Poland is a country in central Europe, east of Germany. Poland's territory, and even existence, has been highly variable throughout history, from being a mere backwater of various empires, a regional superpower, a province of various empires, to the stable, democratic republic we see today.
Throughout its history, Poland has been invaded by Germany, Russia, Sweden and every other country that could get there, which has resulted in abnormally high concentrations of badassery in the surviving populace. Even Shakespeare has Denmark at war with Poland in Hamlet. Whenever they weren't busy showing foreign tourists around and out of their crib, they were invading other countries, picking fights with German monks, developing a prototypical democracy and other passtimes. The latter ultimately led to a collapse of statehood - turns out elitist noblemen with the power to veto anything and invalidate the current sejm (parliament) session actually doesn't work - paralyzing the country and rendering it unable to adapt to changing circumstances. The end of the 18th century saw Poland pull a Houdini: neighbouring superpowers disappeared it from the map.
123 years, several uprisings and a minor incident in the Balkans later, it's back, putting the pieces back together and uniting three vastly different former imperial provinces that were former Polish territories. The party was crashed by Nazis and Soviets in 1939, who made all previous miseries look like minor inconveniences. For instance, Poland was the location of several concentration camps under Nazi occupation, of which Auschwitz and Treblinka are perhaps the most notorious. Poles really, really dislike calling them "Polish death camps" - to them it's like calling 9/11 an American terrorist attack.
Since World War II and the imposition of a communist government by the Soviets, with all the great advantages it brings, Poland has been (relatively) at peace, apart from anti-government protests and riots in the fifties, seventies and eighties. Eventually the Communists, after holding power for 45 years, saw sense and agreed to share power with other parties in 1989. Though intended to maintain their control over the government, it turned into a peaceful revolution that effectively initiated a collapse of other communist regimes and contributed to the combustion the Soviet bloc. Lech Wałęsa, leader of the labour union Solidarity that was the driving force behind reforms and ultimately the regaining of full independence, became President and won the Nobel Prize for peace. Then he up and lost the next election to a post-communist candidate, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, after trying to micromanage politics and encouraging power plays at the highest echelons of power.
Here is a short summary of the major political parties operating in Poland. All descriptions of the status quo are as of December 2012.
- Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform[wp]) - a centrist, fiscally conservative party with moderate positions, led by the current PM, Donald Tusk. It is pro-European and promotes a non-adversarial foreign policy. Ideologically, the membership is rather diverse and includes liberals as well as hard-line conservatives. It has successfully positioned itself as the "default" moderate choice and is sometimes seen as a bastion of sanity protecting the country from the religious right. Currently the leader of the ruling coalition, with the distinction of being the first party since 1989 to govern for a second term (Poles used to have a nasty habit of voting the government out every four years).
- Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (PSL, Polish People's Party[wp]) - an agrarian party that represents Poland's small farmers. Unfortunately, it often does so to the detriment of large farmers, which produce a far larger share of the crops. They have a reputation for a lack of standards - they'll enter a coalition with pretty much anyone.
- Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice[wp]) - currently the largest opposition party. It went from being a reasonable, yet conservative alternative to SLD and PO to representing devout Catholics. Combines a leftist economic policy with social conservatism matching Catholic Church doctrine. It displays quite a lot of xenophobia, particularly against the Russians and Germans. It is ruled with an iron fist by Jarosław Kaczyński, the former prime minister, and any dissenters are silenced or kicked out, as happened in the case of SP (see below). Recently it appears to define itself as always being in opposition to PO, even if it makes little sense. PiS lost power after 2007 pre-term elections prompted by a massive political crisis, which included an anti-corruption unit being misused to harass the opposition and a corruption scandal involving the deputy PM Andrzej Lepper. Failed to win any election ever since.
- Ruch Palikota (RP, RPP, Palikot's Movement[wp]) - leftist, anticlerical party, borrowing some elements from Green ideology. Includes the first gay and transgendered Polish MPs, which attracts intense loathing from the far right. Has a reputation for controversial public 'performances' of its leader, Janusz Palikot, who is a former member of PO. The most popular one involved bringing a gun and a dildo to a press conference to draw attention to the case of a woman raped during interrogation. There is a discredited conspiracy theory claiming that his party is a false flag operation orchestrated by PO to siphon votes away from the opposition and facilitate PO's turn to the left.
- Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej (SLD, Democratic Left Alliance[wp]) - leftist party, formed on the basis of the PZPR communist party that ruled Poland up to 1989. Recently more interested in internal struggles than convincing someone to vote for it, which explains its weak result in the last elections. Between 2001 and 2005, when it was the ruling party, it was involved in several corruption scandals, such as the Rywin affair[wp] and Orlen affair.[wp]
- Solidarna Polska (SP, United Poland[wp]) - a splinter group kicked out from Law and Justice due to personal conflicts between Jarosław Kaczyński and several of his European MPs. Politically it is fairly similar to PiS. It has recently proposed a regulation that would ban abortion in cases of severe fetal malformations, calling them "eugenic abortions" in an obvious appeal to emotion.
