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Poland

Poland

General Information

Emblem & flag

“Who are you? A little Pole. What is your sign? The white eagle….” – this Polish verse was once known by every child, even at nursery school. And although the verse is no longer as popular as it once was, all Polish children know that their country’s coat of arms features an eagle and that its flag has two colours – white and red.

Even in ancient times, the eagle was regarded as a divine bird, ascribed with strength, valour and genius. According to popular legend, it came to be Poland’s symbol thanks to Lech, founder of the country of the Polanie tribe, who somewhere close to today’s Poznan was so impressed by the sight of an eagle in its nest that he placed its image on his banner and called the place Gniezno (from the Polish word for nest).

The eagle appeared for the first time as a mark of the Polish state on the denar coins of Boleslaw the Brave, minted specially for the Convention of Gniezno in the year 1000. And although the bird seen on the coin does not resemble today’s heraldic image, it is probably a white-tailed eagle. However, its use as a symbol was a one-off. The crowned white eagle was officially declared the emblem of the whole country in 1295, when Przemysl II was crowned king of Poland. The eagle was then placed on a red background.

The symbol of the eagle proved more durable than the country itself. It survived partitions, wars and political upheaval. Deprived of its crown by the communist regime, it returned in its old form at the end of 1989. Today, the Polish coat of arms is based on an eagle design dating from 1927 created by Professor Zygmunt Kaminski.

The colours on the emblem are not there by accident. In Slavic culture, white symbolised honesty and kindness, while red was a sign of valour. According to the rules of heraldry, those colours were transferred to the flag of Poland – the colour of the emblem (white) on top and the background colour (red) underneath. These two colours appear in two horizontal strips of equal width. The shade used is always exactly the same, defined by trichromatic coordinates. 

Anthem

Melody by an unknown composer, words by Jozef Wybicki. The original song had six verses, of which only four are sung today. The “Dabrowski Mazurka” is the most important Polish song.

It was a July night in the year 1797. In the bishop’s palace at Reggio nell’Emilia, Jozef Wybicki wrote a fighting song which was to give encouragement to the soldiers of the Polish Legions, commanded by Major Henryk Dabrowski. The opening lines went “Poland is not yet dead, as long as we are alive…”, sung to the tune of a then popular anonymous mazurka from the Podlasie region.

The song was a hit among the legionnaires and again during the November Rising and the later Spring of Nations. It has been translated into 17 languages and has inspired the writers of many other countries’ national anthems (including that of Yugoslavia).

Unofficially regarded as the national song of the Polish people, it was made the official national anthem only on 26 February 1927. It won the vote against strong competition from several other popular patriotic songs.

The song’s original manuscript disappeared during World War II. It was kept at a Berlin bank by Wybicki’s descendants, but after the bank was bombed, the manuscript was probably taken to Russia. Today, it is one of the items most sought after by hunters of old treasures.

In the 1950s, on the occasion of a change to the constitution of communist Poland, an attempt was made to introduce a new national anthem as well. A request was even made to the poet Wladyslaw Broniewski, who was so disgusted by the suggestion that he personally lambasted the President, Boleslaw Bierut, over the telephone. In the end, the poet Konstanty I. Galczynski wrote a song entitled “Beloved Country, Cherished Country”, but this did not find favour with Stalin.

The Museum of the National Anthem in Bedomin is the only museum in the world dedicated to the nation’s most important song. The 18th-century palace, shaded by lime trees, belonged to Piotr Wybicki, the father of Jozef. The composer himself was born there.

Currency

Poland once came close to having a currency called the lech or pol. Those were among the names considered in 1924, when the Second Republic’s Finance Minister Wladyslaw Grabski reformed the monetary system. However, it was decided to stick with tradition, and so the modern Polish zloty was born.

