|c. 60 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States||10,600,000 (2015)|
|France||1,350,000 (2012) |
|United Kingdom||695,000 (2019)|
|Predominantly Roman Catholicism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Czechs, Gorals, Kashubians, Moravians, Silesians, Slovaks, Sorbs|
The Poles (Polish: Polacy, pronounced [pɔˈlat͡sɨ]; singular masculine: Polak, singular feminine: Polka), also referred to as the Polish people, are a West Slavic ethnic group and a nation that shares a common history, culture, the Polish language and is identified with the country of Poland in Central Europe.
The population of self-declared Poles in Poland is estimated at 37,394,000 out of an overall population of 38,538,000 (based on the 2011 census), of whom 36,522,000 declared Polish alone. A wide-ranging Polish diaspora (the Polonia) exists throughout Europe, the Americas, and in Australasia. Today, the largest urban concentrations of Poles are within the Warsaw and Silesian metropolitan areas.
Ethnic Poles are considered to be the descendants of the ancient West Slavic Lechites and other tribes that inhabited the Polish territories during the late antiquity period. Poland's recorded history dates back over a thousand years to c. 930–960 AD, when the Western Polans – an influential tribe in the Greater Poland region – united various Lechitic clans under what became the Piast dynasty, thus creating the first Polish state. The subsequent Christianization of Poland by the Catholic Church, in 966 CE, marked Poland's advent to the community of Western Christendom. However, throughout its existence, the Polish state followed a tolerant policy towards minorities resulting in numerous ethnic and religious identities of the Poles, such as Polish Jews.
Poles have made important contributions to the world in every major field of human endeavor, among them Copernicus, Marie Curie, Joseph Conrad, Fryderyk Chopin and Pope John Paul II. Notable Polish émigrés – many of them forced from their homeland by historic vicissitudes – have included physicist Joseph Rotblat, mathematician Stanisław Ulam, pianist Arthur Rubinstein, actresses Helena Modjeska and Pola Negri, military leaders Tadeusz Kościuszko and Casimir Pulaski, U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, politician Rosa Luxemburg, painter Tamara de Lempicka, filmmakers Samuel Goldwyn and the Warner Brothers, cartoonist Max Fleischer, and cosmeticians Helena Rubinstein and Max Factor.
Slavs have been in the territory of modern-day Poland for over 1500 years. They organized into tribal units, of which the larger ones were later known as the Polish tribes; the names of many tribes are found on the list compiled by the anonymous Bavarian Geographer in the 9th century. In the 9th and 10th centuries the tribes gave rise to developed regions along the upper Vistula (the Vistulans within the Great Moravian Empire sphere), the Baltic Sea coast and in Greater Poland. The last tribal undertaking resulted in the 10th century in a lasting political structure and state, Poland, one of the West Slavic nations.
The concept which has become known as the Piast Idea, the chief proponent of which was Jan Ludwik Popławski, is based on the statement that the Piast homeland was inhabited by so-called "native" aboriginal Slavs and Slavonic Poles since time immemorial and only later was "infiltrated" by "alien" Celts, Germans, Baltic peoples and others. After 1945 the so-called "autochthonous" or "aboriginal" school of Polish prehistory received official backing in Poland and a considerable degree of popular support. According to this view, the Lusatian Culture which archaeologists have identified between the Oder and the Vistula in the early Iron Age, is said to be Slavonic; all non-Slavonic tribes and peoples recorded in the area at various points in ancient times are dismissed as "migrants" and "visitors". This theory, according to some researchers, including Popławski, is confirmed by a large number of slavic toponyms in the territory of modern Germany and Austria. In contrast, the critics of this theory, such as Marija Gimbutas, regard it as an unproved hypothesis and for them the date and origin of the westward migration of the Slavs is largely uncharted; the Slavonic connections of the Lusatian Culture are entirely imaginary; and the presence of an ethnically mixed and constantly changing collection of peoples on the Middle European Plain is taken for granted.
Polish people are the sixth largest national group in the European Union. Estimates vary depending on source, though available data suggest a total number of around 60 million people worldwide (with roughly 18-20 million living outside of Poland, many of whom are not of Polish ethnicity, but Polish nationals). There are almost 38 million Poles in Poland alone. There are also Polish minorities in the surrounding countries and indigenous minorities in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, northern and eastern Lithuania, western Ukraine, and western Belarus. There are some smaller indigenous minorities in nearby countries such as Moldova. There is also a Polish minority in Russia which includes indigenous Poles as well as those forcibly deported during and after World War II; the total number of Poles in what was the former Soviet Union is estimated at up to 3 million.
The term "Polonia" is usually used in Poland to refer to people of Polish origin who live outside Polish borders, officially estimated at around 10 to 20 million. There is a notable Polish diaspora in the United States, Brazil, and Canada. France has a historic relationship with Poland and has a relatively large Polish-descendant population. Poles have lived in France since the 18th century. In the early 20th century, over a million Polish people settled in France, mostly during world wars, among them Polish émigrés fleeing either Nazi occupation or later Soviet rule.
In the United States, a significant number of Polish immigrants settled in Chicago (billed as the world's most Polish city outside of Poland), Milwaukee, Ohio, Detroit, New Jersey, New York City, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and New England. The highest concentration of Polish Americans in a single New England municipality is in New Britain, Connecticut. The majority of Polish Canadians have arrived in Canada since World War II. The number of Polish immigrants increased between 1945 and 1970, and again after the end of Communism in Poland in 1989. In Brazil, the majority of Polish immigrants settled in Paraná State. Smaller, but significant numbers settled in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Espírito Santo and São Paulo (state). The city of Curitiba has the second largest Polish diaspora in the world (after Chicago) and Polish music, dishes and culture are quite common in the region.