These notable parties presently do not have any MPs:
- Samoobrona RP (Self-Defence of the Republic of Poland[wp]) - populist agrarians, coalition parterns of PiS in 2005-2007. The party imploded after the PiS government it was a part of collapsed in 2007, losing the next election on all fronts - they didn't even reach the threshold qualifying them for government subsidies. Unlikely to ever regain lost footing - its charismatic leader, former deputy PM Andrzej Lepper, committed suicide.
- Liga Polskich Rodzin (LPR, League of Polish Families[wp]) - ultraconservative party of the religious right, hating everything and everyone not aligned with the narrowly defined interests of the party and the Catholic Church. Like Samoobrona, it imploded after the PiS government it was a part of collapsed, not reaching the government subsidy threshold.
- Kongres Nowej Prawicy (KNP, Congress of the New Right[wp]) - conservative libertarians, similar to the Republican Party in the U.S. Headed by Janusz Korwin-Mikke,[wp] who is very much like Poland's Ron Paul, including fanatical online supporters known as korwiniści (Korwinists) and associations with fascists. However, instead of the typical religious right bigotry, he has a passionate hatred of communists and 'leftists', blaming 'socialist ideology' for every crime ever committed. This includes the Holocaust, since he considers Hitler a socialist. He is a fan of Ayn Rand, having called her "the greatest American political writer".
 The Kaczyński brothers. Seeing double?
In 2005-2007 Poland was one of the few countries in which the head of state and prime minister were not only brothers, but identical twins. The Kaczynski brothers, occupying the top-two slots in government have raised some questions, specifically, how does one know who is who?
Since 2007 Jarosław Kaczyński is no longer Poland's prime minister, and since 2010 Lech Kaczyński is no longer
the president alive.
- The number of people who are devoutly religious is falling, as is regular church attendance.
- Gays and lesbians live as openly in Warsaw as in other major European cities.
- Many young people have sex or live together before marriage and illegal abortions are rife.
- Abortion tourism is also very common, since abortion on demand is legal in all neighboring countries, and the demand is high enough that some foreign clinics are creating Polish hotlines and websites.
- Perhaps most worryingly, a string of suicides among priests brings into question the ability of the Church to meet the needs of its own clergy.
The exact number of Roman Catholics in Poland is unknown, as statistics are based on the number of people who have been baptised, regardless of whether they still believe or not.
There were traditionally large numbers of Jews and Eastern Orthodox in Poland, and a much smaller number of Protestants. Hatred of Jews and Russians, and the Holocaust, has caused both of the larger groups to dwindle. Polish Jews have been historically important in Israeli politics and culture.
 Local conspiracy theories
A major theme in Polish culture is the distrust of the state and politicians. This is partially a consequence of Poles living for many decades first under the rule of foreign empires, then under a communist regime in a Soviet satellite state. This creates a fertile ground for political conspiracy theories, which seem to have particular appeal to the right-wingers.
 Civilization of death
"Civilization of death" or "culture of death"[wp] (cywilizacja śmierci) is a term coined in the encyclicals of John Paul II, referring to the countries of Western Europe, which according to the late Pope have rejected family values and the belief in the sanctity of life. Far from being a new concept, it's essentially a repackaging of the aggressive Catholic ideology that was present in Poland during the Interbellum period.
In Polish public discourse, "civilization of death" is a snarl phrase used by the religious right and the pro-life movement to label supporters of things which contradict Catholic Church's social teaching. These include legal access to abortion on demand, euthanasia and assisted suicide, same-sex unions and adoption, premarital sex, sexual education in schools, broader access to contraceptives, in-vitro fertilization, and embryonic stem cell research. Serious crimes such as murder, genocide and pedophilia are also claimed to be a product of the "civilization of death", demagogically implying a moral equivalence between rejecting the Catholic worldview and supporting these crimes. The term tends to be used in a way that invokes conspiratorial thinking and implies that supporters of any of the aforementioned things are in fact furthering a broader anti-Christian agenda, possibly under the influence of Satan. There is also an antonymic term, "civilization of life", which is used to approvingly describe Catholic fundametalists.
A related slogan is "abortion industry", an entity which is supposedly financing pro-choice activists.