The first coins were minted when Poland originally accepted Christianity and became part of the Western world. Mieszko I and his successors minted denars – thick coins which were stamped on both sides. However, money tends to lose its value over time. The imposing denars were thus replaced at the end of the 11th century by coins which were stamped only on one side and which were so thin that they sometimes broke.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the name “zloty” (meaning “golden”) was given to the foreign gold ducats and florins. The Polish zloty did not then exist as a coin and was used merely as an accounting unit equal to 30 grosz. It first appeared as a coin in 1564. It was also known as a “half-kopa” (from the “kopa’, a unit of measurement which was divided into 60 smaller parts).

In 1924 the Bank of Poland was set up, and a new system of money was introduced. The zloty replaced the wartime Polish Mark and for the first time in history was divided into 100 grosz. Its value was established as the equivalent of 0.1687 grams of gold. It was a strong, stable and convertible currency. The pre-war zloty was worth about 8 present day zloty.

In the economy of the communist era, the role of the zloty weakened. It became merely an internal non-convertible currency, and among Poles, the dollar came to be preferred.

The zloty became real money again only after 1989, although the change was not always smooth. In the newly liberated Poland, inflation was rife – soon everyone was a millionaire, except that the thick wad of banknotes in their wallets would buy them less and less. In the end, the nightmare of the older generation came to pass, and the currency was reformed in a process called “denomination”. On 1 January 1995, four zeros were struck off. Ten-thousand zloty notes were exchanged for new one-zloty coins.

And how did it go? Everything proceeded painlessly (not counting the cost of the whole operation, which totalled 30 million new zloty). People no longer earned and spent money in millions. The smaller unit of currency, the grosz (one hundredth of a zloty), returned. And today, if you’re a millionaire, it really means something!

 Language

The first sentence written down in Polish was spoken by a concerned Czech peasant from Brukalice to his Polish wife and was documented by a German monk in his Latin chronicles.

The thoughtful sentence “daj, ać ja pobruszę, a ty poczywaj”, meaning “you rest, and I will grind” was spoken in 1270 and was recorded in the Book of Henrykow, which described the everyday life of that Cistercian monastery. The valuable 100-page document is now in the collection of the Archdiocesan Museum in Wroclaw.

Polish is the mother tongue of 46 million people scattered throughout the world, making it the 21st most used language on earth. It has matured over the centuries, derived from the dialects once spoken by the inhabitants of Malopolska and Wielkopolska.

It belongs to the West Slavonic language family, its closest cousins being Czech, Slovak, Pomeranian, Kashubian, Upper and Lower Sorbian and the extinct Polabian. Polish also contains echoes of such exotic languages as Gothic, the Finno-Ugric languages and Celtic dialects.

The older Polish tongues are preserved by regional dialects and languages. Around Kartuzy and Koscierzyna, the people speak in Kashubian or ”po kaszëbsku”, the Silesians use a dialect they call “ślunska godka”, while the highlanders of Podhale speak the charming archaic dialect of Zakopane. Sadly, after the war, the dialect of Warsaw almost completely died out; this was a flowery language, full of diminutives, used by the canny traders of the capital’s Szmulki and Kercelak markets and was popularised by the columnist and satirist Stefan Wiech Wiechecki.

Polish is full of traps. Its grammar and spelling are riddled with exceptions, alternative forms, hard-to-remember rules of inflection and oddities such as the noun declensions ręce-rękoma, pies-psa. For foreigners (particularly English speakers) the most difficult thing is the pronunciation: rustling, crackling, full of sibilants. However, those who take up the challenge of learning Polish compare it to an extreme but satisfying expedition. 

Political System

Poles are born democrats. Seeing that as early as the 15th century a system of democracy operated among the Polish nobility, guaranteeing chosen citizens the ability to decide about the country’s fate, it is no surprise that it was here that the first modern constitution in Europe, and only the second in the world, was written.

A country of parliamentary democracy with a market system – this was the vision of their country for which Poles fought under more than 40 years of communist rule. Was it worth it? Yes! – cry those who remember the times of the Polish People’s Republic. Because it was funny only in the films of Bareja. In reality, no-one enjoyed the taste of imitation chocolate, rationing of meat, sugar and petrol, the empty shop shelves and the queues for everything, even toilet paper.