A recent large migration of Poles took place following Poland's accession to the European Union in 2004 and with the opening of the EU's labor market; an approximate number of 2 million, primarily young, Poles taking up jobs abroad. It is estimated that over half a million Polish people have come to work in the United Kingdom from Poland. Since 2011, Poles have been able to work freely throughout the EU and not just in the United Kingdom, but also countries like Ireland and Sweden where they have had full working rights since Poland's EU accession in 2004. The Polish community in Norway has increased substantially and has grown to a total number of 120,000, making Poles the largest immigrant group in Norway. Only in recent years has the population abroad decreased, specifically in the UK with 116.000 leaving the UK in 2018 alone.
The culture of Poland has a history of over 1000 years. Poland, located in Central Europe, developed a character that was influenced by its geography at the confluence of fellow Central European cultures (Austrian, Czech, German, Hungarian, and Slovak) as well as from Western European cultures (French, Spanish and Dutch), Southern European cultures (Italian and Greek), Baltic/Northeastern cultures (Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian), Eastern European cultures (Belarusian and Ukrainian) and Western Asian/Caucasian cultures (Ottoman Turkish, Armenian, and Georgian). Influences were also conveyed by immigrants (Hungarian, Slovak, Czech, Jewish, German and Dutch), political alliances (with Lithuania, Hungary, Saxony, France and Sweden), eastern conquests by the Polish-Lithuanian state (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania and Latvia) and conquerors of the Polish lands (the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg monarchy, later to be known as the Austrian Empire or Austria-Hungary).
Over time, Polish culture has been greatly influenced by its ties with the Germanic, Hungarian, and Latinate world and other ethnic groups and minorities living in Poland. The people of Poland have traditionally been seen as hospitable to artists from abroad (especially Italy) and open to cultural and artistic trends popular in other European countries. Owing to this central location, the Poles came very early into contact with both civilizations – eastern and western, and as a result developed economically, culturally, and politically. A German general Helmut Carl von Moltke, in his Poland. A historical sketch (1885), stated that "Poland of the fifteenth century was one of the most civilised states of Europe."
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Polish focus on cultural advancement often took precedence over political and economic activity, experiencing severe crises, especially during World War II and in the following years. These factors have contributed to the versatile nature of Polish art, with all its complex nuances.
Poland was for centuries a refuge to many Jews from all over Europe; in the twentieth century, a large number emigrated to Israel. Several prominent Israeli statesmen were born in Poland, including Israel's founder David Ben-Gurion, former President of Israel Shimon Peres, and Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin.
The Polish language (Polish: język polski) is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group and the official language of Poland. Its written form uses the Polish alphabet, which is the Latin alphabet with the addition of a few diacritic marks.
Poland is the most linguistically homogeneous European country; nearly 97% of Poland's citizens declare Polish as their mother tongue. Ethnic Poles constitute large minorities in Germany, northern Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Hungary, northeast Lithuania and western Belarus and Ukraine. Polish is the most widely used minority language in Lithuania's Vilnius County (26% of the population, according to the 2001 census results) and is found elsewhere in northeastern and western Lithuania. In Ukraine it is most common in the western Lviv and Volyn oblast (provinces), while in western Belarus it is used by the significant Polish minority, especially in the Brest and Grodno regions and in areas along the Lithuanian border.
The geographical distribution of the Polish language was greatly affected by the border changes and population transfers that followed World War II. Poles resettled in the "Recovered Territories" in the west and north. Some Poles remained in the previously Polish-ruled territories in the east that were annexed by the USSR, resulting in the present-day Polish-speaking minorities in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, although many Poles were expelled or emigrated from those areas to areas within Poland's new borders. Meanwhile, the flight and expulsion of Germans, as well as the expulsion of Ukrainians and resettlement of Ukrainians within Poland, contributed to the country's linguistic homogeneity.
Polish-speakers use the language in a uniform manner throughout most of Poland, though numerous languages and dialects coexist alongside the standard Polish language. The most common dialects in Poland are Silesian, spoken in Upper Silesia, and Kashubian, widely spoken in historic Eastern Pomerania (Pomerelia), today in the northwestern part of Poland.
Science and technology
Education has been of prime interest to Poland since the early 12th century. The catalog of the library of the Cathedral Chapter in Kraków dating from 1110 shows that Polish scholars already then had access to literature from all over Europe. In 1364 King Casimir III the Great founded the Kraków Academy, which would become Jagiellonian University, one of the great universities of Europe. The Polish people have made considerable contributions in the fields of science, technology and mathematics.
The list of early famous scientists in Poland begins with the 13th-century Vitello and includes the polymath and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at its center; the publication of Copernicus' book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) just before his death in 1543 is considered a major event in the history of science, triggering the Copernican Revolution and making an important contribution to the Scientific Revolution. In 1773 King Stanisław August Poniatowski established the Commission of National Education, the world's first ministry of education.
After the 1795 third partition of Poland, no free Polish state existed. The 19th and 20th centuries saw many Polish scientists working abroad. The greatest was Maria Skłodowska Curie (1867–1934), a physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity and was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win twice in multiple sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. Another notable Polish expatriate scientist was Ignacy Domeyko (1802–89), a geologist and mineralogist who lived and worked in South America, in Chile.
