The Poland that the world knows today is relatively new, with several revolutions and occupations scattered throughout the country’s thousand year history; the story of the country and its changing borders and governments create a complicated cultural timeline, with pieces of Polish literature, music, art and other artifacts lost to time. Here’s a very brief look through some of Poland’s historical milestones.
The Baptism of a Polish State
In the mid 10th century, Duke Mieszko I (Mee-esh-cko), who ruled over several Western Slavic tribes, decided to consolidate his power by marrying the princess of Bohemia. But, he was also baptized in the Latin Rite. These two events symbolically are regarded as the birth of the Polish state and established it as a Christian nation, now under the purview and protection of the Pope. Mieszko’s son carried out his father’s mission by converting several of the tribes and creating a unified kingdom in 1025.
Union with Lithuania
The Mieszko line died out in the 14th century, forcing Poland to search for their next king elsewhere. The Polish princess at the time married the Duke of Lithuania, establishing an alliance that evolved into one state, known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The 150 year period between the 16th century and mid-17th century are considered the Golden Age of Poland, giving rise to one of the first successful democratic monarchies in Europe, as well as introducing minority rights under Union laws and becoming one of the most influential political and economic powers at the time.
The Decline of Poland
The Golden Age was brought to a halt as the rise of Tsardom in Russia, the Kingdom of Prussia, Sweden all pursuing independence greatly shrunk the Commonwealth’s territory and left them vulnerable with nobles all rising up. The Commonwealth entered into 100 years of warfare, which devastated the nation and almost erased themselves from the map.
In an attempt to save the Commonwealth, Stanislaw August Poniatowki, the king of Poland-Lithuania at the time, shifted the country’s focus toward rebuilding itself. While his policies brought about improvements in the economy, culture, and sciences, it did not prevent the First Partition of Poland, as the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia, and Habsburg Austrian Empire each took pieces of Poland’s outer provinces.
The last attempt to prevent Poland from becoming completely partitioned was to adopt a new constitution, which at this time in history had only been done once before in the United States. However, Catherine the Great of Russia was concerned about the new direction Poland was moving in, invaded the country, and conducted the Second Partition of Poland. Those who survived the partition rose against Russia, Prussia, and Austria, but they were immediately defeated due to lack of military power. This brought about the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, where Poland ceased to be a nation for over 123 years.
Regaining Independence and the Road to Democracy
Poland did not regain independence again until November 11, 1918 in the aftermath of World War 1. The period between WW1 and WW2 were spent rebuilding a once divided nation, attempting to piece together the culture and history that once was. Yet, the outbreak of WW2 erased Poland again for 27 days as Germany and Russia raided the country. Though Poland was a part of the Western allies and eventually came out on the winning side of the war, the country was yet again torn a part. Because of its weakened political state, Poland fell under the influence of the Soviet Union and became a communist nation, strongly relying on allies in Moscow.
When the Soviet Bloc dismantled in 1989, Poland became a democratic nation and established themselves at the Third Polish Republic and instituting political pluralism rather than the single party system of communism. Since then, Poland has joined the European Union, NATO, and has been able to regain much of its lost history, but there is still more work to be done to recover what was lost for over a century.