People's Republic of Poland

People's Republic of Poland

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The People's Republic of Poland (Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

: Polska Rzeczpospolita
Rzeczpospolita
Rzeczpospolita is a traditional name of the Polish State, usually referred to as Rzeczpospolita Polska . It comes from the words: "rzecz" and "pospolita" , literally, a "common thing". It comes from latin word "respublica", meaning simply "republic"...

 Ludowa
, PRL) was the official name of Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 from 1952 to 1990. Although the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 took control of the country immediately after the liberation from Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 in 1944, the name of the state was not changed until eight years later. From 1944 to 1952 Rzeczpospolita Polska (The Republic of Poland) was the name of the Polish state.

The Soviet Union had much influence over internal affairs and foreign affairs
Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs is an American magazine and website on international relations and U.S. foreign policy published since 1922 by the Council on Foreign Relations six times annually...

, and Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 forces were stationed in Poland (1945 - 500,000; until 1955 - 120,000 to 150,000, until 1989 - 40,000 ). In 1945, Soviet generals and advisors formed 80% of the officer cadre of Wojsko Polskie. The Polish United Workers' Party
Polish United Workers' Party
The Polish United Workers' Party was the Communist party which governed the People's Republic of Poland from 1948 to 1989. Ideologically it was based on the theories of Marxism-Leninism.- The Party's Program and Goals :...

  became the dominant political party, officially making the PRL a Communist state
Communist state
A communist state is a state with a form of government characterized by single-party rule or dominant-party rule of a communist party and a professed allegiance to a Leninist or Marxist-Leninist communist ideology as the guiding principle of the state...

.

History




At the Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, was the wartime meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D...

 in February 1945, Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 was able to present his western allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, with a fait accompli
Fait Accompli
Fait accompli is a French phrase which means literally "an accomplished deed". It is commonly used to describe an action which is completed before those affected by it are in a position to query or reverse it...

in Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

. 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 occupied between 1939 and 1941.

In compensation, the USSR awarded Poland all the German territories in Pomerania
Pomerania
Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. Divided between Germany and Poland, it stretches roughly from the Recknitz River near Stralsund in the West, via the Oder River delta near Szczecin, to the mouth of the Vistula River near Gdańsk in the East...

, Silesia
Silesia
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with smaller parts also in the Czech Republic, and Germany.Silesia is rich in mineral and natural resources, and includes several important industrial areas. Silesia's largest city and historical capital is Wrocław...

 and Brandenburg
Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

 east of the Oder-Neisse Line
Oder-Neisse line
The Oder–Neisse line is the border between Germany and Poland which was drawn in the aftermath of World War II. The line is formed primarily by the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers, and meets the Baltic Sea west of the seaport cities of Szczecin and Świnoujście...

, plus the southern half of East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

. These awards were confirmed at the Tripartite Conference of Berlin, otherwise known as the Potsdam Conference
Potsdam Conference
The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 16 July to 2 August 1945. Participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States...

 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.

Their opponents, led by Stanisław Mikołajczyk, managed only one victory, but it was a substantial one: Poland preserved its status as an independent state, contrary to the plans of some influential communists such as Wanda Wasilewska
Wanda Wasilewska
Wanda Wasilewska was a Polish and Soviet novelist and communist political activist who played an important role in the creation of a Polish division of the Soviet Red Army during World War II and the formation of the Polish People's Republic....

, who were in favour of Poland becoming another republic of the Soviet Union. This important victory would be their last, however, as the communists, tightening their grip on power, began political persecution of all opposition. Many of their opponents decided to leave the country, and others were put on staged trials and sentenced to many years of imprisonment or execution.

In June 1946 the "Three Times Yes" referendum was held on a number of issues—abolition of the Senate of Poland
Senate of Poland
The Senate is the upper house of the Polish parliament, the lower house being the 'Sejm'. The history of the Polish Senate is rich in tradition and stretches back over 500 years, it was one of the first constituent bodies of a bicameral parliament in Europe and existed without hiatus until the...

, land reform, and making the Oder-Neisse line
Oder-Neisse line
The Oder–Neisse line is the border between Germany and Poland which was drawn in the aftermath of World War II. The line is formed primarily by the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers, and meets the Baltic Sea west of the seaport cities of Szczecin and Świnoujście...

