The Republic of Poland is located in central Europe bordering Germany; Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus; Slovakia and Czech Republic; and Russia to the west, east, south and north respectively. Currently, the population is estimated at thirty eight million people who occupy 312, 679 km2 of the land. The Republic of Poland is considered one of the countries that have been able to upload most of their cultural heritage throughout history. Apart from uploading its cultures, Poland has a very rich historical background that includes religious diversity in its society and westernized ideologies of democracy in its political system. In this research paper, I will discuss the historical backgrounds of Poland that will touch on its rich cultural heritage and political system. In further ascertaining the current state of affairs of Poland, I will show how the historical-cultural practices have been uploaded in the modern Polish society and how the western culture has influenced Polish culture, especially in its political system. In addition, this research paper will discuss some of the changes that have occurred in the Polish government since the official formation of Poland in 966 by Mieszko.
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History of Poland
Origin of Poland
The origin of Poland is based on a myth that there existed three brothers who disappeared from a forest in Europe and formed distinct families which came to form the Polish society later on. From the myth, the westward migration of these brothers led to the formation of the West Slavic tribes, for example, the Police (people of the plain). As time passed, this tribe established itself as one of the greatest tribe of the west Slavic grouping. According to most historians, the State of Polish was established around 966 when Mieszko I decided to accept Christianity on behalf of Poland to secure its sovereignty. As a result of accepting Christianity, Mieszko saved Poland from direct conversion into Christianity by Germans and its subsequent influence. Since then, Poland became connected directly to Roman Catholic Church and all the people under the Mieszko I rule were converted to Christianity (Davies 2006, 06).
In the history of governance of Poland, the first organized form of government was witnessed from the Piast dynasty which was headed by ruler Mieszko I. The governance in this period was hereditary in nature based on the requirements of the Royal dynasty. The Piast dynasty ruled Poland for a period of three centuries, and during their reign, many reforms were undertaken. For example, it is during this period that Poland was incorporated into the Roman Catholic religion and saw many people being converted into Christianity. Governance was therefore in the form of the Roman Catholic requirements.
During the reign of Piast, numerous instabilities occurred within the Polish governance for example, in the 11th and 12th century, the dynasty experienced a conflict with the German empire when its close relationship broke down. This period also saw the invasion by a group known as Mongol Nomads, which swept through most part of Poland, and later on, the Teutonic Knights from Germany occupied some parts of Poland. By the end of the 14th century, most parts of Poland were occupied by foreigners, thereby making the Piast dynasty unable to govern smoothly, and as a result, there was rampant instability in Poland (Biskupski 2000, 10).
In the 14th century, an excellent form of governance was formed by other descendants of the Piast dynasty that restored stability in Poland. This period of stability was under the leadership of Piast dynasty ruler known as Wladyslaw Lokietek who ruled from 1314-1333. He managed to form diplomatic relationship with Poland neighboring countries, thus restoring stability to Poland. As a result, Poland regained its sovereignty and was again recognized as an independent State. This leadership style of forging diplomatic relationship with other countries was further extended during the reign of Kazimierz III, who managed to establish a peaceful Poland by expanding Poland with the use of concession negotiated by Bohemia and Teutonic, who were former occupants of Poland.
In his governance, he used a policy of domestic consolidation to ensure that Poland remains strong despite various alliance and agreement with other countries. His governance style of building excellent foreign relations as well as managing domestic affairs through excellent administration made him very popular during those years. This governance style is being upheld by Poland and many other countries who wish to establish an excellent international relation as well as manageable domestic affairs. Further still, he established the first University in Poland as well as Cultural center in Europe. However, his death signified the end of Piast dynasty since he had no male child, but his accomplishments are still cherished to date (Biskupski 2000, 25).