 The pact
The period between 2005 and 2007 parliamentary election under the Law and Justice government witnessed the overtake of politics by a virulent form of conspiratiorial thinking and paranoia. The ruling party devoted significant attention to tracking down "the pact" (układ), an alleged conspiracy of intelligence officers, former communist secret police operatives, criminals, businessmen, and liberal and postcommunist politicians. This group was thought to have gained significant influence after the fall of communism in 1989, and was accused of working to undermine the Polish state for its own benefit. Political failures of the government and unfavorable coverage of its actions were routinely blamed on interference from this group.
In the end, no members of "the pact" were ever conclusively identified, and no solid evidence for its existence was ever found. In early January 2009, Law and Justice dropped "fighting the pact" from its program.
The theories about "the pact" are clearly inspired by theories about the "group in power", an alleged conspiracy of Alliance of Democratic Left politicians and media business interests. This group was claimed to exist by Lew Rywin, a film producer and actor involved in the eponymous Rywin affair.[wp] The affair involved an attempt to trade a change in law that would further the interests of the media conglomerate Agora for a favorable portrayal of the government and SLD in said conglomerate's media outlets. The neutral consensus appears to be that Rywin was most likely acting on his own, but due to power games the parliament voted to accept a report that identified several high-ranking SLD politicians as belonging to the group.
 Smolensk sabotage
On 10 April 2010 a plane carrying the President and some 90 other top Polish officials crashed at an airport near Smolensk (Russia) while going to the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Katyn Massacre, killing all on board. This event is probably one of the most important ones in Polish history after the collapse of the communist government, and is commonly referred to as the "Smolensk catastrophe" (katastrofa smoleńska).
Reports of the Russian and Polish investigations, although differing in details, essentially agree that the crash was caused by a combination of bad weather, error on part of the pilots and bad technical state of the Smolensk airport. Despite this, Law and Justice is absolutely convinced that the plane was sabotaged by the Russians. A variety of means are proposed, ranging from artificial fog created with the help of liquid helium to an explosion of a thermobaric weapon above the aircraft. It goes without saying that the conspiracy theories make Occam cry: None of these theories are supported by concrete evidence, there does not appear to be any credible motivation for the Russians or gains to be made. The primary proponent of these conspiracy theories is Antoni Macierewicz, who founded his own parliamentary commission to "debunk" official reports.
Jarosław Kaczyński is frequently accused of exploiting the national tragedy for scoring political points, although ultimately he failed to gather enough support to be elected the next President or to form a ruling coalition after the 2011 parliamentary election.
 Serial suicider
Following the Smolensk catastrophe, there were three widely reported suicides. These included Andrzej Lepper, former deputy PM; general Sławomir Petelicki, the creator and former leader of the special forces unit JW GROM;[wp] and Remigiusz Muś, a technician of a Yak-40 plane that landed at Smolensk before the presidential aircraft crashed. This gave rise to a conspiracy theory that they were murdered and their suicides staged in order to prevent them from acting as witnesses that could confirm Smolensk sabotage. They were named "victims of the serial suicider", apparently with humorous intent. The list of "victims" was later expanded with several other people who either committed suicide or died in unexplained circumstances and whose deaths would be in any slightest way convenient for PO.
Naturally, this theory is supported only by very weak circumstantial evidence. The best counter-evidence is that several of the "victims" are rather obscure and the benefits from killing them very vague, while the best known proponents of Smolensk sabotage, such as Antoni Macierewicz, are still alive and well. The phenomenon of copycat suicides[wp] is not taken into account either.
 Russo-German condominium
The slogan "Russo-German condominium" (kondominium rosyjsko-niemieckie) denotes the belief that Polish politics, and in particular the Civic Platform party, are controlled by Russian and German influence, which is working to reduce Poland to the status of a satellite or puppet state. Specifically, PO is accused of praticing "servilism" towards Russia and "clientism" towards Germany. The term was coined by Jarosław Kaczyński in September 2010 in relation to what he perceived as irregularities surrounding the investigation of the Smolensk plane crash. Since then, this thought pattern was heavily promoted in the media of Tadeusz Rydzyk (see below) and expanded to include xenophobic themes of forced assimilation into European Union. It is also implicitly endorsed by right-wing periodicals.
 Cool Polish stuff
- Sauerkraut. Dunno about you lot, but I love it. (It's common in German cuisine as well; the name used in English and German literally means "sour cabbage" in German.)
- Pierogi - stuffed dumplings. Poland's answer to ravioli, but nicer.
- Mead. There are four types, differing by the ratio of water to honey used in fermentation: czwórniak (3:1), trójniak (2:1), dwójniak (1:1) and półtorak (1:2). Highly appreciated abroad.
- Stanisław Lem - outed by Philip K. Dick as a communist composite commitee based in Kraków.
- Madame Marie Skłodowska-Curie
- Frederic Chopin
- Nicolaus Copernicus
- The Cinema of Poland
- The Battle of Wizna, which inspired this song.