Kazimierz Funk (1884–1967), whose name is commonly anglicized as "Casimir Funk", was a Polish biochemist, generally credited with being among the first to formulate (in 1912) the concept of vitamins, which he called "vital amines" or "vitamines".
In the first half of the 20th century, Poland was a world center of mathematics. Outstanding Polish mathematicians formed the Lwów School of Mathematics (including Stefan Banach, Hugo Steinhaus, Stanisław Ulam) and Warsaw School of Mathematics (including Alfred Tarski, Kazimierz Kuratowski, Wacław Sierpiński). World War II pushed many of them into exile; Benoit Mandelbrot's family left Poland when he was still a child. An alumnus of the Warsaw School of Mathematics was Antoni Zygmund, a shaper of 20th-century mathematical analysis.
Marian Rejewski (1905–80), a Polish mathematician, in December 1932 solved the plugboard-equipped Enigma machine, the main cipher device used by Nazi Germany. The cryptologic successes of Rejewski and his mathematician colleagues Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski, over six and a half years later, jump-started British reading of Enigma in the Second World War; the intelligence so gained, code-named Ultra, contributed, perhaps decisively, to the defeat of Germany.
Sir Józef Rotblat (1908–2005), a Polish physicist, who left the US Manhattan Project on grounds of conscience. His work on nuclear fallout was a major contribution toward the ratification of the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. A signatory of the Russell–Einstein Manifesto, he was secretary-general of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs from their founding until 1973. He shared, with the Pugwash Conferences, the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
Hilary Koprowski (1916 – 2013) was a Polish virologist and immunologist, and the inventor of the world's first effective live polio vaccine. While in the United States, he authored or co-authored over 875 scientific papers and co-edited several scientific journals. Aleksander Wolszczan (born 1946), a Polish astronomer, is the co-discoverer of the first extrasolar planets and pulsar planets.
Today, Poland has over 100 institutions of post-secondary education – technical, medical, economic, as well as 500 universities – located in major cities such as Gdańsk, Kraków, Wrocław, Lublin, Łódź, Poznań, Rzeszów and Warsaw. They employ over 61,000 scientists and scholars. Another 300 research-and-development institutes are home to some 10,000 researchers. There are also a number of smaller laboratories. Altogether, these institutions support some 91,000 scientists and scholars.
The origin of Polish music can be traced as far back as the 13th century, from which manuscripts have been found in Stary Sącz, containing polyphonic compositions related to the Parisian Notre Dame School. Other early compositions, such as the melody of Bogurodzica, may also date back to this period. The first known notable composer, however, Mikołaj z Radomia, lived in the 15th century.
During the 16th century, mostly two musical groups—both based in Kraków and belonging to the King and Archbishop of Wawel—led the rapid innovation of Polish music. Composers writing during this period include Wacław of Szamotuły, Mikołaj Zieleński, and Mikołaj Gomółka. Diomedes Cato, a native-born Italian who lived in Kraków from about the age of five, became one of the most famous lutenists at the court of Sigismund III, and not only imported some of the musical styles from southern Europe, but blended them with native folk music.
In the last years of the 16th century and the first part of the 17th century, a number of Italian musicians were guests at the royal courts of King Sigismund III Vasa and his son Władysław IV. These included Luca Marenzio, Giovanni Francesco Anerio, and Marco Scacchi. Polish composers from this period focused on baroque religious music, concertos for voices, instruments, and basso continuo, a tradition that continued into the 18th century. The best-remembered composer of this period is Adam Jarzębski, known for his instrumental works such as Chromatica, Tamburetta, Sentinella, Bentrovata, and Nova Casa. Other composers include Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, Franciszek Lilius, Bartłomiej Pękiel, Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński and Marcin Mielczewski.
In addition, a tradition of operatic production began in Warsaw in 1628, with a performance of Galatea (composer uncertain), the first Italian opera produced outside Italy. Shortly after this performance, the court produced Francesca Caccini's opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d’Alcina, which she had written for Prince Władysław three years earlier when he was in Italy. Another first, this is the earliest surviving opera written by a woman. When Władysław became king (as Władysław IV) he oversaw the production of at least ten operas during the late 1630s and 1640s, making Warsaw a center of the art. The composers of these operas are not known: they may have been Poles working under Marco Scacchi in the royal chapel, or they may have been among the Italians imported by Władysław.
The late 17th century and the 18th century saw Poland in sociopolitical decline, which hindered the development of music. Some composers (such as Jan Stefani and Maciej Kamieński) attempted to create a Polish opera; others imitated foreign composers such as Haydn and Mozart.
The most important development in this time, however, was the polonaise, perhaps the first distinctively Polish art music. Polonaises for piano were and remain popular, such as those by Michał Kleofas Ogiński, Karol Kurpiński, Juliusz Zarębski, Henryk Wieniawski, Mieczysław Karłowicz, Józef Elsner, and, most famously, Fryderyk Chopin. Chopin remains very well known, and is regarded for composing a wide variety of works, including mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes and concertos, and using traditional Polish elements in his pieces. The same period saw Stanisław Moniuszko, the leading individual in the successful development of Polish opera, still renowned for operas like Halka and The Haunted Manor.
Henryk Wieniawski, violinist and composer.
Witold Lutosławski, one of the major European composers of the 20th century, and one of the preeminent Polish musicians during his last three decades.