 Poland's western border. The communist-controlled Interior Ministry issued results showing that all three questions passed overwhelmingly. Between then and the January 1947 general elections, the opposition was subjected to ruthless persecution, and many opposition candidates were prevented from campaigning. The Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (PSL) party in particular suffered harsh 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 repression was overseen by the leader of the Polish Workers' Party
Polish Workers' Party
The Polish Workers' Party was a communist party in Poland from 1942 to 1948. It was founded as a reconstitution of the Communist Party of Poland, and merged with the Polish Socialist Party in 1948 to form the Polish United Workers' Party.-History:...

, Władysław Gomułka. He was assisted by the provisional president, Bolesław Bierut.

Gomułka then took advantage of a split in the Polish Socialist Party
Polish Socialist Party
The Polish Socialist Party was one of the most important Polish left-wing political parties from its inception in 1892 until 1948...

. One faction, which included Prime Minister Edward Osóbka-Morawski
Edward Osóbka-Morawski
Edward Osóbka-Morawski was a Polish activist in PPS before World War II, and after the Soviet takover of Poland, Chairman of the Communist interim government called the Polish Committee of National Liberation formed in Lublin with Stalin's approval and backing.In October 1944, Osóbka-Morawski...

, wanted to join forces with the Peasant Party and form a united front against the Communists. Another faction, led by Józef Cyrankiewicz
Józef Cyrankiewicz
Józef Cyrankiewicz was a Polish Socialist, after 1948 Communist political figure. He served as premier of the People's Republic of Poland between 1947 and 1952, and again between 1954 and 1970...

, 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 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.

The official results of the election showed the Communist-dominated Democratic Bloc (the PPR, Cyrankiewicz' faction of the PPS, and the Democratic Party
Democratic Party (Poland)
The Democratic Party is a Polish centrist party. The party faced a revival in 2009, when it was joined by liberal politician Paweł Piskorski, formerly member of Civic Platform.-History:The party was established on April 15, 1939...

) with 80.1 percent of the vote—an implausibly high total that could have only been obtained through massive fraud. The Communists and its allies were awarded 394 seats to only 28 for the PSL. Mikołajczyk immediately resigned, and fled to the United Kingdom in April rather than face arrest. This point marked the beginning of undisguised Communist rule in Poland, though it was not officially transformed into the People's Republic of Poland until the adoption of the 1952 Constitution
Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland
The Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland was passed on 22 July 1952. Created by the Polish communists in the People's Republic of Poland, it was based on the 1936 Soviet Constitution , and it superseded the post-war provisional Small Constitution of 1947 which, at its turn, had declared...

. 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
Polish United Workers' Party
The Polish United Workers' Party was the Communist party which governed the People's Republic of Poland from 1948 to 1989. Ideologically it was based on the theories of Marxism-Leninism.- The Party's Program and Goals :...

 (known in Poland as 'the Party'), which would monopolise political power in Poland until 1989. In 1949, Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky
Konstantin Rokossovsky
Konstantin Rokossovskiy was a Polish-origin Soviet career officer who was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, as well as Marshal of Poland and Polish Defence Minister, who was famously known for his service in the Eastern Front, where he received high esteem for his outstanding military skill...

 became Polish Minister of National Defence, with the additional title Marshal of Poland
Marshal of Poland
Marshal of Poland is the highest rank in the Polish Army. It has been granted to only six officers. At present, this rank is equivalent to a Field Marshal or General of the Army in other NATO armies.-History:...

, and in 1952 he became Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (deputy premier). 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.

Bierut died in March 1956, and was replaced with Edward Ochab
Edward Ochab
Edward Ochab was a Polish Communist politician promoted to the position of the First Secretary of the Communist party in the People's Republic of Poland between 20 March and 21 October 1956, just prior to the Gomułka thaw...

. In June, workers in the industrial city of Poznań
Poznan
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

 (Posen) went on strike. 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 Bierut 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. However, by the mid 1960s Gomułka's reformist veil had long since fallen off, and Poland was starting to experience economic as well as political difficulties.

1970s and 1980s



The next stage of Polish history began in December 1970. Gomułka's government had decided to prop up the failing economy by suddenly announcing massive increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs. The resulting widespread violent protests resulted in a number of deaths. They also forced another major change in the government, as Gomułka was replaced by Edward Gierek
Edward Gierek
Edward Gierek was a Polish communist politician.He was born in Porąbka, outside of Sosnowiec. He lost his father to a mining accident in a pit at the age of four. His mother married again and emigrated to northern France, where he was raised. He joined the French Communist Party in 1931 and was...

 as the new First Secretary. Gierek's plan for recovery was centered on massive borrowing, mainly from the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

, 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, the obvious repercussion 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 union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s, student groups, clandestine newspapers and publishers, imported books and newspapers, and even a "flying university."