- Anna Grodzka
 Uncool Polish stuff
- Tadeusz Rydzyk, fundamentalist Catholic priest, owner of Catholic media outlets Radio Maryja and TV Trwam, which often display prejudice against Jews and Europe (particularly Germany). Convinced that Poland is a Russo-German condominium, whose masters want to annihilate the Polish people and the Catholic Church.
- Religion in schools. No, not religious education, religion. Catholicism is actively taught in schools by priests, nuns or a catechists, with grades. Although required by law to organize these "lessons" at the explicit request of parents, the default situation is that they are organized in advance by schools and parents are asked to explictly opt their children out. Cue discrimination by peers and priests/nuns/catechists, especially in smaller towns and villages.
- The cross hanging in the main hall of the lower house of the parliament, despite the constitution explicitly stating that the country is worldview-agnostic. To be fair, it was hung there in 1997 by two AWS MPs without anyone's consent and/or permission. Catholic defenders of this cross claim it is a 'cultural symbol' rather than a religious one. The Marshal of the Sejm, Ewa Kopacz, has defended the cross's presence, on the basis that "democracy is the rule of the majority with respect for minorities, not the rule of the minority".
- Blasphemy law. It allows suing people for a vaguely defined 'insult of religious feelings', and the possible punishments include jail time. Article 196 of the Polish Penal Code states that "Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly disrespecting an object of religious worship or a place intended for performing public religious ceremonies shall be punished by fine, community service or jail time up to 2 years."
- When a pop star called the authors of the Bible heavy drinkers and potheads, she faced prison for up to two years, though it ended with a 5000 PLN (roughly $1500) fine.
- On the other hand, the leader of the metal band Behemoth tore apart a Bible during a concert, calling it a book of lies, and was found not guilty.
- Examples of family values like Maciej Giertych and Roman Giertych.
- In January 2013, their intellectual kindred spirits threw out propositions that would allow civil unions, on the premise that gays are evil. One sixty year old lonely, childless MP even went as far as claiming that same-sex couples are fruitless, barren, hedonistic, unnatural, self-destructive and, most importantly, the Church doesn't like them. Then she went on to publicly insult a transsexual MP. The worst part? She's a professor.
- Most Poles like to complain a lot, and the rest of them like to complain that others are always complaining. And then you have those complaining about people complaining that people complain a lot. And some actually expect complaining to change anything.
 Weird stuff that's not actually true
- You may have heard a story about Polish cavalry unit charging against German tanks in September 1939. It's not true. This myth was endorsed by Nazi propaganda and later by Communist historiography to denigrate the pre-war government. Belief in it among Poles themselves was once widespread enough that it was immortalized in an idiom, z szabelką na czołgi (lit. with a little saber against tanks), which means a courageous but obviously futile action against an overwhelming foe. The Polish "cavalry" was actually mounted infantry, with anti-vehicle rifles capable of downing armor. Poland also had some mechanical divisions, but was hampered by an unfinished mobilization of its reserves and a friendly visit from their eastern neighbours.
- ↑ This is actually an American stereotype. In 1610, Poland became the only foreign power to capture Moscow.
- ↑ Persecution of the opposition, incarceration and outright murder of members of the underground army and state that happened to be aligned with the legal London government, not the Soviets that just years prior murdered Polish people en masse, etc.
- ↑ TVN24 - Palikot fights with a gun and a vibrator (in Polish)
- ↑ United Poland - party program (in Polish)
- ↑ Legal abortion for Polish women in all neighboring countries (in Polish)
- ↑ The Catholic Church's Fading Influence in Poland
- ↑ Nowicka bankrolled by the "abortion industry"? (in Polish)
- ↑ http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uk%C5%82ad_%28slogan_polityczny%29
- ↑ Law and Justice won't fight the pact any more - at least according to its program (in Polish)
- ↑ Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash - BBC News
- ↑ List of victims of the serial suicider (in Polish)
- ↑ Kaczyński: "Russo-German condominium in Poland". PO, SLD and PSL outraged, call a press conference. Everyone against PiS (in Polish)
- ↑ RateBeer: Top 25 Meads
- ↑ http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/apis-poltorak-jadwiga/24026/
- ↑ Not. PKD was probably having a really bad day that day.
- ↑ This territorial claim is sometimes contested by France.
- ↑ Polish pop star faces two years’ prison for blasphemy
- ↑ 5 tys. grzywny dla Dody za obrazę uczuć religijnych. Autorów Biblii określiła jako "naprutych winem i palących jakieś zioła" (in Polish)
- ↑ "Nergal" niewinny. Darcie Biblii "formą sztuki" (in Polish)
- ↑ Pawłowicz about Grodzka
- ↑ http://www.polamjournal.com/Library/APHistory/Cavalry_Myth/cavalry_myth.html