quarter of Poland's population and three times as many as the PUWP had. Kania resigned under Soviet pressure in October and was succeeded by Wojciech Jaruzelski, who had been Defence minister since 1968 and Premier since February.

The new Warszawa Centralna railway station in Warsaw had automatic doors and escalators, an unlikely sight in Communist Poland. It was a flagship project during the 1970s economic boom and was dubbed the most modern station in Europe at the time of its completion in 1975 Warszawa 1975 WDC 42783.jpg
The new Warszawa Centralna railway station in Warsaw had automatic doors and escalators, an unlikely sight in Communist Poland. It was a flagship project during the 1970s economic boom and was dubbed the most modern station in Europe at the time of its completion in 1975

On 13 December 1981, Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law, suspended Solidarity, and temporarily imprisoned most of its leaders. This sudden crackdown on Solidarity was reportedly out of fear of Soviet intervention (see Soviet reaction to the Polish crisis of 1980–81). The government then disallowed Solidarity on October 8, 1982. Martial law was formally lifted in July 1983, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place through the mid-to-late-1980s. Jaruzelski stepped down as prime minister in 1985 and became president (chairman of the Council of State).

Lech Walesa co-founded and headed the Solidarity movement which toppled Communism. He later became the President of Poland Stakingsleider Lech Walesa deelt handtekeningen uit.jpg
Lech Wałęsa co-founded and headed the Solidarity movement which toppled Communism. He later became the President of Poland
The 1980 Gdansk Shipyard Strike and subsequent Summer 1981 Hunger Demonstrations were instrumental in strengthening the Solidarity movement's influence Strajk sierpniowy w Stoczni Gdanskiej im. Lenina 07.jpg
The 1980 Gdańsk Shipyard Strike and subsequent Summer 1981 Hunger Demonstrations were instrumental in strengthening the Solidarity movement's influence

This did not prevent Solidarity from gaining more support and power. Eventually it eroded the dominance of the PUWP, which in 1981 lost approximately 85,000 of its 3 million members. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, but by the late 1980s was sufficiently strong to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 were one of the factors that forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity.

From 6 February 6 to 15 April 1989, talks of 13 working groups in 94 sessions, which became known as the "Roundtable Talks" (Rozmowy Okrągłego Stołu) saw the PUWP abandon power and radically altered the shape of the country. In June, shortly after the Tiananmen Square protests in China, the 1989 Polish legislative election took place, Poland's first partially-free election in eight decades. Much to its own surprise, Solidarity took all contested (35%) seats in the Sejm, the Parliament's lower house, and all but one seat in the fully free elected Senate.

Solidarity persuaded the Communists' longtime satellite parties, the United People's Party and Democratic Party, to throw their support to Solidarity. This all but forced Jaruzelski, who had been named president in July, to appoint a Solidarity member as prime minister. Finally, he appointed a Solidarity-led coalition government with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the country's first non-Communist prime minister since 1948.

On 10 December 1989, the statue of Vladimir Lenin was removed in Warsaw by the PRL authorities. [17]

The Parliament amended the Constitution on 29 December 1989 to formally restore democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties. This began the Third Polish Republic, and served as a prelude to the fully democratic elections of 1991—only the third free election ever held in Poland.

The PZPR was finally disbanded on January 30, 1990, even if Wałęsa could be elected as President only eleven months after. The Warsaw Pact was soon followed on 1 July 1991 and the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991. On 27 October 1991, the first entirely free Polish parliamentary elections since the 1920s took place. This completed Poland's transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal democratic political system. The last post-Soviet troops left Poland on 18 September 1993. After ten years of democratic consolidation, Poland joined OECD in 1996, NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

Government and politics

Logo of the Polish United Workers' Party POL PZPR logo.svg
Logo of the Polish United Workers' Party

The government and politics of the Polish People's Republic were governed by the Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR). Despite the presence of two minor parties, the United People's Party and the Democratic Party, the country was generally reckoned by western nations as a one-party state because these two parties were supposedly completely subservient to the Communists and had to accept the PZPR's "leading role" as a condition of their existence. It was dependent on the USSR to the extent of being its satellite state. From 1952 the PRP's highest law was the Constitution of the Polish People's Republic, and the Polish Council of State replaced the presidency of Poland. Elections were held on the single lists of the Front of National Unity.