Integration into European Civilization
Civilization began to take place in Poland after the full incorporation of Christianity in the Polish culture and governance. Though it began late compared to other European countries; it led to the transformation of the Polish governance system and its cultural practices. As a result of the civilization, many cultures such as artistic, literature writing, architectural cultures, social structure, and philosophy were fully incorporated in the Polish system. Further still, its form of governance changed to reflect those of other European countries at that time. The Germans and the Jews were the main people who influenced the Polish culture during this period as the Polish sought to enrich their culture through imitating the Jews and the Germans who were encouraged to migrate into Poland. The rulers of Poland believed that with the influx of Germans and Jews, the Poland urban cities would develop through commerce and their culture would be enriched through socialization and intermarriages. Apart from German and Jews, the poles inclined towards the western culture of Italy and France, thus borrowing cultures related to Roman Catholic Church which are still being upheld to date. This civilization provided a foundation for more stable governance in Poland and led to various changes in the Polish culture (Castle and Taras 2002, 188).
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The Jagiellon Dynasty
The Jagiellon dynasty was the second dynasty that helped in transforming the Polish culture and governance. The dynasty ruled from 1386-1572 and is considered one of the powerful reign in Polish history. This period saw the marriage of Polish Queen Jadwiga to a Lithuanian known as Jagiello and later became the King of Poland. This cemented the Union between Poland and Lithuania, who later on decided to become partners in their bid to extinguish what they saw as a common enemy. As a result of their partnership, Poland was able to benefit since they were protected from further attacks from Mongols and Tatars, while Lithuania was able to benefit from union when they were able to suppress the Teutonic Knights. This union made Poland and Lithuania to be considered one of the most powerful unions at that time in the whole world. Together, they were able to conquer various States such as Hungary and Bohemia, thereby extending their boundary.
The union, which came to be referred to as the commonwealth produced the very best of Poland during the reign of the Jagiellon dynasty. The Polish economy thrived during this period, thereby making Poland one of the few rich countries during that time. In addition, the social and political system also witnessed a lot of changes with the government adopting a more military than a diplomatic policy towards its neighbors who were considered a threat to its governance. In 1526, the commonwealth dominance was threaten with the emergence Ottoman Empire which thrust the union in a war fought in Hungary, thus removing the union’s influence on both Hungary and Bohemia. This defeat marked the end of Poland Central Europe dominance and stability (Davies 2005, 26).
The strong form of governance was exhibited by the Poland-Lithuania merger when they resisted the attempt by the Russian Ottoman Empire to subdue them in the 15th century. The influence of Poland declined significantly in Europe though it was able to secure its boundaries against Ottoman Empire influence. This period saw Poland-Lithuania developed a more decentralized government system that allowed participation of the population. It should be noted that this period was characterized by Monarch forms of government throughout Europe, but Poland managed to uphold its governance system and furthermore, decentralized it. This led to a boom in the country’s economy as it became the biggest supplier of agricultural produce throughout Europe, thereby maintaining its influence though not militarily. The decentralized system of governance was dominated by the aristocracy class that formed almost ten percent of the population. They were very liberal leaders and thus formed a very good relationship between the noble and the peasants, unlike in other European countries where there was a great difference in wealth between the nobles and peasants.
In that form of political setting, the Polish government established a parliament then referred to as ‘Sejm’ and was controlled mainly by the noble class though the rights of the minorities were also being upheld to a great extent in all decision arrived at. In addition, the political system at the time was still hereditary in nature where the country’s top leadership was perceived to lawfully belong to the descendants of Jagiellion. The nobles, on the other hand, were given various privileges such as electing the monarch, control of labor that was offered by the peasants, and land ownership. The government system of Poland-Lithuania is regarded as one of the earliest democracy in European history since the government at that time was decentralized with liberty and rights of citizens being observed by the government, unlike with other European countries. This liberty has remained part of the Polish celebrated tradition since time in memorial. Though the loss of independence temporarily led to a decline in civil rights in Poland, the seeds of freedom had already been planted, and Poland came to realize this freedom later on (Davies 2005, 56).
In the Mid 16th century, the Polish government began making changes that would help it consolidate power as well as maintain its influence over the whole States under it. This was due to the great influence from the Russian form of governance that threatened to take over the control of most parts of Europe, especially the Slavic regions where there were no clear governance systems. As a result, the Polish government began moving towards the incorporation of monarch system of governance to withstand competition from Russia. However, this spelt doom to the Jagiellon dynasty as it marked the end of this dynasty and led to foreign domination of Poland’s politics from other countries such as Russia, Italy, and Germany.
