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Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji
Aleje Jerozolimskie 142A
02-305 Warszawa

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Culture and history

Museums, theatres, movies

Every city has cultural centres. Theatres, museums (National Museums in Gdańsk, Kraków, Poznań, Szczecin, Warsaw, Wrocław), art galleries, concert halls, movies, libraries and sport facilities are everywhere. Also there are pubs, clubs and discos in big and smaller cities. Most regions and cities have their own websites.


Thanks to our ancestors we have a set of customs rooted in past centuries. Let's have a look at a few.

February/ March:

  • Tłusty czwartek - celebrated on the last Thursday of the carnival. On that day we bake, or more often buy and eat lots of delicious doughnuts with marmalade.

  • Ostatki - the last day of the carnival, just before the Lent. Very many people, especially youngsters, go out in the evening.


  • Wielki Czwartek, Wielki Piątek, Wielka Sobota (Triduum Paschalne) - during the very last three days of the Lent special ceremonies are held in churches. On Easter Saturday we bring food packed in small baskets to church to be blessed.

  • Lany poniedziałek (wet Monday) - the Monday after Easter. Children and adults pour water (sometimes perfumes or cologne) on one another, wish good health and give small gifts.

  • Prima aprilis - on the 1st of April. You can be sure that somebody will try to pull your leg on this day!


  • Corpus Christi - you can see processions led by children scattering flower petals.

  • Sobótka - on St. John's night in June. In villages, towns and cities located by a river, lake or sea people gather at one place in the late evening to observe the spectacle of wreaths decorated with burning candles floating on the water. Local authorities often organise music concerts at the open air.


  • Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints' Day) - 1st of November. People go to cemeteries to light candles and pray for their relatives, friends or strangers who have passed away.

  • Andrzejki (St. Andrew's Day) - 30th of November. It is a very mysterious evening - people, especially young girls, pour hot, melted wax into a bowl of cold water, the shape of the congealed wax tells the future. Other fortune-telling games are played as well.


  • Mikołajki (Nicholas Day) - 6th of December. It's a sign of the coming Christmas. Supposing that you were good it is very probable that early in the morning you will find a gift in your shoes. They must be clean of course!

  • Christmas Eve - 24th of December. Before a solemn dinner we share a wafer with one another. During the whole evening we sing Christmas carols. The courses served are very special and usually associated with Christmas Eve exclusively. Every region has its own dishes. Some people go to church for mass.


Our cuisine is varied. We have traditional dishes, such as schabowy (a pork chop), bigos (cabbage cooked with vegetables and meat), gołąbki (chopped pork and rice wrapped up in a cabbage leaf, then cooked in a tomato sauce) or pierogi (pasta with mushrooms, meat or fruits) on the other hand, we do eat more and more salads and vegetables. For breakfast we usually have cereals, tea, coffee or milk, yoghurt, or toast, sometimes sandwiches or eggs. Many people have lunch in the early afternoon. Dinner, served in the late afternoon, is the main meal. Often salads, potatoes, salad, rice or pasta with meat are served. A piece of a cake or fruit is a good dessert.

Political system

Poland is a republic governed by president elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The bicameral National Assembly (Zgromadzienie Narodowe) consists of the Sejm and the Senate. The Prime Minister is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Sejm.

Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999.

In accordance with the Constitution, the Republic of Poland is a Parliamentary Republic. The President, who is restricted to two five-year terms, is the Head of State. In July 1989 a joint session of the Sejm and Senate elected General Wojciech Jaruzelski 's first President since 1952. From 1990 presidents have been elected by direct popular vote and, as a result of which, Lech Wałęsa became the first President elected by the nation. He failed in the next election and a representative of the left wing - Aleksander Kwaśniewski was elected President. The Parliament (National Assembly) is the main legislative body. The 460 members of the Sejm (Lower Chamber) and 100 members of the Senate (Upper Chamber) are elected every four years. Every Polish citizen of at least 18 years of age can vote. The Government (Council of Ministers) is the main executive body. It is formed by the winning party (or parliamentary coalition) with the Prime Minister as its head.