Foreign relations

Wladyslaw Gomulka and Leonid Brezhnev in East Berlin, 1967 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-F0417-0001-011, Berlin, VII. SED-Parteitag, Eroffnung.jpg
Władysław Gomułka and Leonid Brezhnev in East Berlin, 1967

During the PRL's existence, it maintained relations not only with the Soviet Union, but several communist states around the world. It also had friendly relations with the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Western Bloc as well as the People's Republic of China.

PRL's relations with Israel were on a fair level following the aftermath of the Holocaust. In 1947, the PRL voted in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which lead to Israel's recognition by the PRL on 19 May 1948. However, by the Six-Day War, it severed diplomatic relations with Israel in June 1967 and supported the Palestine Liberation Organization which recognized the State of Palestine on 14 December 1988. In 1989, PRL restored relations with Israel.

The PRL participated as a member of the UN, the World Trade Organization, the Warsaw Pact, Comecon, International Energy Agency, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Atomic Energy Agency, and Interkosmos.

Economy

Early years

An abandoned State Agricultural Farm in south-eastern Poland. State farms were a form of collective farming created in 1949 Kroscienko PGR 1.jpg
An abandoned State Agricultural Farm in south-eastern Poland. State farms were a form of collective farming created in 1949

Poland suffered tremendous economic losses during World War II. In 1939, Poland had 35.1 million inhabitants, but the census of 14 February 1946 showed only 23.9 million inhabitants. (The difference was partially the result of the border revision.) The losses in national resources and infrastructure amounted to 38%. Compared to Western European nations, including Germany, Poland was still mostly an agrarian country. The implementation of the immense tasks involved with the reconstruction of the country was intertwined with the struggle of the new government for the stabilisation of power, made even more difficult by the fact that a considerable part of society was mistrustful of the communist government. The occupation of Poland by the Red Army and the support the Soviet Union had shown for the Polish communists was decisive in the communists gaining the upper hand in the new Polish government. Poland was under Soviet control, both directly (Red Army, NKVD, deportations to the SU) and indirectly (NKVD created the Polish political police UB).

Lodz was Poland's largest city after the destruction of Warsaw during World War II. It was also a major industrial centre in Europe and served as temporary capital due to its economic significance in the 1940s Bazylika Archikatedralna w Lodzi.jpg
Lodz was Poland's largest city after the destruction of Warsaw during World War II. It was also a major industrial centre in Europe and served as temporary capital due to its economic significance in the 1940s

As control of the Polish territories passed from occupying forces of Nazi Germany to the subsequent occupying forces of the Soviet Union, and from the Soviet Union to the Soviet-imposed puppet satellite state, Poland's new economic system was forcibly imposed and began moving towards a radical, communist centrally planned economy. One of the first major steps in that direction involved the agricultural reform issued by the Polish Committee of National Liberation government on 6 September 1944. All estates over 0.5 km2 in pre-war Polish territories and all over 1 km2 in former German territories were nationalised without compensation. In total, 31,000 km2 of land were nationalised in Poland and 5 million in the former German territories, out of which 12,000 km2 were redistributed to peasants and the rest remained in the hands of the government (Most of this was eventually used in the collectivization and creation of sovkhoz-like State Agricultural Farms "PGR"). However, the collectivization of Polish farming never reached the same extent as it did in the Soviet Union or other countries of the Eastern Bloc. [18]

Female textile workers in a state-run factory, Lodz, 1950s Ignacy Plazewski, Przadki przy pracy, I-4717-4.jpg
Female textile workers in a state-run factory, Lodz, 1950s

Nationalisation began in 1944, with the pro-Soviet government taking over industries in the newly acquired territories along with the rest of the country. As nationalization was unpopular, the communists delayed the nationalization reform until 1946, when after the 3xTAK referendums they were fairly certain they had total control of the state and could deal a heavy blow to eventual public protests. Some semi-official nationalisation of various private enterprises had begun also in 1944. In 1946, all enterprises with over 50 employees were nationalised, with no compensation to Polish owners. [19]

The Allied punishment of Germany for the war of destruction was intended to include large-scale reparations to Poland. However, those were truncated into insignificance by the break-up of Germany into East and West and the onset of the Cold War. Poland was then relegated to receive her share from the Soviet-controlled East Germany. However, even this was attenuated, as the Soviets pressured the Polish Government to cease receiving the reparations far ahead of schedule as a sign of 'friendship' between the two new communist neighbors and, therefore, now friends. [20] [21] Thus, without the reparations and without the massive Marshall Plan implemented in the West at that time, Poland's postwar recovery was much harder than it could have been.