Polish folk music was collected in the 19th century by Oskar Kolberg, as part of a wave of Polish national revival. With the coming of the world wars and then the Communist state, folk traditions were oppressed or subsumed into state-approved folk ensembles. The most famous of the state ensembles are Mazowsze and Śląsk, both of which still perform. Though these bands had a regional touch to their output, the overall sound was a homogenized mixture of Polish styles. There were more authentic state-supported groups, such as Słowianki, but the Communist sanitized image of folk music made the whole field seem unhip to young audiences, and many traditions dwindled rapidly.
Polish dance music, especially the mazurka and polonaise, were popularized by Frédéric Chopin, and they soon spread across Europe and elsewhere. These are triple time dances, while five-beat forms are more common in the northeast and duple-time dances like the krakowiak come from the south. The polonaise comes from the French word for Polish to identify its origin among the Polish aristocracy and nobility, who had adapted the dance from a slower walking dance called chodzony. The polonaise then re-entered the lower-class musical life, and became an integral part of Polish music.
Polish literature is the literary tradition of Poland. Most Polish literature has been written in the Polish language, though other languages, used in Poland over the centuries, have also contributed to Polish literary traditions, including Latin, German, Yiddish, Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Hungarian, Slovak, Czech, Lithuanian, and Esperanto.
Almost nothing remains of Polish literature prior to the country's Christianization in 966. Poland's pagan inhabitants certainly possessed an oral literature extending to Slavic songs, legends and beliefs, but early Christian writers did not deem it worthy of mention in the obligatory Latin, and so it has perished.
The first recorded sentence in the Polish language reads: "Day ut ia pobrusa, a ti poziwai" ("Let me grind, and you take a rest") – a paraphrase of the Latin "Sine, ut ego etiam molam." The work, in which this phrase appeared, reflects the culture of early Poland. The sentence was written within the Latin language chronicle Liber fundationis from between 1269 and 1273, a history of the Cistercian monastery in Henryków, Silesia. It was recorded by an abbot known simply as Piotr (Peter), referring to an event almost a hundred years earlier. The sentence was supposedly uttered by a Bohemian settler, Bogwal ("Bogwalus Boemus"), a subject of Bolesław the Tall, expressing compassion for his own wife who "very often stood grinding by the quern-stone." Most notable early medieval Polish works in Latin and the Old Polish language include the oldest extant manuscript of fine prose in the Polish language entitled the Holy Cross Sermons, as well as the earliest Polish-language Bible of Queen Zofia and the Chronicle of Janko of Czarnków from the 14th century, not to mention the Puławy Psalter.
In the early 1470s, one of the first printing houses in Poland was set up by Kasper Straube in Kraków (see: spread of the printing press). In 1475 Kasper Elyan of Glogau (Głogów) set up a printing shop in Breslau (Wrocław), Silesia. Twenty years later, the first Cyrillic printing house was founded at Kraków by Schweipolt Fiol for Eastern Orthodox Church hierarchs. The most notable texts produced in that period include Saint Florian's Breviary, printed partially in Polish in the late 14th century; Statua synodalia Wratislaviensia (1475): a printed collection of Polish and Latin prayers; as well as Jan Długosz's Chronicle from the 15th century and his Catalogus archiepiscoporum Gnesnensium.
With the advent of the Renaissance, the Polish language was finally accepted in Poland on an equal footing with Latin. Polish art and culture flourished under the Jagiellonian Dynasty, and many foreign poets and writers settled in Poland, bringing new literary trends with them. These writers included Kallimach (Filippo Buonaccorsi) and Conrad Celtis. Mikołaj Rej and Jan Kochanowski laid the foundations for the Polish literary language and modern Polish grammar. The first book written entirely in the Polish language appeared in this period: a prayer-book by Biernat of Lublin (ca. 1465 – after 1529), Raj duszny (Hortulus Animae, Eden of the Soul), printed in Kraków in 1513 at one of Poland's first printing establishments, operated by Florian Ungler (originally from Bavaria).
Many Polish writers studied abroad and at the Kraków Academy (now Jagiellonian University), which became a melting pot for new ideas and currents. In this period (as she had had earlier, and would also have in the future), Poland had notable philosophers, including Nicolaus Copernicus, Sebastian Petrycy, Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki, Jan Jonston (a Briton), Jan Amos Komensky (a Czech), and Stanisław Leszczyński (a Polish king).
Another notable literary figure from this period is Piotr Skarga (1536–1612), a Polish Jesuit, preacher, hagiographer, polemicist, and leading figure of the Counter-Reformation in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. His greatest works include The Lives of the Saints (Żywoty świętych, 1579), which was for several centuries one of the most popular books in the Polish language and the Sejm Sermons (Kazania Sejmowe, 1597), a political treatise, which became popular in the second half of the 19th century, when Skarga was seen as the "patriotic seer" who predicted the partitions of Poland.
In 1488 the world's first literary society, the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana (the Vistula Literary Society) was founded in Kraków. Notable members included Conrad Celtes, Albert Brudzewski, Filip Callimachus, and Laurentius Corvinus.
Polish Baroque literature (1620–1764) was influenced by the popularization of Jesuit secondary schools, which offered an education based on Latin classics as part of a preparation for a career in politics. The study of poetry required practical skill in writing both Latin and Polish poems, and radically increased the numbers of poets and versifiers countrywide. Some exceptional writers grew up as well in the soil of humanistic education: Piotr Kochanowski (1566–1620) produced a translation of Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered; poet laureate Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski became known throughout Europe, for his Latin writings, as Horatius christianus ("the Christian Horace"); Jan Andrzej Morsztyn (1621–1693), epicurean courtier and diplomat, extolled in his sophisticated poems the value of earthly delights; and Wacław Potocki (1621–96), the most productive writer of the Polish Baroque, united typical Polish szlachta (nobility) views with deeper reflections and existential experiences.