At this juncture, on 16 October 1978, Poland experienced what many Poles believed to be literally a miracle. The Archbishop
Archbishop
An archbishop is a bishop of higher rank, but not of higher sacramental order above that of the three orders of deacon, priest , and bishop...

 of Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

, Cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

 Karol Wojtyła, was elected Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

, taking the name John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Blessed Pope John Paul II , born Karol Józef Wojtyła , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted ; only Pope Pius IX ...

. 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 toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people heard him speak in Warsaw. John Paul did not call for rebellion, instead he 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
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 Solidarity (Polish Solidarność) in September 1980, originally led by Lech Wałęsa
Lech Wałęsa
Lech Wałęsa is a Polish politician, trade-union organizer, and human-rights activist. A charismatic leader, he co-founded Solidarity , the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland between 1990 and 95.Wałęsa was an electrician...

. In fact Solidarity became a broad anti-communist social movement ranging from people associated with the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, to members of the anti-socialist 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
Wojciech Jaruzelski
Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski is a retired Polish military officer and Communist politician. He was the last Communist leader of Poland from 1981 to 1989, Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985 and the country's head of state from 1985 to 1990. He was also the last commander-in-chief of the Polish People's...

, who had been defence minister since 1968 and premier since February.

On December 13, 1981, Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law
Martial law in Poland
Martial law in Poland refers to the period of time from December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983, when the authoritarian government of the People's Republic of Poland drastically restricted normal life by introducing martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition to it. Thousands of opposition...

, 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 1980–1981
Soviet reaction to the Polish crisis of 1980–1981
The Polish crisis of 1980–1981, associated with the emergence of the Solidarity mass movement in Poland, challenged the Soviet control over the satellite countries of the Eastern Bloc....

). The government then banned 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).

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 strike
Strike action
Strike action, also called labour strike, on strike, greve , or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labour became...

s in 1988 were one of the factors that forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity.

From February 6 to April 15, talks of 13 working group
Working group
A working group is an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers working on new research activities that would be difficult to develop under traditional funding mechanisms . The lifespan of the WG can last anywhere between a few months and several years...

s in 94 sessions, which became known as the "Roundtable Talks
Polish Round Table Agreement
The Polish Round Table Talks took place in Warsaw, Poland from February 6 to April 4, 1989. The government initiated the discussion with the banned trade union Solidarność and other opposition groups in an attempt to defuse growing social unrest.-History:...

" (Polish: Rozmowy Okrągłego Stołu) saw the PUWP abandon power and radically altered the shape of the country. The semi-free June elections brought a victory for the Solidarity movement that took all contested (35%) seats in the Sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

, the Parliament's lower house, and all but one seat in the fully free elected Senat.

The Communists' longtime satellite parties, the United People's Party
United People's Party (Poland)
The United People's Party was an agrarian political party in the People's Republic of Poland. It was formed on 27 November 1949 from the merger of the communist Stronnictwo Ludowe party with remnants of the independent People's Party of Stanisław Mikołajczyk .ZSL became - as intended from its very...

 and Democratic Party, broke their alliance with the Communists and threw their support to Solidarity. Left with no other choice, Jaruzelski, who had been named president in July, appointed a Solidarity-led coalition government with Tadeusz Mazowiecki
Tadeusz Mazowiecki
Tadeusz Mazowiecki is a Polish author, journalist, philanthropist and Christian-democratic politician, formerly one of the leaders of the Solidarity movement, and the first non-communist prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe after World War II.-Biography:Mazowiecki comes from a Polish...

 as the country's first non-Communist prime minister since 1948.

On December 29 the Parliament amended the Constitution to formally restore democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties. This began the Third Polish Republic and effectively ended the Communist Party's hold on the government. PZPR was finally disbanded on January 30, 1990, even if Wałęsa could be elected as President only eleven months after.

Government and politics


The government and politics of the People's Republic of Poland were dominated by the Polish United Workers' Party
Polish United Workers' Party
The Polish United Workers' Party was the Communist party which governed the People's Republic of Poland from 1948 to 1989. Ideologically it was based on the theories of Marxism-Leninism.- The Party's Program and Goals :...