Later years

Supersam Warsaw, the first self-serve shopping centre in Poland, 1969 SuperSam Warszawa 1969.jpg
Supersam Warsaw, the first self-serve shopping centre in Poland, 1969

During the Gierek era, Poland borrowed large sums of Western money. This changed in the late 1970s however, and fact that the West would no longer grant Poland credit meant that living standards began to sharply fall again as the supply of imported goods dried up, and as Poland was forced to export everything it could, particularly food and coal, to service its massive debt, which would reach US$23 billion by 1980. By 1978, it was therefore obvious that eventually the regime would again have to raise prices and risk another outbreak of labor unrest.

During the chaotic Solidarity years and the imposition of martial law, Poland entered a decade of economic crisis, officially acknowledged as such even by the regime. Rationing and queuing became a way of life, with ration cards (Kartki) necessary to buy even such basic consumer staples as milk and sugar. [22] Access to Western luxury goods became even more restricted, as Western governments applied economic sanctions to express their dissatisfaction with the government repression of the opposition, while at the same time the government had to use most of the foreign currency it could obtain to pay the crushing rates on its foreign debt. [23]

Pewex, a chain of hard currency stores which sold unobtainable Western goods and items Pewex.jpg
Pewex, a chain of hard currency stores which sold unobtainable Western goods and items

In response to this situation, the government, which controlled all official foreign trade, continued to maintain a highly artificial exchange rate with Western currencies. The exchange rate worsened distortions in the economy at all levels, resulting in a growing black market and the development of a shortage economy. [24] The only way for an individual to buy most Western goods was to use Western currencies, notably the U.S. dollar, which in effect became a parallel currency. However, it could not simply be exchanged at the official banks for Polish złotys, since the government exchange rate undervalued the dollar and placed heavy restrictions on the amount that could be exchanged, and so the only practical way to obtain it was from remittances or work outside the country. An entire illegal industry of street-corner money changers emerged as a result. The so-called Cinkciarze gave clients far better than official exchange rate and became wealthy from their opportunism albeit at the risk of punishment, usually diminished by the wide scale bribery of the Militia. [22]

As Western currency came into the country from emigrant families and foreign workers, the government in turn attempted to gather it up by various means, most visibly by establishing a chain of state-run Pewex and Baltona stores in all Polish cities, where goods could only be bought with hard currency. It even introduced its own ersatz U.S. currency (bony PeKaO in Polish). [22] This paralleled the financial practices in East Germany running its own ration stamps at the same time. [22] The trend led to an unhealthy state of affairs where the chief determinant of economic status was access to hard currency. This situation was incompatible with any remaining ideals of socialism, which were soon completely abandoned at the community level.

Ration cards for sugar, 1977 Kartki-cukier-77.JPG
Ration cards for sugar, 1977

In this desperate situation, all development and growth in the Polish economy slowed to a crawl. Most visibly, work on most of the major investment projects that had begun in the 1970s was stopped. As a result, most Polish cities acquired at least one infamous example of a large unfinished building languishing in a state of limbo. While some of these were eventually finished decades later, most, such as the Szkieletor skyscraper in Kraków, were never finished at all, wasting the considerable resources devoted to their construction. Polish investment in economic infrastructure and technological development fell rapidly, ensuring that the country lost whatever ground it had gained relative to Western European economies in the 1970s. To escape the constant economic and political pressures during these years, and the general sense of hopelessness, many family income providers traveled for work in Western Europe, particularly West Germany (Wyjazd na saksy). [25] During the era, hundreds of thousands of Poles left the country permanently and settled in the West, few of them returning to Poland even after the end of socialism in Poland. Tens of thousands of others went to work in countries that could offer them salaries in hard currency, notably Libya and Iraq. [26]