Other notable Polish poets and prose writers of the period included:
The period of Polish Enlightenment began in the 1730s–40s and peaked in the second half of the 18th century during the reign of Poland's last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski. It went into sharp decline with the Third and final Partition of Poland (1795), followed by political, cultural and economic destruction of the country, and leading to the Great Emigration of Polish elites. The Enlightenment ended around 1822, and was replaced by Polish Romanticism at home and abroad. The crowning achievements of Polish Enlightenment include the adoption of the Constitution of 3 May 1791, Europe's oldest written constitution as well as the creation of the Commission of National Education, the world's first ministry of education.
One of the leading Polish Enlightenment poets was Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801), known as "the Prince of Poets" and Poland's La Fontaine, author of Fables and Parables as well as the first Polish novel called The Adventures of Mr. Nicholas Wisdom (Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki); he was also a playwright, journalist, encyclopedist and translator from French and Greek. Another prominent writer of the period was Jan Potocki (1761–1815), a Polish nobleman, Egyptologist, linguist, and adventurer, whose travel memoirs made him legendary in his homeland. Outside Poland he is known chiefly for his novel, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, which has drawn comparisons to such celebrated works as the Decameron and the Arabian Nights.
Due to the three successive Partitions carried out by three adjacent empires—ending the existence of the sovereign Polish state in 1795—Polish Romanticism, unlike Romanticism elsewhere in Europe, was largely a movement for independence from foreign occupation, and expressed the ideals and traditional way of life of the Polish people. The period of Romanticism in Poland ended with the Russian Empire's suppression of the January 1863 Uprising, culminating in public executions and deportations to Siberia.
The literature of Polish Romanticism falls into two distinct sub-periods, each ended by an insurgency: the first, circa 1820–30, ending with the November 1830 Uprising; and the second, 1830–64, giving rise to Polish Positivism. In the first Romantic sub-period, Polish Romantics were heavily influenced by other European Romantics: their work featured emotionalism and imagination, folklore, and country life, in addition to the aspiration for independence. The sub-period's most famous writers were Adam Mickiewicz, Seweryn Goszczyński, Tomasz Zan, and Maurycy Mochnacki.
In the second Romantic sub-period, after the November 1830 Uprising, many Polish Romantics worked abroad, driven from Poland by the occupying powers. Their work became dominated by the aspiration to regain their country's lost sovereignty. Elements of mysticism became more prominent. Also, the concept of the Three Bards (trzej wieszcze) developed. The wieszcz functioned as spiritual leader to the suppressed people. The most notable poet of the Three Bards, so recognized in both Polish Romantic sub-periods, was Adam Mickiewicz. The other two national bards were Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński.
Cyprian Kamil Norwid, a nationally esteemed poet, sometimes considered to be the "Fourth Bard".
In the wake of the failed January 1863 Uprising against Russian occupation, a new period of thought and literature, Polish "Positivism", proceeded to advocate level-headedness, skepticism, the exercise of reason, and "organic work". "Positivist" writers argued for the establishment of equal rights for all members of society; for the assimilation of Poland's Jewish minority; and for defense of western Poland's population, in the German-occupied part of Poland, against the German Kulturkampf and the displacement of the Polish populace by German colonization. Writers such as Bolesław Prus sought to educate the public about a constructive patriotism that would enable Polish society to function as a fully integrated social organism, regardless of external circumstances. Another influential Polish novelist active in that period was Henryk Sienkiewicz who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905. The Positivist period lasted until the turn of the 20th century and the advent of the Young Poland movement.
Young Poland (1890–1918)
The modernist period known as the Young Poland movement in visual arts, literature and music, came into being around 1890, and concluded with the Poland's return to independence (1918). The period was based on two concepts. Its early stage was characterized by a strong aesthetic opposition to the ideals of its own predecessor (promoting organic work in the face of foreign occupation). Artists following this early philosophy of Young Poland believed in decadence, symbolism, conflict between human values and civilization, and the existence of art for art's sake. Prominent authors who followed this trend included Joseph Conrad, Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Stanisław Przybyszewski and Jan Kasprowicz.
Restored independence (1918–39)
Literature in the Second Polish Republic (1918–39) spanned a brief but exceptionally fertile period. With the restoration of the country's independence at the end of World War I, Poland developed sociopolitically and culturally. New avant-garde currents emerged. The Interbellum of just twenty years between the World Wars fostered numerous notable writers, including Julian Tuwim, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz, Witold Gombrowicz, Czesław Miłosz, Maria Dąbrowska, and Zofia Nałkowska, who saw themselves as exponents of an evolving and advancing European civilization.
Much of Polish literature written during the occupation of Poland appeared in print only after the end of World War II, including books by Nałkowska, Rudnicki, Borowski and others. The Soviet takeover of the country did not discourage émigrés and exiles from returning, especially before the advent of Stalinism. Indeed, many writers attempted to recreate the Polish literary scene, often with a touch of nostalgia for the prewar reality, including Jerzy Andrzejewski, author of Ashes and Diamonds, describing the political and moral dilemmas associated with the anti-communist resistance in Poland. His novel was adapted into film a decade later by Wajda. The new emerging prose writers such as Stanisław Dygat and Stefan Kisielewski approached the catastrophe of war from their own perspective. Kazimierz Wyka coined a term "borderline novel" for documentary fiction.