 (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR). Even if, strictly speaking, Poland was not a single-party state
Single-party state
A single-party state, one-party system or single-party system is a type of party system government in which a single political party forms the government and no other parties are permitted to run candidates for election...

 because of the presence of two minor parties, the People's Party and the Democratic Party
Democratic Party (Poland)
The Democratic Party is a Polish centrist party. The party faced a revival in 2009, when it was joined by liberal politician Paweł Piskorski, formerly member of Civic Platform.-History:The party was established on April 15, 1939...

, in effect it followed a communist
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

, dependent on the USSR
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 to the extent of being its satellite state
Satellite state
A satellite state is a political term that refers to a country that is formally independent, but under heavy political and economic influence or control by another country...

. From 1952 the PRP's highest law was the Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland
Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland
The Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland was passed on 22 July 1952. Created by the Polish communists in the People's Republic of Poland, it was based on the 1936 Soviet Constitution , and it superseded the post-war provisional Small Constitution of 1947 which, at its turn, had declared...

, and the Polish Council of State
Polish Council of State
The Council of State of the Republic of Poland was introduced by the 1947 Small Constitution. It consisted of the President of the Republic of Poland, the Marshal and Vicemarshals of Constituent Sejm, President of the Supreme Chamber of Control and could consist of other members...

 replaced the presidency of Poland. Elections were held on the single lists of the Front of National Unity
Front of National Unity
Front of National Unity or National Unity Front was a Polish communist political organization supervising elections in People's Republic of Poland and also acting as a coalition for the dominant communist Polish United Workers' Party and its allies. It was founded in 1952 as National Front and...

.

Early years


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 Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

an nations, including Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Poland was still mostly an agricultural 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 liberation of Poland by the Red Army and the support the Soviet Union had shown for the Polish communists was decisive in the left gaining the upper hand in the new Polish government. Poland was under Soviet control, both directly (Red Army, NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

, Soviet concentration camps in Poland, deportations to the SU) and indirectly (NKVD created the Polish political police UB).

As control of the Polish territories passed from occupying forces of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 to the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

, and from the Red Army to Polish communists, Poland's new economic system
Economic system
An economic system is the combination of the various agencies, entities that provide the economic structure that defines the social community. These agencies are joined by lines of trade and exchange along which goods, money etc. are continuously flowing. An example of such a system for a closed...

 began moving towards a communist centrally planned economy. One of the first major steps in that direction involved the agricultural reform issued by the PKWN 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
Sovkhoz
A sovkhoz , typically translated as state farm, is a state-owned farm. The term originated in the Soviet Union, hence the name. The term is still in use in some post-Soviet states, e.g., Russia and Belarus. It is usually contrasted with kolkhoz, which is a collective-owned farm...

-like Państwowe Gospodarstwo Rolne (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.

Nationalization
Nationalization
Nationalisation, also spelled nationalization, is the process of taking an industry or assets into government ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization usually refers to private assets, but may also mean assets owned by lower levels of government, such as municipalities, being...

 also began in 1944, with the government taking control of German industries in the newly acquired territories. As nationalization was unpopular, the communists delayed the nationalization reform until 1946, when after the 3xTAK referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

s they were fairly certain they had total control of the government and could deal with eventual public protests. However some semi-official nationalisation of various private non-German industries had begun back in 1944.

In 1946, all enterprises with over 50 employees were nationalised, with no compensation to Polish owners.

The punishment of Germany for the war 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. Poland was then to receive her share from the GDR. Even this was attenuated, however, 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. Thus, without the full deserved reparations and without the massive Marshall Plan
Marshall Plan
The Marshall Plan was the large-scale American program to aid Europe where the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to combat the spread of Soviet communism. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948...

, Poland's postwar recovery was much harder than it could have been.

Late years


During the Gierek era, Poland borrowed large sums of Western money
Money
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

. The fact that the West would no longer give 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
Martial law in Poland
Martial law in Poland refers to the period of time from December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983, when the authoritarian government of the People's Republic of Poland drastically restricted normal life by introducing martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition to it. Thousands of opposition...

, 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. Access to Western luxury good
Luxury good
Luxury goods are products and services that are not considered essential and associated with affluence.The concept of luxury has been present in various forms since the beginning of civilization. Its role was just as important in ancient western and eastern empires as it is in modern societies...

s became even more restricted, as Western governments applied economic sanction
International sanctions
International sanctions are actions taken by countries against others for political reasons, either unilaterally or multilaterally.There are several types of sanctions....

s 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.