Bar mleczny, a former milk bar in Gdynia. These canteens offered value meals to citizens throughout Communist Poland Dairy bar at ulica Wladyslawa IV, Gdynia.jpg
Bar mleczny , a former milk bar in Gdynia. These canteens offered value meals to citizens throughout Communist Poland

After several years of the situation continuing to worsen, during which time the socialist government unsuccessfully tried various expedients to improve the performance of the economyat one point resorting to placing military commissars to direct work in the factories it grudgingly accepted pressures to liberalize the economy. The government introduced a series of small-scale reforms, such as allowing more small-scale private enterprises to function. However, the government also realized that it lacked the legitimacy to carry out any large-scale reforms, which would inevitably cause large-scale social dislocation and economic difficulties for most of the population, accustomed to the extensive social safety net that the socialist system had provided. For example, when the government proposed to close the Gdańsk Shipyard, a decision in some ways justifiable from an economic point of view but also largely political, there was a wave of public outrage and the government was forced to back down.

The only way to carry out such changes without social upheaval would be to acquire at least some support from the opposition side. The government accepted the idea that some kind of a deal with the opposition would be necessary, and repeatedly attempted to find common ground throughout the 1980s. However, at this point the communists generally still believed that they should retain the reins of power for the near future, and only allowed the opposition limited, advisory participation in the running of the country. They believed that this would be essential to pacifying the Soviet Union, which they felt was not yet ready to accept a non-Communist Poland.

In 1981 Poland notified Club de Paris (a group of Western-European central banks) about its insolvency and a number of negotiations of repaying its foreign debt were completed between 1989-1991. [27]

Culture

The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw (1955) was built under Stalin's supervision and resembles the Seven Sister Towers in Moscow Varsava Palata kulture i nauke.JPG
The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw (1955) was built under Stalin's supervision and resembles the Seven Sister Towers in Moscow
TV series
Movies

Religion

Jerzy Popieluszko was a Roman Catholic priest who supported the anti-communist opposition. He was murdered by the Security Services "SB" of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Jerzy Popieluszko.jpg
Jerzy Popiełuszko was a Roman Catholic priest who supported the anti-communist opposition. He was murdered by the Security Services "SB" of the Ministry of Internal Affairs

The experiences in and after World War II, wherein the large Jewish minority was annihilated by the Nazis, the large German minority was forcibly expelled from the country at the end of the war, along with the loss of the eastern territories which had a significant population of Eastern Orthodox Belarusians and Ukrainians, led to Poland becoming more homogeneously Catholic than it had been. [28]

The Polish Anti-Religious Campaign was initiated by the communist government in Poland which, under the doctrine of Marxism, actively advocated for the disenfranchisement of religion and planned atheisation. [29] [30] The Catholic Church, as the religion of most Poles, was seen as a rival competing for the citizens' allegiance by the government, which attempted to suppress it. [31] To this effect the communist state conducted anti-religious propaganda and persecution of clergymen and monasteries. [30] As in most other Communist countries, religion was not outlawed as such (an exception being Albania) and was permitted by the constitution, but the state attempted to achieve an atheistic society.

The Catholic Church in Poland provided strong resistance to Communist rule and Poland itself had a long history of dissent to foreign rule. [32] The Polish nation rallied to the Church, as had occurred in neighbouring Lithuania, which made it more difficult for the government to impose its antireligious policies as it had in the USSR, where the populace did not hold mass solidarity with the Russian Orthodox Church. It became the strongest anti-communist body during the epoch of Communism in Poland, and provided a more successful resistance than had religious bodies in most other Communist states. [31]

The Catholic Church unequivocally condemned communist ideology. [33] This led to the antireligious activity in Poland being compelled to take a more cautious and conciliatory line than in other Communist countries, largely failing in their attempt to control or suppress the Polish Church. [32]

The state attempted to take control of the Polish Orthodox Church (with a membership of about half a million) in order to use it as a weapon against the anti-communist efforts of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, and it attempted to control the person who was named as Metropolitan for the Polish Orthodox Church; Metropolitan Dionizy (the post-war head of the POC) was arrested and retired from service after his release. [34]