In the second half of the 20th century a number of Polish writers achieved international recognition, including Stanisław Lem, Czesław Miłosz (Nobel laureate, 1980), Zbigniew Herbert, Sławomir Mrożek, Wisława Szymborska (Nobel laureate, 1996), Jerzy Kosiński, Adam Zagajewski, Andrzej Sapkowski, and Olga Tokarczuk (Nobel laureate, 2019).
Theatre and cinema
At present, the Polish theatre actor possibly best known outside the country is Andrzej Seweryn, who in the years 1984–1988 was a member of the international group formed by Peter Brook to work on the staging of the Mahabharata, and since 1993 has been linked with the Comédie Française. The most revered actor of the second half of the twentieth century in Poland is generally considered to be Tadeusz Łomnicki, who died in 1992 of a heart attack while rehearsing King Lear.
During the second half of the nineties, there appeared in Polish dramatic theatre a new generation of young directors, who have attempted to create productions relevant to the experience and problems of a thirty-something generation brought up surrounded by mass culture, habituated to a fast-moving lifestyle, but at the same time ever more lost in the world of consumer capitalism. There is no strict division in Poland between theatre and film directors and actors, therefore many stage artists are known to theatre goers from films of Andrzej Wajda, for example: Wojciech Pszoniak, Daniel Olbrychski, Krystyna Janda, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, and from films of Krzysztof Kieślowski. Notable actors from Poland include Jerzy Stuhr, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Skolimowski and Michał Żebrowski. Polish actors and actresses that achieved great success overseas, mostly in Hollywood, include Bella Darvi, Pola Negri, Ross Martin, Ingrid Pitt, Ned Glass, Lee Strasberg, Izabella Scorupco, Paul Wesley and John Bluthal.
Notable Hollywood American actors and actresses of Polish descent include David Arquette, Caroll Baker (born Karolina Piekarski), Christine Baranski, Kristen Bell, Maria Bello, Jack Benny, Charles Bronson, Mayim Bialik, Cate Blanchett, Alex Borstein, David Burtka, Steve Carell, Anna Chlumsky, Jennifer Connelly, Jesse Eisenberg, Estelle Getty, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, John Krasinski, Lisa Kudrow, Ben Stiller, Carole Landis, Téa Leoni, Paul Newman, Eli Wallach, Jared Padalecki, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Prosky, Maggie Q, William Shatner, Sarah Silverman, Leelee Sobieski, Loretta Swit and others.
Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska, 1840–1909) was the reigning diva of Polish theater before becoming a leading actress in the U.S.
Andrzej Seweryn, one of the most successful Polish theatre actors, starred in over 50 films
Poles have traditionally adhered to the Christian faith, with the majority belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, with 87.5% of Poles in 2011 identifying as Roman Catholic. The remaining part of the population consists mainly of Protestants (especially Lutherans), Orthodox Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, those irreligious, and Judaism (mostly from the Jewish populations in Poland who have lived there prior to World War II). In addition, many Polish Tatars are Sunni Muslims. Roman Catholics live all over the country, while Orthodox Christians can be found mostly in north-east, in the area of Białystok, and Protestants (mainly Lutherans) in Cieszyn Silesia and Warmia-Masuria. A growing Jewish population exists in major cities, especially in Warsaw, Kraków and Wrocław. Over two million Jews of Polish origin reside in the United States, Brazil, and Israel.
According to Poland's Constitution, freedom of religion is ensured to everyone. It also allows for national and ethnic minorities to have the right to establish educational and cultural institutions, institutions designed to protect religious identity, as well as to participate in the resolution of matters connected with their cultural identity.
Religious organizations in the Republic of Poland can register their institution with the Ministry of Interior and Administration creating a record of churches and other religious organizations who operate under separate Polish laws. This registration is not necessary; however, it is beneficial when it comes to serving the freedom of religious practice laws.
Slavic Native Faith (Rodzimowiercy) groups, registered with the Polish authorities in 1995, are the Native Polish Church (Rodzimy Kościół Polski), which represents a pagan tradition going back to Władysław Kołodziej's 1921 Holy Circle of Worshippers of Światowid (Święte Koło Czcicieli Światowida), and the Polish Slavic Church (Polski Kościół Słowiański). There is also the Native Faith Association (Zrzeszenie Rodzimej Wiary, ZRW), founded in 1996.
Among exonyms for "Pole", not native to the Polish people or language, is лях (lyakh), used in East Slavic languages. Today the word Lachy ("Poles") is used in Belarusian, Ukrainian (but now considered offensive and replaced by the neutral поляк, polyak), and Russian. Foreign exonyms also include: Lithuanian Lenkai; Hungarian Lengyelek; Turkish Leh; Armenian: Լեհաստան Lehastan; and Persian: لهستان (Lahestān).
Łęczycanie live between Greater Poland and Mazovia, and are an intermediate group, originally closer to Greater Poles but with significant Mazur influences. Sieradzanie on the other hand, are surrounded by Greater Poland, Lesser Poland and Silesia, and have been under strong influences of all three provinces. They lost much of their original distinctness. The main city in this region is Łódź, but it originated during the Industrial Revolution, being just a small town before that.