In response to this situation, the government, which controlled all official foreign trade, continued to maintain a highly artificial exchange rate
Exchange rate
In finance, an exchange rate between two currencies is the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another. It is also regarded as the value of one country’s currency in terms of another currency...

 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
Shortage economy
Shortage economy is a term coined by the Hungarian economist, János Kornai. He used this term to criticize the old centrally-planned economies of the communist states of the Eastern Bloc...

. The only way for an individual to buy most Western goods was to use Western currencies, notably the U.S. dollar
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

, 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
Remittances
A remittance is a transfer of money by a foreign worker to his or her home country. Note that in 19th century usage a remittance man was someone exiled overseas and sent an allowance on condition that he not return home....

 or work outside the country. An entire illegal industry of street-corner money changers emerged as a result. Cinkciarze gave clients far better than official exchange rates and became wealthy from their opportunism, albeit at great risk of punishment—which, however, was greatly diminished by wide scale bribery of police.

As money came into the country by these channels, the government in turn attempted to gather it up by various means, most visibly by establishing a chain of state-run Pewex
Pewex
Pewex was a chain of hard currency shops in communist Poland...

stores in all Polish cities where goods could only be bought with hard currency
Currency
In economics, currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply...

. It even introduced its own ersatz
Ersatz
Ersatz means 'substituting for, and typically inferior in quality to', e.g. 'chicory is ersatz coffee'. It is a German word literally meaning substitute or replacement...

U.S. currency (bony in Polish). This paralleled the financial practices in the GDR at the time. These trends 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.

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
Szkieletor
Szkieletor is the unofficial name of a 92 metre high-rise building in Kraków, Poland, originally intended to become the headquarters of the Main Technical Organization . The construction of the building was started in 1975, but was stopped in 1981 because of economic constraints...

 skyscraper
Skyscraper
A skyscraper is a tall, continuously habitable building of many stories, often designed for office and commercial use. There is no official definition or height above which a building may be classified as a 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). 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
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 and Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

.

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 economy—at one point resorting to placing military commissar
Commissar
Commissar is the English transliteration of an official title used in Russia from the time of Peter the Great.The title was used during the Provisional Government for regional heads of administration, but it is mostly associated with a number of Cheka and military functions in Bolshevik and Soviet...

s 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 limited social safety net that the socialist system had provided. For example, when the government proposed to close the Gdańsk Shipyard
Gdansk Shipyard
Gdańsk Shipyard is a large Polish shipyard, located in the city of Gdańsk. The yard gained international fame when Solidarity was founded there in September 1980...

, 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.

Culture


TV series
  • Czterej Pancerni i Pies
    Czterej pancerni i pies
    Czterej pancerni i pies was a Polish black and white TV series based on the book by Janusz Przymanowski. Made between 1966 and 1970, the series is composed of 21 episodes of 55 minutes each, divided into three seasons. It is set in 1944 and 1945, during World War Two, and follows the adventures of...

  • Stawka Większa niż Życie
    Stawka wieksza niz zycie
    Stawka większa niż życie is a very successful cult Polish black and white TV series about the adventures of a Polish secret agent, Hans Kloss , who acts as a double agent in the Abwehr during Second World War in occupied Poland.The series was...

     (Kapitan Kloss)


Movies
  • The Cruise
    The Cruise (film)
    Rejs, known in English as The Cruise , is a Polish comedy film released in 1970, directed by Marek Piwowski who also co-wrote the screenplay with Janusz Głowacki. The score was composed by Wojciech Kilar....

  • Sexmission
    Sexmission
    Sexmission is a 1984 cult Polish comedy science fiction action film. It also contains a hidden political satire layer specific to the time and place of its production.-Plot:...

  • Teddy Bear
    Teddy Bear (film)
    Teddy Bear is the English title of Miś, a 1980 cult Polish film directed by Stanisław Bareja.Teddy Bear, along with The Cruise , put contemporary Polish society on the couch and subjected it to thorough examination with a fearless, acerbic and surreal sense of humor...