Since 1989 Poland has been a multi-party democracy. This is a great change from the days when only the Communist Party ruled; Today, anyone can form a political party, except that they then have to find supporters. Legislative power rests with a parliament consisting of two chambers, the lower house or Sejm, and the Senate. 460 members of the lower house and 100 senators are elected for a 4-year term of office by secret ballot in direct general elections on a proportional representation system.

Executive power rests with the Polish President and the Council of Ministers. The President is directly elected for a 5-year term of office. The country’s internal and foreign policy is run by the Council of Ministers (the government), which is subordinate to the Sejm. The government is headed by a Prime Minister, appointed by the President on a recommendation of the ruling party.

Courts and tribunals are separate and independent of the other branches of authority and issue judgements in the name of the Republic of Poland. The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, common courts, administrative courts and military tribunals.

The change in the political system also meant reform of the economy. Many branches of the economy were privatised, and far-reaching reforms were carried through, leading to rapid growth in GDP, which for several years was among the fastest-growing in Europe. All this enabled Poland to become a part of the West’s military and economic structures: since 1999 we have been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and since 2004 we have been part of the European Union.

About Poland

Capital: Warsaw

Language: Polish

Border Countries: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia

Population: 38 million

Area: 322,575 sq km (124,547 sq miles, about size of New Mexico)

Time Zone: CET (UTC+1

Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)

Climate: Temperate with mild summers and moderately severe winters

Currency: Zloty (PLN, zł), 1 zloty = 100 groszy

Government type: Republic, parliamentary democracy

Members of: EU, UN, NATO, OECD, WTO and many other

Holidays: 11 days a year

Country Code: PL


Geography

Landscapes

We have everything: beautiful coastal beaches and dunes, lake districts carved out by glaciers, plains as flat as a pastry board, lush forests, mountains old and new, including the only Table Mountains in Europe, and even a desert region. Who could deny that Poland is a land flowing with riches?

Poland is a low-lying country? Yes, if seen from the centre, the flat Mazovia region, which, although its landscapes are monotonous, offers hidden riches within its forests. The forests, woods and groves are penetrated by naturally beautiful, unregulated rivers. These are plentiful in islands and old river beds, like the Vistula near Czerwinsk, or enveloped between steep banks like the Bug at Drohiczyn.

Water can be found in abundance in the plains of eastern Poland. The Narew, Europe’s only braid-shaped river, spreads wide near Bialystok and splits into branches like the Amazon. Meanwhile the Biebrza near Goniadz turns the whole terrain into a succession of marshes which continue for many miles.

The north of Poland is dominated by sand – fine, clean and more beautiful than that found in the Mediterranean. The wide Baltic beaches run beneath high cliffs and along spits, and behind them, the sand forms dunes. Some of these are shifting dunes, like those near Leba, which resemble a real desert!

Between the Baltic coast and the rest of the country is a belt of lakes. The Drawskie, Kashubian, Suwalki and Mazurian lake districts, the last containing the largest Polish lakes, Sniardwy and Mamry, are a legacy from the glaciers.

The last ice age ended just 10–12 millennia ago, so the carved shape of the landscape is still distinct. The best proof of the power of the glaciers is the Suwalki Landscape Park, where you can find hills in the shape of pyramids, moraines, kames, drumlins, terraces, cirques and hanging valleys.

Poland is bordered to the south by a belt of mountains. These include relatively new ranges like the Carpathians and the Tatras, but there are also ancient formations which go back to the beginnings of the Earth’s history 4.5 billion years ago. These are the Sudeten mountains, which have been eroded, risen again, and even been subjected to the action of volcanoes. They include Europe’s only Table Mountains, exceptional for the fact that they were built up not in folds, but in plates made of horizontal layers of sandstone. We really do have everything!