Greater Poles (Wielkopolanie) inhabit more or less the original territory of the tribe of Polans (from which the names Poland and Poles are derived), as well as other areas where Wielkopolanie and their dialect expanded throughout history. Greater Poland is where the Polish statehood emerged during the 9th and 10th centuries. With places such as Gniezno, Giecz and Ostrów Lednicki, it is the oldest province of Poland. Poznań is its main city. We can distinguish smaller ethnographic subdivisions among Greater Poles, for example the Pałuczanie, Biskupianie (near Krobia), Bambrzy and Hanobrzy (descended from Polonized German settlers from the areas of Bamberg and Hanover), Kaliszacy, Wieleń Mazurs, Szamotulanie, Gostynianie, and others. Due to past migrations and shifting borders of historical regions, also two Silesian ethnographic groups live in the territory of Wielkopolska – Hazacy, who inhabit the area of Rawicz; and Chwalimiacy, who live around Chwalim, Nowe Kramsko and Stare Kramsko.
Some linguists and ethnographers counted Cuiavians as a subdivision of Greater Poles, but most recognize their distinct culture and identity. They inhabit the areas from Lake Gopło in the south to Noteć River in the north-west, and to Vistula River in the north-east. Toruń, listed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1997, is located on the border between Kujawy, Chełmno Land and Dobrzyń Land. Other important cities include Bydgoszcz, Włocławek and Inowrocław.
Małopolanie (Southern Poles) can be divided into several major subgroups – Krakowiacy (in the historical Land of Kraków), Lasowiacy, Sandomirians, Górale (Gorals, Polish Highlanders), Lachy, Posaniacy, Vilamovians, Halcnovians, Lubliniacy and inhabitants of Podkarpacie (Subcarpathia), such as Dolinianie, Rzeszowiacy, Polish Uplanders or Deaf Germans. Krakowiacy live to the north of Gorals, to the east of Silesians, to the west of Sandomirians, in the north they extend as far as Częstochowa and Kielce. This group can be further subdivided into smaller ethnographic regions.
Among Lesser Poles, especially strongly differentiated are the Gorals, who can be further divided into Beskid Gorals, Podhalanie, Kliszczacy, Spiszacy, Oravians, and several smaller groups. In the east, Lesser Polish Gorals have Ruthenian-speaking Gorals (Boykos, Lemkos, Hutsuls) and Rusyns as their neighbours. There is overlap with Slovak-speaking Gorals in the south. Sandomirians extend in the north as far as Skaryszew and Iłża, in the west beyond Chęciny. Lubliniacy live to the east of Sandomirians, around Lublin, Chełm, Zamość, Tomaszów Lubelski, Janów Lubelski and Biłgoraj.
Mazurs (Masovians) consist of proper Mazurs, known also as Central Mazurs, who live from the area between Sierpc and Płock, up to the lower Wieprz River. Between Central Mazurs and Podlasie is the homeland of Eastern Mazurs, and in southern parts of Warmia-Masuria – the homeland of Lutheran, Prussian Mazurs, descended from Central Mazurs who settled there in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and assimilated remnants of Baltic-speaking Old Prussian population. Another Medieval expansion of Mazurs, to the east, into former Yotvingian (ethnically West Baltic) territories, led to the emergence of Sudovian Poles and of Podlasie Mazurs (in the areas around Węgrów, Siedlce, Puławy, Łuków, Sokołów Podlaski, Włodawa, as far as Biebrza River). Another group descended from a mix of Poles (mostly Mazurs) and West Balts are the Kurpie, who live primarily in Puszcza Zielona and Puszcza Biała (the Green Forest and the White Forest). Yet another subdivision of Mazurs, which developed a very rich folk culture thanks to having special privileges and prosperity, are Łowiczanie (around Łowicz). Another group are Poborzanie in the areas of Mława and Zawkrze.
The capital of Poland, Warsaw, is located in the land of Central Mazurs. However, as any large city it has always been a melting pot of people from all regions of Poland and foreigners from abroad. It is home to the largest Jewish community in Poland, as well as the cultural centre of Polish Karaims. Citizens of Warsaw are called Varsovians. In the Early Middle Ages, Płock was the main city in Mazovia. Along the eastern border of Poland, between Podlasie and Lubelszczyzna, we can find some people who identify as Poleshuks. In Suwalszczyzna and Podlasie, we can find dispersed communities of Polish Tatars and Starovers, as well as settlements of Lithuanian and Belarusian minorities.
Groups intermediate between Greater Poles and Mazurs (but closer to Greater Poles), are Chełmniacy and Dobrzyniacy (who live in the lands of Chełmno and Dobrzyń), as well as Lubawiacy (in the land of Lubawa). Another intermediate group, but closer to Mazurs, are Catholic Warmiaks in the East Prussian region of Warmia. From the Early Middle Ages onwards, Pomerania was under strong Polish (especially Greater Polish and Cuiavian) influences. From the mixture of Kashubians and Greater Poles, emerged an ethnographic group called Borowiacy Tucholscy, who live in the Tuchola Forest region, between Tuchola, Koronowo, Świecie and Starogard. Borowiacy are intermediary, whereas another mixed group – Krajniacy – have a mostly Greater Polish character, with relatively minor Kashubian influences. They live in the region of Krajna. Two other ethnographic group in Northern Poland are Powiślanie (whose homelands are the areas around Sztum, Kwidzyń and Malbork) and Kosznajdrzy.
Early Medieval Pomeranians used to inhabit the entire land located to the north of Polans, between Noteć and the Baltic Sea. In the west, Pomeranians extended perhaps up to Usedom. In the east, they extended as far as the Vistula Lagoon, and their eastern neighbours were Baltic-speaking Prussians. Krynica Morska was the easternmost Slavic-speaking village on the Baltic coast, while the area of Truso (today Elbląg) to the south was ethnically Old Prussian. Most of Pomeranians became Germanized throughout history. Only Eastern Pomeranians preserved their Slavic ethnicity, and are commonly known as Kashubians today. Kashubians who were under Polish rule during the 16th–18th centuries remained Roman Catholic, while those who lived in Brandenburg-Prussia in the 1700s, became Lutherans following the Protestant Reformation.