Demographics

  • Minorities in Poland after the War
  • Changes in Polish society between 1945 and 1989
  • Historical demographics of Poland - after the Second World War

Geography


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
Kresy
The Polish term Kresy refers to a land considered by Poles as historical eastern provinces of their country. Today, it makes western Ukraine, western Belarus, as well as eastern Lithuania, with such major cities, as Lviv, Vilnius, and Hrodna. This territory belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian...

), gaining instead the smaller but much more industrialized (however ruined) so-called "Regained Territories" east of
Historical Eastern Germany
The former eastern territories of Germany are those provinces or regions east of the current eastern border of Germany which were lost by Germany during and after the two world wars. These territories include the Province of Posen and East Prussia, Farther Pomerania, East Brandenburg and Lower...

 the Oder-Neisse line
Oder-Neisse line
The Oder–Neisse line is the border between Germany and Poland which was drawn in the aftermath of World War II. The line is formed primarily by the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers, and meets the Baltic Sea west of the seaport cities of Szczecin and Świnoujście...

.

The People's Republic of Poland was divided into several voivodeship
Voivodeship
Voivodship is a term denoting the position of, or more commonly the area administered by, a voivod. Voivodeships have existed since medieval times in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Serbia....

s (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
Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union
Immediately after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern regions of the Second Polish Republic, which Poles referred to as the "Kresy," and annexed territories totaling 201,015 km² with a population of 13,299,000...

 had their borders left almost unchanged. Newly acquired territories
Recovered Territories
Recovered or Regained Territories was an official term used by the People's Republic of Poland to describe those parts of pre-war Germany that became part of Poland after World War II...

 in the west and north were organised into the voivodeships of Szczecin
Szczecin Voivodeship
Szczecin Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–1998, superseded by West Pomeranian Voivodeship.----Statistics :*Area: 10.000 km²...

, Wrocław, Olsztyn
Olsztyn Voivodeship
Olsztyn Voivodeship was an administrative division and unit of local government in Poland in the years 1745-75, and a new territorial division between 1975–1998, superseded by Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship...

 and partially joined to Gdańsk
Gdansk Voivodeship
The name Gdańsk Voivodeship has been used twice to designate local governments in Poland.----Gdańsk Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–98, superseded by Pomeranian Voivodeship...

, Katowice
Katowice Voivodeship
Katowice Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–1998, superseded by the Silesian Voivodeship...

 and Poznań
Poznan Voivodeship
-1975 to 1998:From 1975 to 1998, Poznań Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland, superseded by Greater Poland Voivodeship.Capital city: Poznań.Major cities and towns :...

 voivodeships. Two cities were granted voivodeship status: Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 and Łódź.

In 1950 new voivodeships were created: Koszalin
Koszalin Voivodeship
Koszalin Voivodeship – a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–98, superseded by West Pomeranian Voivodeship. Capital city: Koszalin Area: 8.500 km² Statistics :...

 - previously part of Szczecin
Szczecin Voivodeship
Szczecin Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–1998, superseded by West Pomeranian Voivodeship.----Statistics :*Area: 10.000 km²...

, Opole
Opole Voivodeship
- Administrative division :Opole Voivodeship is divided into 12 counties : 1 city county and 11 land counties. These are further divided into 71 gminas.The counties are listed in the following table .- Economy :...

 - previously part of Katowice
Katowice Voivodeship
Katowice Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–1998, superseded by the Silesian Voivodeship...

, and Zielona Góra
Zielona Góra Voivodeship
Zielona Góra Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in years 1950–1998, superseded by Lubusz Voivodeship. Its capital city was Zielona Góra.-Major cities and towns :...

 - previously part of Poznań
Poznan Voivodeship
-1975 to 1998:From 1975 to 1998, Poznań Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland, superseded by Greater Poland Voivodeship.Capital city: Poznań.Major cities and towns :...

, Wrocław and Szczecin
Szczecin Voivodeship
Szczecin Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in Poland in the years 1975–1998, superseded by West Pomeranian Voivodeship.----Statistics :*Area: 10.000 km²...

 voivodeships. In addition, three other cities were granted the voivodeship status: Wrocław, Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 and Poznań
Poznan
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

.

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
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

, Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 and Łódź had a special status of municipal voivodeship; the city president (mayor) was also province governor.

Administrative divisions of the People's Republic of Poland

External links

PRL Internetowe Muzeum Polski Ludowej Muzeum PRL Komunizm, socjalizm i czasy PRL-u Propaganda komunistyczna PRL Tube, a categorized collection of videos from the Polish communist period
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