The major part of the population declares themselves to be Roman catholics (about 90% of Polish people). There are also other religious denominations among which the orthodox and the protestant are the most widespread (respectively 1,4% and 0,4% of the population).

Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are guaranteed by Polish Constitution. The Church (of all confessions) and the State are independent and autonomous. There is no official religion in Poland. The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest Church in Poland. The overwhelming majority (nearly 90.3%) of the population are Roman-Catholic if the number of the baptised is taken into consideration (34.9 million of baptised people).

The Church has the right to run education institutions, i.e. kindergartens and schools of all types according to canon law regulation and official principles scheduled in relevant acts (e.g. act on the education system, higher education act).


Overview of most important facts

  • 9th - 10th centuries - early stage of the formation of Polish state; creation of first regional slavonic states in territories between the and the (the most important was the state of "Polanie" (Polanians) in the West of this territory, which gave name to (Polonia, Polska).

  • 10th/11th cent. - the name Poland (Polska, Polonia) begins to be used; Gniezno, near Poznań, is the first capital of Poland.

  • 2nd half of 10th cent. - reign of Mieszko I - duke of the Piast dynasty, the first well-known ruler of Poland.

  • 10th - 14th cent. - reign of the Piast dynasty.

  • 966 - the baptism of Mieszko and accession of Poland to the Roman branch of Christianity.
    Beginning of 11th cent. - reign of the first king of Poland - Bolesław the Brave (Chrobry), crowned king in 1025.

  • mid 11th cent. - Cracow (Kraków) becomes the capital city.

  • 12th - 13th cent. - period of regional desintegration ("fragmentation").

  • 14th cent. - reign of Władysław Elbow-High (Lokietek) and Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki), last kings of the Piast dynasty, who re-integrated and strengthen Poland.

  • 1364 - foundation of the first Polish university - the Cracow Academy by Casimir the Great; in 1400 the Academy was reactivated by queen Jadwiga and Wladyslaw Jagiello and its name changed into the Jagiellonian University).

  • 1386-1434 - reign of Władysław Jagiello, the first king of the Jagiellonian dynasty originating from Lithuania; Jagiełło's accession to the throne stated a political union between Poland and Lithuania.

  • 14th cent. - first fights with Teutonic knights caused by a growing expansion of the Teutonic Order in territories of non-christiannised Slavonic peoples.

  • 1409 - 1411 - great war with the Teutonic Order.

  • 1410 - battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in which Polish and Lithuanian armies defeated the teutonic forces; Jagiello regains the lost territories.

  • 1569 - Zygmunt August (Sigismund Augustus), the last king of Jagiellonian dynasty, formally joins Poland and Lithuania through the Union of Lublin; the two nations form a federative state in which nobles have a predominant position (Polish-Lithuanian Republic or Commonwealth). The new country is to be ruled by monarchs freely elected by the "noble estate", during a special national assembly. This elective monarchy becomes a kind of "Nobility Republic". In the second half of 17 and 18. cent. a "free election" of the king, a very strong position of the nobles and their numerous privileges cause progressive weakening of the royal power together with an internal crisis.

  • 1576-1586 - reign of Stefan Batory (Istvan Batory, prince of Transylvania).

  • 1587 - 1668 - reign of Vasa dynasty in Poland.

  • 1596 - under the rule of Zygmunt III Waza (Sigismond III Vasa) Warsaw formally becomes the capital city where the king's residence is located; Cracow retains however its reputation of historical capital and place of coronations.

  • 17cent. - century of wars with Sweden, Russia, Ukrainian Kossaks and Turkey.

  • 1655 - 1660 - Swedish invasion known as "the Deluge".

  • 1648 - Ukrainian Cossacks insurrection under the command of Chmielnicki.

  • 1683 - defeat of a Turkish army near Vienna: a victory of Polish and Austrian armies under a command of the king Jan III Sobieski.

  • End 17 cent. - beginning 18 cent. - gradual downfall of the Republic's military and political standing. Due to internal conflicts of magnate fractions, who depended more and more (mainly financially) on foreign powers, neighboring powers start to get involved in Polish domestic affairs.