Following with the forcible conversion of Eastern Catholics in the USSR to Orthodoxy, the Polish government called on the Orthodox church in Poland to assume 'pastoral care' of the eastern Catholics in Poland. After the removal of Metropolitan Dionizy from leadership of the Polish Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Macarius was placed in charge. He was from western Ukraine (previously eastern Poland) and who had been instrumental in the compulsory conversion of eastern Catholics to orthodoxy there. Polish security forces assisted him in suppressing resistance in his taking control of Eastern Catholic parishes. [34] Many eastern Catholics who remained in Poland after the postwar border adjustments were resettled in Western Poland in the newly acquired territories from Germany. The state in Poland gave the POC a greater number of privileges than the Roman Catholic Church in Poland; the state even gave money to this Church, although it often defaulted on promised payments, leading to a perpetual financial crisis for the POC.

Demographics

A demographics graph illustrating population growth between 1900 and 2010. The highest birth rate was during the Second Polish Republic and consequently under the Polish People's Republic Population of Poland.svg
A demographics graph illustrating population growth between 1900 and 2010. The highest birth rate was during the Second Polish Republic and consequently under the Polish People's Republic

Before World War II, a third of Poland's population was composed of ethnic minorities. After the war, however, Poland's minorities were mostly gone, due to the 1945 revision of borders, and the Holocaust. Under the National Repatriation Office (Państwowy Urząd Repatriacyjny), millions of Poles were forced to leave their homes in the eastern Kresy region and settle in the western former German territories. At the same time approximately 5 million remaining Germans (about 8 million had already fled or had been expelled and about 1 million had been killed in 1944-46) were similarly expelled from those territories into the Allied occupation zones. Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities found themselves now mostly within the borders of the Soviet Union; those who opposed this new policy (like the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the Bieszczady Mountains region) were suppressed by the end of 1947 in the Operation Vistula. [35] [36]

A typical socialist apartment building in Warsaw representing the style of functionalism, built due to the ever-growing population and high birth rate at the time Warsaw 54 Twarda Street 2010.jpg
A typical socialist apartment building in Warsaw representing the style of functionalism, built due to the ever-growing population and high birth rate at the time

The population of Jews in Poland, which formed the largest Jewish community in pre-war Europe at about 3.3 million people, was all but destroyed by 1945. Approximately 3 million Jews died of starvation in ghettos and labor camps, were slaughtered at the German Nazi extermination camps or by the Einsatzgruppen death squads. Between 40,000 and 100,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust in Poland, and another 50,000 to 170,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union, and 20,000 to 40,000 from Germany and other countries. At its postwar peak, there were 180,000 to 240,000 Jews in Poland, settled mostly in Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków and Wrocław. [37]

According to the national census, which took place on February 14, 1946, population of Poland was 23,9 million, out of which 32% lived in cities and towns, and 68% lived in the countryside. The 1950 census (December 3, 1950) showed the population rise to 25 million, and the 1960 census (December 6, 1960) placed the population of Poland at 29.7 million. [38] In 1950, Warsaw was again the biggest city, with the population of 804,000 inhabitants. Second was Lodz (pop. 620,000), then Kraków (pop. 344,000), Poznań (pop. 321,000), and Wrocław (pop. 309,000).

Females were in the majority in the country. In 1931, there were 105.6 women for 100 men. In 1946, the difference grew to 118.5/100, but in subsequent years, number of males grew, and in 1960, the ratio was 106.7/100.

Most Germans were expelled from Poland and the annexed east German territories at the end of the war, while many Ukrainians, Rusyns and Belarusians lived in territories incorporated into the USSR. Small Ukrainian, Belarusian, Slovak, and Lithuanian minorities resided along the borders, and a German minority was concentrated near the southwestern city of Opole and in Masuria. [39] Groups of Ukrainians and Polish Ruthenians also lived in western Poland, where they were forcefully resettled by the authorities.