Kashubians can be divided into many subdivisions, such as the Slovincians. From the Early Middle Ages onwards, Pomerania was under strong Polish (especially Greater Polish and Cuiavian) influences, which led to the emergence of several intermediary ethnographic groups. Descended mainly from Greater Polish and Cuiavian settlers who mixed with Kashubians, are Kociewiacy in the region of Kociewie, located between Starogard Pomorski, Tczew, Gniew, Świecie and up to the outskirts of Gdańsk in the north. The main city in Eastern Pomerania has always been Gdańsk, located on the border between three regions: Kashubia to the west, Kociewie to the south, Prussia to the east.
In the Early Middle Ages, Silesia was inhabited by several Lechitic tribes, known from written sources under their Latinised names. The most significant tribe (which ultimately gave its name to the region) were the Sleenzane (Slenzans; Ślężanie) who lived in areas near modern Wrocław and along the Ślęza river, as well as near mount Ślęża. The Opolini (Opolans; Opolanie) lived in lands near modern Opole. The Dadodesani or Dedosize (Dyadosans; Dziadoszanie) lived in areas near modern Głogów. The Golensizi (Golensizians; Golęszyce) dwelled near modern Racibórz, Cieszyn and Opawa. The Lupiglaa (Głubczyce) probably lived on the Głubczyce Plateau, near Głubczyce. The Trebouane (Tryebovians; Trzebowianie), mentioned by the Prague Document (which describes the situation as of year 973 or earlier), occupied areas near modern Legnica. The Poborane (Bobrans; Bobrzanie) – mentioned by the same document – lived along the lower and middle course of the Bóbr river. The Psyovians (Psouane; Pszowianie) lived near Pszów, to the east of the Opolans and to the west of Kraków. Along the borderland between Lower Silesia and Lusatia, lived tribes related to modern Sorbs.
At the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries (c. AD 1000), the total population of Silesia is estimated as around 250,000 people. By the 2nd half of the 12th century (c. AD 1150–1200) the population increased to 330,000, still in vast majority Slavic-speakers. Following the German Ostsiedlung (c. AD 1350–1400), the population of Lower Silesia was around 2/3 Slavic and 1/3 German (according to estimates by Kokot, Karol Maleczynski and Tomasz Kamusella) while Upper Silesia remained 80% ethnically Polish, with the remaining 20% split mainly between Germans and Czechs. During the following centuries cultural Germanization gradually shifted the ethnic structure of Silesia, so that by the 20th century nearly all of Lower Silesia had a German-speaking majority. But Upper Silesia remained majority Polish-speaking. There have also been Moravian and Czech communities.
Polish Silesians can be divided into many smaller groups, such as Cieszyn Vlachs, Lachians, Silesian Gorals, Opolans and others. The oldest Polish town in the US – Panna Maria, Texas – was established by Silesians in 1854. They speak the Texas Silesian dialect of Polish.
Poles from the former eastern territories of Poland and other areas of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the 14th century onwards, the expansion of Polish (mostly Mazur from Masovia, but also Greater Polish and other) settlers towards the north-east, as well as Polonization of local inhabitants, led to the emergence of Wilniuki (North-East Kresowiacy) in the Grodno Region and Vilno Region (Wileńszczyzna), which encompasses the borderlands of northern Belarus, southern Lithuania and southern Latvia (former Inflanty Voivodeship, including Dyneburg and Ilūkste). At the same time, the expansion of Polish settlers (mostly Lesser Poles and Mazurs) towards the south-east, as well as Polonization of local inhabitants, led to the emergence of South-East Kresowiacy in Halychna, Red Ruthenia (with its main city – Lvov), Volhynia and Podolia.
Traditional national and ethnic minorities within the modern borders of Poland include the Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Czechs (including Polonized descendants of the Bohemian Brethren refugees), Slovaks, Romani people, Dutch people (Olędrzy, most of whom were Polonized), Armenians (there were at least four waves of Armenian immigration to Poland, the earliest of which took place in the 11th century), Vlachs (Romance-speaking shepherds) and Scots (most of Scots in Poland have been Polonized as well). Historically, there were also smaller communities of Hungarians, Russians, Walloons, French, Italians and others. Today Polish Germans reside mainly in Silesia, where they first came during the Late Middle Ages.
Prior to World War II, around a third of Poland's population was composed of ethnic minorities. Following the war, however, Poland's minorities were mostly gone, due to the 1945 revision of borders, and the Holocaust. Most notably, the population of Jews in Poland, which formed the second largest (after the USSR) Jewish community in pre-war Europe at about 3 million people, was almost completely annihilated by 1945.
- Demographics of Poland
- Karta Polaka
- List of Poles
- Name of Poland (etymology of the demonym)
- Pole, Hungarian, two good friends
- Poles in Germany
- Poles in Lithuania
- Poles in Romania
- Poles in the former Soviet Union
- Poles in the United Kingdom
- Polish Americans
- Polish Argentines
- Polish Australians
- Polish Brazilians
- Polish British
- Polish Canadians
- Polish Chileans
- Polish Mexicans
- Polish minority in France
- Polish minority in Spain
- Poles in Latvia
- Polish Czechs
- Polish nationality law
- Polish New Zealanders
- Polish Norwegians
- Polish Uruguayan
- Polish Venezuelans
- Sons of Poland
- West Slavs
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