I had a little difficulty as a child distinguishing between polish and Polish. Perhaps a visit to this largely misunderstood country will help me? A short flight from Prague dropped us off in Warsaw, Poland. Generally, my few recollections of Poland are: 1) Polish jokes (always in bad taste), 2)the holocaust camps, like Dachau, and 3) labor leader Lech Walesa, who became President. But I intend to find out more.
Most recent history of Poland revolves around WW2, and the takeovers by Germany and the old Soviet Union. The labor turmoil of 1980 led by Walesa, led to “Solidarity” becoming a political force with over 10 million followers. In the Nineties, the economy grew stronger, then Poland joined NATO in 1999, then the EU in 2004. How is that for a quick history of modern Poland?
One problem, at least throughout history, is Poland’s proximity to countries like Russia and Germany. Other bordering countries are: Czech Republic, Belarus, Lithuania, Slovakia, and the Ukraine. Area wise, Poland is about twice the size of Georgia (US), with 312,685 square Km. About 48% of the land is agricultural, and 31% forested. Natural resources include copper, sulfur, coal, natural gas, silver, salt and amber.
With a population nearing 39 million, Poland has a huge labor force, with 97% of Polish origin, with Polish also the major language. Most are Roman Catholics, and life expectancy is 77.6 years. Literacy is quite high at almost 100%, though obesity is at 27%. The government is a parliamentary republic, with the capital in Warsaw, where we landed. The President is Andrzej Duda, and the Prime Minister is Beata Szydlo.
With the sixth largest economy (GDP over $ one trillion) in the EU, Poland is a force in business with a 3% real growth rate. Agriculture is mainly potatoes, fruit, vegetables, wheat, poultry, pork, and dairy, though unemployment runs around 10%. The country has strict immigration rules, though defectors from Russia, the Ukraine, and other countries number over 70,000.
The list of famous people form Poland is quite impressive. They include: Marie Curie (first woman to win a Nobel Prize, actually two!), Pope John Paul II, Frederic Chopin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Joseph Conrad, Ferdinand Cohn, Daniel Libeskind, Lech Walesa (Nobel Peace Prize 1983), Albert Sabin, Caroline Wozniaki, Oscar Hammerstein, Artur Rubenstein, David Ben-Gurion, Zbig Brzezinski, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and Scarlett Johansson. (The photos are: Chopin, Madame Curie, Artur Rubenstein, and Lech Walesa).
Some curious facts about Poland:
Poles marry the youngest of an EU country.
Poland has 17 Nobel prize winners.
Over 90% of Poles have graduated from high school.
Copernicus was the first to propose the earth was NOT the center of the Universe!
Poles each pizza with catsup.
Poland has been invaded 45 times between 1600 to 1945!
Max Factor was founded by a Polish man.
Are you glad you asked?
Now for the food. Bigos (hunter’s stew) is the country’s most popular traditional dish. It is a type of stew made from Polish sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, different types of meat, sausage, prunes, dried mushrooms, onions and spices. This is cooked over several days and served with potatoes and bread. Sounds different! Should go well with about 5 or 6 beers.
How about a Paczki?