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Zygmunt bell

The 16th-century Zygmunt bell of Krakow cathedral dates back to
the Golden Age of Poland  (Jan Matejko's painting of 1874).

Poland’s thrilling history.

In the second half of the 10th century Slavonic tribes of the Vistula river-basin formed Poland, and soon their Christian kingdom became a regional power. Then, nearly two centuries of internal strife and decline came in the 12th century. After its restoration in 1320, the Polish kingdom, with Krakow as its capital, braced itself to rise to the domination in the eastern half of Europe throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. At the same time Poland evolved into Europe’s granary and a virtual republic with elected kings and all-powerful parliaments.

 

Fierce and practically ceaseless wars of the 17th and the 18th centuries sapped the country’s strength and eventually led to its partition among aggressive neighbor empires of Russia, Austria and Prussia by the end of the 18th century. A series of Polish uprisings marked the next hundred years of European history. Finally, Poland regained its sovereignty in 1918 and sealed it with the 1920 victory over Soviet Russia’s Red Army.

In 1939 Hitler’s Germany joined forces with Stalin’s Soviet Union and the pair of evil empires invaded Poland which thus became the first Allied nation to fight the World War II. Then, Polish troops fought the Nazis in Norway, France, over England, on the Atlantic, in Africa, in Italy, in Normandy, and in Russia, while Poland’s resistance proved matchless in the whole Nazi-occupied Europe. In the aftermath of the WW II Poland lost the eastern half of its prewar territory to the Soviets and was put under the control of the Soviet Union which installed a puppet communist regime in Warsaw and ruthlessly quelled all opposition. Waves of civil disobedience and the 1956, 1968, 1970 and 1976 street riots met with brutal repression but incurred some guarded reforms.

 

The 1980 strike in the Gdansk shipyard brought about solidarity stoppages all over the country, which forced communist regime to agree to substantial liberalization. And thus the ten-million-strong Solidarity trade union was born to spearhead both the Polish national awakening and the cause of democratization in the entire Central and Eastern Europe. By the end of 1981 Polish communists resorted to open terror. When tens of thousands of pro-reform activists were arrested, others carried on in the hiding and a powerful underground democracy movement was soon born. As communists brought Poland to actual bankruptcy, they agreed to negotiate a peaceful transition to democracy with opposition in 1988. When Poland ushered in democratic system and market economy, other nations in the region, Russia in that number, followed suit.

In 2014 Krakow has become a member state of the European Union.

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