Polish History and Culture

Poland’s history is littered with tales of expansion, contraction, war and subjugation. However, despite the country’s turbulent past, it has also been the source of great cultural figures and movements.

The medieval era was a successful one for Poland, with its armies and territory doISND_POLONEZ_San_Diego_2minating Eastern Europe. Under Casimir III The Great (1333-70), Poland successfully increased its power and established one of Europe’s first universities in Krakow.

Poland’s stability and power faltered in the 17th century. The fledgling Parliament proved ineffective and the people became disillusioned. The ruling nobles began to run the country as their personal fiefdom, which led to foreign powers seizing on Poland’s weaknesses and carving up its vast territory between them.

By the late 19th century, Poland was in disarray, with its territory divided between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. Abject poverty and famine gripped the population as the Great Powers misruled them. This led to the emigration of about five million people mainly to the United States.

WWI was a devastating blow, with many of the Eastern Front’s battles taking place on Polish territories and Poles fighting against each other as they were enlisted in the occupying forces’ armies. The losses were immense, yet from the chaos of the peace resolutions, Poland saw its territorial independence regained and even had the audacity to launch an ill-fated war against Russia in 1922.

Lech Walesa became president but his star soon waned and, by 2000, he garnered less than one per cent of the national vote. Poland’s acceptance into democratic Europe was completed in 2004 when it was accepted into the European Union.

Polish culture has spawned many revolutionary thinkers such as Copernicus who, in 1543, proposed that the earth revolved around the sun. Jewish culture, which was virtually extinguished by the Nazis, survives in the writings of authors such as Isaac Bashevis Singer. Polish food is hearty and filling, born of the need to survive long winter months; the national drink is vodka.