The Elected Monarch system
In 1573, Poland called the first-ever free election in that country after the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty. The process of taking an oath of office was established, and Henri de Valois was the elected King of Poland under the requirements that he denounce the heredity form of governance that was in existence in Poland. In taking the oath of office, a king was required to swear the “Henry Articles” which declared that the king should recognize a free and fair election in the country, he should recognize the Sejm’s powers and also recognize Senate’s role in overseeing foreign policies. In addition, the articles required the king to uphold the religious status of the country as was established. After the reign of Henry, various reforms were undertaken in the judiciary by Stefan Batory, his successor. He replaced the Court of Appeal with the royal courts whose ruling was made with the observance of the Sejm. In the reforms, the noblemen were bestowed with the powers to elect the judges of the royal courts, and as a result of these reforms; the States of Poland and Lithuania were fully established. This resulted into a new form of political system that provided for democracy as well as monarch system that was a little bit dictatorial. The democracy was seen in its decentralization system that gave different organs in Poland powers, for example, power of Sejm to oversee ruling by the royal courts and gave powers to the noblemen to elect judges of the royal court (Whitton 1971, 165)
The smooth democratic rule of the Monarch came into a crisis during the 16th century with various wars being waged at Poland and Lithuania hence destabilizing the government. Poland participated in various wars such as the war against the rebelling Ukrainians and the Swedish. This resulted into heavy government expenditure that led to the food crisis in the country as a result of declining economic performance. Poland lost its export business, thus leading to a decline in its currency value. This did not go well with the political system of the country as it was significantly affected. The solid democracy that had been established began to stumble as most organs of the government became weak. For example, the Sejm lost its powers through what was referred to as Liberum veto which rendered Sejm powerless since one vote against any legislation by a deputy would render the legislation ineffective. In addition, the gentry lost its initial independence and powers to discharge its duty appropriately. This marked a turning point towards Poland’s political system as the foreign influence in Poland’s governance became apparent.
The 18th century saw the biggest crisis in Poland that resulted into total loss of political freedom in all organs in the country due to the foreign influence pressure. This was as a result of failure by both the Sejm and the noblemen to initiate reforms that would have shielded them against any foreign influence. Consequently, the Russian gained control over Poland’s political system as a result of the incorporation of the Russian Empress System into Poland’s constitution which required that no reform would be initiated without the approval of Russia. The Russian domination was not received well by the noblemen who later formed the Confederation of Bar to challenge Russia’s influence in Poland. However, the Confederation was defeated.
This marked the beginning of the Poland’s partition after a considerable chunk of land and a sizeable population was annexed from Poland by Russia.
In the late 18th century, Poland was faced with enormous challenge to protect its sovereignty, and as a result, the Sejm adopted a constitution that intended to guide all the activities of the country. As a result, the constitution brought in various changes in Poland’s political system that is, reorganization of the government, strengthening of royal power, increasing on the power of the Sejm and extending civil freedom to the middle class. Further still, the constitution merged the political system of Poland and that of Lithuania to ensure uniformity in governance. However, the constitution did not last for long as Russia together with the magnates’ waged war against Poland, leading to the second partition of Poland that cost it 200,000 sq. km of land and 4 million people after Russia reached an agreement with Prussia. The third partition soon followed with Poland’s areas such as Warsaw and Mazovia being annexed to Prussia and areas such as those in Pilica, Wisla and Bug rivers being annexed to Austria. Russia took the remaining lands around Niemen River, thereby completely demolishing Poland political system. This marked the end of Polish Independence for a while (Sadowski 1976, 56).
