For this week’s flag of the week, join us as we travel to Poland in Central Europe!
Poland is bordered by Germany, Czechia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. Spanning over 300,000 sq km, Poland is approximately the size of New Mexico. Poland has mostly flat terrain where almost half of its land area is used for agriculture. As of July 2020, Poland’s population was over 38 million, most of whom live in Krakow and the capital city of Warsaw, which are located in south and central Poland, respectively. Ethnic Poles comprise about 97% of the population and Catholicism is the major religion in the country with about 86% of the population identifying with it. Polish is the official language of Poland, and it’s also the second most-spoken West Slavic language in the world, after Russian.
Poland’s traditional founding date was over a millennium ago in 966. Up until the mid-16th century, Poland was growing into a sizable country, but by the 18th century, the nation suffered from internal disorders that made it vulnerable to its neighboring countries. Between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria claimed various parts of Poland. After 120 years of passing hands from country to country, Poland gained its independence in 1918. Unfortunately, this victory was short-lived. Germany bombarded Poland in 1939, marking the onset of World War II and the end of Poland’s 20-year independence. Poland later became a satellite state for the Soviet Union per the Warsaw Pact of 1955. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991 and joined NATO by the end of the decade. Poland eventually joined the EU in 2004.
Despite being parceled out by competing empires for several centuries, one thing has remained constant in Poland: their culture. In fact, Poland is home to an astounding 16 world heritage sites, of which one of them is Malbork, the biggest castle in the world!
Beyond these traditions and customs, Poles have made their mark in other countries. The ideas of revolutionary thinkers like Kazimierz Pułaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko contributed to the ideologies behind the American Revolution, and later in the French Revolution. Additionally, the Warsaw Confederation of 1573 was one of the first European acts granting religious tolerance, which later inspired its appearance in the US Constitution. The Polish philosopher you are most likely familiar with is of course, renaissance-era philosopher Nicholas Copernicusof the renaissance-era. His heliocentric theory placed the sun at the center of the universe instead of Earth.
Today, the United States is home to the largest diaspora of Poles in the world, with over 10 million Americans of Polish descent. Even when far from home, Polish culture has flourished. Roman Catholic churches built by diaspora communities hold great meaning as spaces for cultural retention. As such, Polish-Americans have made notable contributions-- and culinary marks-- to American culture.