  • 1704-1709 and 1733-1736 - the reign of Stanislas Leszczynski (Stanisław Leszczyński); after abdication, he leaves Poland and becomes duke of Lorraine in France, with residence in Nancy. Leszczyński's wife was Marie, daughter of Louis XV, king of France.

  • 1697 - 1733 and 1736 - 1763 - the rule of the Saxon Wettins in Poland (August the Strong and August III).

  • Second half of the 18th cent. - Enlightenment in Poland. The most enlightened nobles try to reform the state; gradual introduction of several political and social reforms, creation of some modern state institutions (e.g. Commission of the National Education).

  • 1764-1795 - reign of Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, the last king of Poland

  • 1773 - foundation of the Commission of the National Education, the first ministry of education in Europe.

  • 1788-1792 - Sejm Wielki - the Great Parliament, the last Sejm of independent Poland, during which some necessary political and social reforms are passed. It is also one of the last trials to save independence of Poland.

  • 1791 - Sejm proclaims the Constitution of 3rd May with the aim of introducing a modern constitutional monarchy system; the first modern constitution in Europe.
    However the impressive efforts of reformers (including the king Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski) did not prevent country from losing its independence. Internal crisis, conflicts and dependence from neighboring powers resulted in the fall of the state of Poland.
    End of 18 cent. - partitioning of Poland among Russia, Austria and Prussia (3 stages of the partitioning: 1772, 1793 and 1795).

  • disappears from the map of for 123 years.

  • 1794 - Kosciuszko Insurrection against the states that took part in the partitioning; numerous participation of peasants. Despite initial victories of insurgents, the Prussian and Russian armies defeat them and crush the insurrection.

  • 1795- abdication of the king Stanislas Augustus.
    end of 18th, beginning of 19th cent. - first flow of emigration. A big number of Poles who leaved the country are enrolled in the Napoleon's army as volunteers. Creation of Polish legions within the French army.
    Mazurek Dabrowskiego, a song of Polish legions, later becomes the national anthem.

  • 1807 - after a treaty of peace between France and Russia, creation of the Duchy of Warsaw (Ksiestwo Warszawskie) on part of occupied territories of Poland, as an independent state. It existed till 1815.
    1812-1813 - participation of the army of the Duchy of Warsaw in the Napoleon's war against Russia.

  • 1815 - creation of the Congress Kingdom of Poland (Królestwo Polskie), a constitutional monarchy subordinate to Russia.

  • 1830-1831 - November uprising (Powstanie listopadowe) - Polish insurgents fighting against the Russian domination (on the territory occupied by Russia); terminated with the capitulation of insurgents.

  • 1832 - rests of autonomy of the occupied Polish territory abolished definitively by the Russian authorities after the November insurrection: the Kingdom of Poland is annexed to Russia, it receives a Russian administration and governor, Russian is the official language.

  • 19th cent. - period of attempts to regain a national independence and constant efforts to save a national identity. Authorities of occupying countries, mainly Prussian and Russian, forbid any manifestation of national character; during some periods and in some parts of the occupied country (mainly in Prussian and Russian zone) teaching in Polish is strictly prohibited.
    Many clandestine organizations are created in the occupied country, their aim is a fight for national independence. Different Polish organizations with the same objective are created abroad, by the emigrés (mainly in France).
    In the Russian territory, very many people involved in the fighting for national independence and involved in any kind of national activity are arrested and deported to the Siberia.

  • 1848 - Wiosna Ludów - insurrectional movements on the territories of Prussian and Austrian occupation.
    Participation of Polish volunteers in the revolution of 1848 in the Western-European countries (the main aim is to fight against the states occupying Poland).

  • 1863-1864 - January uprising (Powstanie styczniowe) in the territories occupied by Russia against Russian authorities. The insurrection terminated in the defeat of Polish fighters (many of them deported to Siberia).

  • 1914 - 1918 - I World War.