Nature

Our Creator was generous to Poland, adorning it with plentiful natural beauty and, moreover, not allowing that beauty to be destroyed. This means that today we can offer many genuine attractions to visitors: bogs, marshes, forests, wild rivers and crystal-clear lakes.

A pearl of nature renowned throughout Europe is the Puszcza Bialowieska – the last natural lowland forest on the continent, honoured with entries on both the List of Biosphere Reserves and the UNESCO list.

We also have superbly preserved broadleaved forests (Puszcza Kampinoska) and fir-beech forests (in the Swietokrzyskie Mountains). The Puszcza Romincka Forest in Mazuria has taiga-like features, while the Tucholskie Woods contain a cluster of 4,000 yews, unrivalled anywhere else in Europe, the oldest of the trees being 600 years old. Moreover, near Szczecin there is the beautiful, bright forest of Puszcza Bukowa.

Poland is also famous for its bogs and marshes, including the Biebrza Valley with the largest complex of low-lying peat bogs and the marshy valley of the Narew, Europe’s only anastomotic river, which seen from above resembles a loosely plaited braid. There is only one other river like this in the world: the Okawango river in Africa.

The Biebrza Marshes provide a haven for birds which is renowned worldwide. It is home to 271 species, including the endangered aquatic warbler and the ruff, the emblem of the Biebrza National Park.

The Biebrza Valley appears on the list of the world’s most valuable wetlands, protected under the international Ramsar convention. Other sites of distinction are the lakes of Luknajno, Oswin, Swidwie and Karas, the unique small lakes of the Stawy Milickie and the whole of the Slowinski National Park.

Water is one of Poland’s greatest riches. The often unappreciated queen, the Vistula, is the last of the great European rivers not to have been completely regulated.

Mazuria, the Suwalki region, Kashubia and the Drawskie, Wlodawskie and Lubuskie lake districts are lands rich in water, full of treasures such as the sapphire lobelia lakes of the Tucholskie Woods, the orange Lubygosc lake of Kashubia, the malachite lake Jaczno near Suwalki and the Radunsko Circle, beloved of canoeists, consisting of 10 post-glacial channel lakes joined in a necklace shape.

Climate

The variable weather and its frequent anomalies, such as a 28-degree fall in temperature over 24 hours or a fall of more than 17 degrees in January, are the fault of the climate. The north and west of Poland enjoy a moderate maritime climate, with mild winters and fairly wet summers, while eastern parts have a continental climate with harsh winters and hot dry summers.

The caprices of the Polish weather are due not so much to the mild climate as to its transitory nature. What does this mean? Above our heads, masses of humid air from over the Atlantic clash with dry air from the interior of the continent. The result? A sky covered with clouds for 60–70% of the year (most often in November, least often in September).

It rains... especially in summer. The rainiest month is June, while the least rainy is February. The country’s driest region is Kujawy, while the rainiest is the Tatra mountains, where a record 30 cm rainstorm occurred in June 1973 in Hala Gasienicowa.

The Silesian plain is the warmest place on the map of Poland. Here the mild winter stays just two months, while summer lasts for 100 days. Poland’s coldest spot is Wizajny in the Suwalki region. Here the average January temperature is minus 4.5 °C, and the winter continues mercilessly for four months. In 1928 the snow lasted until June!

The Polish seasons have little to do with those marked on the calendar. The “early spring” lasts for a month from the end of February in the west or from late March around Suwalki. Spring comes to Poland from the west – the temperature rises and plants begin vegetating. The warm summer appears as early as May. After four months it is chased away by autumn. Around mid-September, an Indian summer begins – it is warm and sunny, although the trees are already shedding their leaves.

Short, grey days herald the “early winter”. Six weeks later, winter proper arrives from the north-east. In Mazovia, snow falls for 30–40 days a year, while the Tatra mountains have as many as 145 days of snowfall. But when the east wind changes and blows from the west, it is a sign that spring is again on its way…

 

Information Courtesy Of Poland Tourism

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