As a result of the migrations and the Soviet Unions radically altered borders under the rule of Joseph Stalin, the population of Poland became one of the most ethnically homogeneous in the world. [40] Virtually all people in Poland claim Polish nationality, with Polish as their native tongue. [41]

Military

World War II

Konstantin Rokossovsky, pictured in a Polish uniform, was Marshal of the Soviet Union and Marshal of Poland until being deposed during the Polish October in 1956. Konstanty Rokossowski 3.jpg
Konstantin Rokossovsky, pictured in a Polish uniform, was Marshal of the Soviet Union and Marshal of Poland until being deposed during the Polish October in 1956.

The Polish People's Army (LWP) was initially formed during World War II as the Polish 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division, but more commonly known as the Berling Army. Almost half of the soldiers and recruits in the Polish People's Army were Soviet. [42] In March 1945, Red Army officers accounted for approximately 52% of the entire corps (15,492 out of 29,372). Around 4,600 of them remained by July 1946. [43]

It was not the only Polish formation that fought along the Allied side, nor the first one in the East - although the first Polish force formed in the USSR, the Anders Army, had by that time moved to Iran. The Polish forces soon grew beyond the 1st Division into two major commands - the Polish First Army commanded by Zygmunt Berling, [44] and the Polish Second Army headed by Karol Świerczewski. The Polish First Army participated in the Vistula–Oder Offensive and the Battle of Kolberg (1945) before taking part in its final offensive with the Battle of Berlin. [44]

After the war

Following the Second World War, the Polish Army was reorganized into six (later seven) main military districts: the Warsaw Military District with its headquarters in Warsaw, the Lublin Military District, Kraków Military District, Lodz Military District, Poznań Military District, the Pomeranian Military District with its headquarters in Toruń and the Silesian Military District in Katowice. [45]

Throughout the late 1940s and early 50s the Polish Army was under the command of Polish-born Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstantin Rokossovsky, who was intentionally given the title "Marshal of Poland" and was also Minister of National Defense. [46] It was heavily tied into the Soviet military structures and was intended to increase Soviet influence as well as control over the Polish units in case of war. This process, however, was stopped in the aftermath of the Polish October in 1956. [47] Rokossovsky, viewed as a Soviet puppet, was excluded from the Polish United Workers' Party and driven out back to the Soviet Union where he remained a hero until death.

Geography

Poland administrative division 1957 literki.PNG
Polish voivodeships after 1957.
Poland administrative division 1975 literki.png
Polish voivodeships after 1975.
Poland's old and new borders, 1945 Map of Poland (1945).png
Poland's old and new borders, 1945

Geographically, the Polish People's Republic bordered the Baltic Sea to the North; the Soviet Union (via the Russian (Kaliningrad Oblast), Lithuanian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian SSRs) to the east; Czechoslovakia to the south and East Germany to the west. After World War II, Poland's borders were redrawn, following the decision taken at the Teheran Conference of 1943 at the insistence of the Soviet Union. Poland lost 77,000 km2 of territory in its eastern regions (Kresy), gaining instead the smaller but much more industrialized (however ruined) so-called "Regained Territories" east of the Oder-Neisse line.

Administration

The Polish People's Republic was divided into several voivodeships (the Polish unit of administrative division). After World War II, the new administrative divisions were based on the pre-war ones. The areas in the East that were not annexed by the Soviet Union had their borders left almost unchanged. Newly acquired territories in the west and north were organised into the voivodeships of Szczecin, Wrocław, Olsztyn and partially joined to Gdańsk, Katowice and Poznań voivodeships. Two cities were granted voivodeship status: Warsaw and Łódź.

In 1950 new voivodeships were created: Koszalin - previously part of Szczecin, Opole - previously part of Katowice, and Zielona Góra - previously part of Poznań, Wrocław and Szczecin voivodeships. In addition, three other cities were granted the voivodeship status: Wrocław, Kraków and Poznań.

In 1973, Poland voivodeships were changed again. This reorganization of administrative division of Poland was mainly a result of local government reform acts of 1973 to 1975. In place of three level administrative division (voivodeship, county, commune), new two-level administrative division was introduced (49 small voidships and communes). The three smallest voivodeships: Warsaw, Kraków and Łódź had a special status of municipal voivodeship; the city president (mayor) was also province governor.

See also

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Bibliography

Coordinates: 52°13′N21°02′E / 52.217°N 21.033°E / 52.217; 21.033