  • 1918 - restitution of the Polish state after the defeat of the partitioning powers.
    After the Revolution of 1917 Russia withdraws from the war, Germany and the Austrian Empire capitulate before the Western allies. The treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, sanctions Poland's independence.
    Jozef Pilsudski, the Commander of Polish Legions, becomes a National Leader.
    In accordance with the treaty of Versailles, Poland is granted access to the Baltic Sea(Gdansk was to remain a Free City).

  • 1920 - war between Poland and the Bolshevik Russia
    Russian forces reach outskirts of Warsaw. The decisive battle (13-18 August) called "Miracle on the Vistula", stops the march of the Bolsheviks on the West and terminates the war.
    In the first years of independence - construction and organisation of the new state: creation of national administrative bodies, agricultural reform, reconstruction of educational system and war-damaged industry, a state finance reform (1924).

  • 1921 - introduction of a modern constitution.
    the 20s - instable domestic situation (political conflicts and growing economic crisis).

  • 1926 (May) - Józef Pilsudski's armed coup under the banners of 'Sanacja', or 'bringing the state back to health'.
    The rule of Sanacja bring Poland economic stability, but also means a transfer from democracy to authoritarianism.

  • 1 September 1939 - Germany invades and the II World War breaks out.

  • 17 September - Soviet Union attacks Poland from the East.
    After a month of fighting, Germany and USSR takes control over Poland. Part of the territory is transformed into a so-called General Government, and part is assimilated into the Reich.
    Both powers employ (albeit on a different scale) a policy of systematic liquidation of Polish population.
    During the War the Nazis murdered over 2 million Poles and some 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland. Several hundred thousand Poles and Jews were deported east by the Soviet authorities, where many of them died. The entire territory of Poland underwent

  • 1940 - creation of the Polish government on the emigration (London)
    Polish Government continues fighting. Underground organizations are created on the territories of the occupied Poland, which leads to a creation of a true Underground State, complete with its own administration and an extensive system of illegal secondary and college-level education. Polish forces fight on every front (Narvik, the French campaign, Battle of Britain - 1940, Tobruk - 1941/42, Normandy, Monte Cassino - 1944). The biggest Polish Army unit in the west is General Anders' II Corps fighting in Italy (created in 1941 in USSR).
    Poles support allies also in a field of intelligence (deciphering the German Enigma code).

  • 1943 - uprising in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto

  • 1944 - the Warsaw Uprising. 63-day- fighting organized in the capital city by Polish underground military organizations. Large participation of very young people.

  • Allied conferences in Tehran (1943) and Yalta (1945) decide the fate of Poland: the Republic's eastern territories are given to the USSR, in the West and North, Poland is granted territories along the Oder River, together with part of the former Eastern Prussia. Poland find itself in the Soviet sphere of influence.
    Liquidation of any open opposition by Soviet authorities, with a help of Polish communists (arrests, sending to camps, political trials and condemning to death).

  • 1948 - 1956 Poland is ruled absolutely by the communist party (Polish United Workers' Party, PZPR), with help of political police and "Soviet advisers" (the so-called Stalinist era). Period of repressions directed against political opposition (eg. AK soldiers or Catholic priests) and also against inconvenient PZPR members.
    Poland is one of faithful satellites of the USSR. The economy is almost completely devoid of private entrepreneurs and non-party specialists, agriculture is organized into collective farms and the forceful industrialization causes significant drop of the living standard and deep discontent of the population.

  • 1956 - Stalinism is officially condemned in the USSR; the regime ruling Poland is replaced as well.

  • October 1956 - Wladyslaw Gomulka becomes the leader of the party and state (First Secretary). He uses the changed situation to reduce Poland's dependence on USSR (gradual amnesty for political prisoners, forceful collectivization of agriculture aborted, limited development of the private sector).
    However the liberal course of the "Polish October" is quickly abandoned. The PZPR still has absolute power in the country. Open conflicts between the government and the society become more commonplace.

  • December 1970 - strikes in several coastal cities, worker fights against the militia and the army.
    Edward Gierek appointed by an intra-party opposition as the new First Secretary.
    the 1970s - period of "prosperity" Thanks to foreign credits, stores are filled with goods, new companies spring up and the living standards grow. However communist economy is not efficient and foreign debts grow while the real salaries diminish and supply worsen.

