Communist Rule in Poland
1947 to 1956 was an era of Stalinist oppression and terror in Poland. Former members of the Polish Army and citizens who expressed disapproval of the Communist government were arrested, interrogated, tortured and sent to gulags.
Repressed seemingly forever, in 1956 the Polish people attempted to gain their freedom from Russia. A reformed government was elected without Soviet approval, prisoners were freed from jails and some personal freedoms were reinstated.
This blatant defiance did not sit well in Russia, Nikita Khrushchev, the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, paid a visit and Russian armies gathered on the Polish border.
The fight back against Communism continued, with large protests against the government by students and shipyard and other workers organized in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. These protests were brutally crushed by the government. Churches became popular gathering places once again and Poland, slowly but surely, managed to rebuild its war-devastated industries.
In 1978, in a real morale builder for the country, Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, was elected Pope. Taking the name John Paul II, he was the first non-Italian pope in nearly 500 years and jubilation quickly spread across Poland. John Paul II visited Poland several times after he was elected. The Communist authorities wanted to ban his visits, fearing it would embolden the people to further protests. Each time, however, they would relent and allow his visit, as they feared even worse protests if he was banned from visiting. These visits caused the rebirth of hope in many Poles.
In 1980, the pot of discontent boiled; strikes and riots ensued as the economy had crumbled to its lowest point and the Polish people had yet to regain a decent standard of living. It began at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, where labor turmoil led to the formation of the independent trade union named "Solidarity," which over time became a significant political force.
In response to the growing strikes, in December of 1981 Martial Law was declared. Its goal was to crush Solidarity. At midnight members of the opposition were arrested and telephones ceased to function. Soldiers occupied the streets and curfews were introduced. Censorship of all correspondence was put into effect. Over ten thousand people were imprisoned before Martial Law ended in July 1983.
Freedom In Poland
The dominance of the Communist Party was coming to an end, when in 1989, Poland's first free elections were held, and Lech Walesa, a brash union organizer and "Solidarity" candidate won the presidency in 1990. In the eyes of many, the "Solidarity" movement caused the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe.
The transfer from a socialist-style planned economy into a market economy proved somewhat difficult, and there were temporary slumps in social and economic standards. Regardless, Poland became the first post-communist country to reach real economic success.
In 1999, Poland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, and in 2003, Poles voted to join the European Union (EU) in a countrywide referendum. Poland became a full member of the EU in 2004.
Tragedy returned to Poland on April 10, 2010, when the country's President, Lech Kaczynski, along with 89 other high-ranking Polish officials died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia.
Today, this virtually indestructible country is beginning to shine on the world stage, and for travelers, Poland presents some of the most interesting historical sites and attractions in all of Europe.
From large modern cities to quaint little towns; from Gothic castles to Medieval villages, and from Baltic Sea beaches to the tree-covered mountains and resorts of the south, Poland is now ready to be explored.
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