The 19th Century Polish Uprising
The loss of independence to the three partition States did no go well with the Poles who were used to a political system characterized with democracy. The foreigner’s political system was aristocrat in nature thereby necessitating an uprising by the Poles to regain their freedom and free the whole Europe that was characterized by undemocratic governance. In that process, they were supported by other European countries such as France which helped Poland to recover some of its lost territories from Austria and subsequently acquired a new constitution that was attached to the Napoleonic codes. The constitution restored some powers to Sejm but required Poland to form an alliance with Russia, with Russia having great influence in most decisions. Efforts of securing full independence from Russia flopped several times, and each time the uprising fell, the repression by the Russian government intensified, thereby worsening the situation of the Poles. For example, the failed uprising of 1963 led removal of administrative power of the Polish government and the incorporation of Russia’s judicial system in Poland (Whitton 1971, 100).
The fight for independence continued despite the preceding uprisings failure to acquire independence from Russia. Poland’s alliance with Germany in the European wars proved fruitful when it was able to repossess the land that had been annexed to Austria by Russia. After the end of World War 1, Poland was able to restore its sovereignty and began to rebuild. It tried to restore its political as well as the economic system though it proved difficult some how. Interference in Poland’s sovereignty came once more in 1939 when it was invaded by Russia on one side and Germany on the other side, resulting in partitioning of Poland into two parts. This resulted to massive suffering of the Poles under the brutal treatment of both the Russians and the Germans. Consequently, a rebel government was formed in France by Poles who were in exile.
However, the operation of this government was seized with the defeat of France by Germans and decided to shift its operation to the United Kingdom. The struggled continued while the government in exile continued to consolidate itself and in 1945, a compromised provisional government was proposed for Poland but the government in exile decline citing dictatorial nature of Russian Communist system. However, the Polish Workers Party under the support of the Russians seized power and decided to form the provisional government. The provisional government was made up of Polish workers Party, Polish Peasant Party and Polish Socialist Party. The government was marked with a lot of inefficiencies leading to its disbandment and formation of a more strong communist party which was a combination of Polish Socialist Party and the Polish Workers’ Party. The party referred to as Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) acquired monopoly power and initiated reforms that were meant to bring the control of all resources to the government (Whitton 1971, 100).
PUWP was faced with many workers strikes in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that necessitated round table meetings leading to various changes in government. For example, in 1989, the Polish government adopted a more democratic system by incorporating three organs of the government in its constitution that is, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, each being independent from each other. This also helped to incorporate a parliamentary system of governance in Poland. The final changes in Poland political setting was entrenched in the revised constitution after 1989.
Throughout history, Poland’s political structure has undergone various changes that have led to the present political system in the country. These changes were inevitable given the situations prevailing at the time. For example, in some stage; the governance system had to be changed to conform to the neighboring countries system to avoid being submerged by foreign domination. However, Poland remains one of the celebrated countries that we’re able to fight for democracy since time in memorial and though it exercised communist form of governance after regaining independence, it still upheld its democratic system.
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Currently, Poland exercises a parliamentary system of government with the Prime Minister being the head of the government. The Governance system includes the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The executive is composed of the President and the Prime Minister, with the President being elected by the majority votes for five years while the Prime minister is nominated by the President and approved by the Sejm. In the current system, the Prime Minister is bestowed with the responsibility of proposing the council of Ministers that are then selected by the President and confirmed by the Sejm. This has enabled a democratic system of appointing a council of ministers to prevail. The second organ is the legislature which is composed of the Sejm and the Senate both members serving for four terms and the Sejm being superior to the Senate (Castle and Taras 2002, 84).
The division of powers among these different organs was necessary to ensure democracy prevailed in the country. For sure, democracy has been upheld, and the country is performing well in all its sectors due to this democracy. Therefore, it can be concluded that the democracy being witnessed today in Poland has long history and is well deserved according to the culture and history of the country.
Biskupski, Mieczysław B. (2000). The history of Poland. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Castle, Marjorie and Taras, Ray. (2002). Democracy in Poland. Westview Press,
Davies, Norman. (2005) God’s Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes. London: Oxford University.
Longworth, Philip. (1997). The making of Eastern Europe: from prehistory to postcommunism. Palgrave Macmillan Press.
Sadowski, Michał (1976) The political system of People’s Poland. Interpress Publisher.
Whitton, Frederick E. (1917). A History of Poland: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. California: Constable and Company Ltd.