  • 1976 - first crisis - riots in Radom and Ursus.
    Increased number of strikes and workers' protests followed by repressions.
    Creation of an illegal Workers Defence Committee (KOR) and other illegal opposition groups.

  • 1978, Karol Wojtyla, the Cardinal of Kraków, elected the Pope (John Paul II)

  • 1979 - first pilgrimage of the Pope to the home country. Millions of people participate in the meetings with the Pope. Religious rebirth and increased sense of social identity.
    Widespread strikes in many regions, especially Szczecin and the coal mines of Silesia. Beginning of a general strike.

  • 1980 - creation of a Trade Union Strike Committee by the Gdansk workers.
    Negotiations between the Party and workers, signing of the "August Agreements" (August 1980); emergence of an independent trade union organization, NSZZ "Solidarity", headed by a worker Lech Walesa.
    "Solidarnosc" enjoys widespread support of political and trade-union circles in the West, and becomes an inspiration to the independent circles within the communist block. October 1981 - General Wojciech Jaruzelski becomes head of the state

  • 13 December 1981 - In view of the economic crisis and the increased role of "Solidarity", and under pressure from the USSR - introduction of Martial law by Jaruzelski.
    Opposition activists are interned, strikes crushed with the help of the army. Numerous opposition and underground trade-union activists are sentenced to prison terms, others - forced to emigrate.
    The martial law (1981- 1983), does not solve Poland's problems. Polish economy still can not emerge from the crisis, opposition against the government do not diminish (fanned by the subsequent pilgrimages of Pope John Paul II - in 1983 and 1987 - and the Nobel Peace Prize for the "Solidarity" leader Lech Walesa - 1983).
    Illegally operating "Solidarity" under Walesa's leadership, regularly publishes several hundred periodicals and bulletins.

  • 1988 - negotiations between members of PZPR leadership and the opposition.
    Winter 1989 - as a result of the "Round Table" talks, an agreement was signed. Partially free election to the Sejm (the opposition was supposed to get 35% of the seats), and entirely free Senate election take place.

  • 1989 - re-introduction of an office of the President as the head of the state.

  • June 1989 - "Solidarity" wins parliamentary election.
    The Party (PZPR) is not able to rule with such a massive opposition from the people. Although the Parliament (dubbed "contract Parliament") elects Gen. Jaruzelski President, the position of the Prime Minister is given to a "Solidarity" candidate, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who was the chief adviser to the Gdansk Strike Committee in 1980.

  • July 1989 - the Sejm changes the country's name and constitution (the (called the III Republic) instead of People's Republic of Poland).
    The events in Poland iniciated the process of breakdown of the entire communist block. The Yalta order ceases to exist.
    The "Round Table" compromise and peaceful transfer from the communist system towards democracy were possible also thanks to the fundamental changes in the policy of the USSR, which in the period between 1986 and 1988 began to implement the ideas of "glasnost" and "perestroika", as well as political and economic openness.
    January 1990 - the PZPR is dissolved. A multi-party system is introduced. In the years that followed, new parties form, split, combine; rival parties emerge also out of the "Solidarity" camp

  • 1990 - the Sejm passes privatization laws

  • December 1990 - Lech Walesa wins the popular presidential election.
    Nowadays, this post is held by Aleksander Kwasniewski who, in 2000, was elected for the second term.

  • 1995 - denomination of the fully convertible zloty (1 PLN = 10 thousand old zloties)

  • 1997 - Poland boasts a modern constitution which reorganized not only the political scene, but most of all various aspects of social life.

  • 1999 - administrative reform introducing the third level of self-government - communes (gminy) - and limited the number of voivodships (wojewodztwa) from 49 to 16.
    Poland is a democratic country: a multi-party republic with a two-chamber Parliament. The basics of the system reflect values typical of European countries characterized by a culture of law: sovereignty of the nation, sovereignty and independence of the state, system of law, political pluralism and freedom of political parties, separation of government branches, respect for human dignity, proclaiming the system of law and personal freedom.

  • 1st May 2004 - accession of to the European Union

See also:


Prepared by the Erasmus team, July 2003