Poland is not yet lost
So long as we still live.
What the alien power has stolen from us,
We shall reclaim with the sabre.
Poland (Polish: Polska
), officially known as the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska
). The picked-on kid with glasses of the European school playground, but it hasn't always been.
Poland arose when the West Slavic tribes of the region were united by the Piast dynasty of the Polans around about 1000, cleverly alternating between placating the German emperors
and going behind their backs. Perhaps the most globally notable event of first two or three centuries of Poland's existence happened during a period of political fragmentation, when one of Polish regional princes invited The Teutonic Knights
to help him against the pagan Prussians. It later became quite a nuisance, so to say. Reunified Poland, in dire need for allies, became associated with Lithuania (this historical Lithuania actually consisted of modern-day Belarus
and Lithuania). As the last pagan country in Europe, it also had a problem with the Knights, until Grand Duke Jogaila accepted the Polish crown, baptized himself and his realm (thus nullifying the reason of the Order's very presence) and became king Władysław of Poland. Together both countries broke the power of the Order. Over time Lithuania eventually merged with Poland, forming the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
. Together, Poland and Lithuania ruled over an enormous, immensely powerful and rich empire.
The Golden Age
The XVIth and XVIIth Centuries
are known as, respectively, the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Polish history. Above all, this period is remembered for "Golden Liberty", when kings were elected
and the franchise included 10% of the population, by far the most inclusive franchise in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century. The King had to share power with the Sejm, or the assembly (not to be confused with Senate, which was a separate upper House), which was itself controlled by the great noble houses (called magnates). The Commonwealth was also known for its religious tolerance (letting, for instance, Jews live more or less in peace when most countries reveled in senseless persecution), at a time when religious wars were consuming the rest of Europe. At its height, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the largest country by land area in Europe. The Commonwealth in this period is also known for fielding the completely awesome winged◊ hussars
Just for the record — the Commonwealth is one of those complicated cases of historical countries that stubbornly refuse to fit into modern views of state and nationality. Until the Constitution of 3rd May, it was legally a union of two countries, Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The nobility of the Grand Duchy became for the most part Polonized, but the lower classes were too busy surviving to bother with that fashion, and later nation-builders had to start from the common folk to create anything not Polish; the nobles themselves preferred to identify as "the Noble nation". Thus, Poles see Poland as the successor to all of the Commonwealth, in spite of differences between the two parts, not to mention Ukraine. Lithuanians picture Lithuania as the successor to Grand Duchy, even though ethnic Lithuanians were actually a minority in a country mostly made of modern-day Belarus, and (due to assimilation) their upper classes were culturally Polish anyway. Ukrainians consider themselves descendants of the Ruthenian population of the region, particularly those who formed the Cossack Host, even though the Cossacks themselves were at least as much an occupation
as an ethnic group. Belarussians had all of their upper classes assimilated, or killed off by Hitler and Stalin, so nobody was left to argue it's not just a swampy small part of Russia. All of the latter three, somewhat expectedly, also tend to see Poland as a sort of Big Brother Bully
, although today Lithuanians and (Western) Ukrainians tend to look to Poland for help against the bigger bully to the east—Russia.
(For more see here
The loss of independence
But let's now come back to politics. Golden Liberty was a great inspiration for the American Revolution, but it had a flaw, to which we owe the existence of a strong US Presidency: on the principle that all the nobles were equal, any decisions required unanimity. Therefore any one noble could block any government decision (the Liberum Veto
with which Europa Universalis
players may be familiar). This means only one guy needed to be bribed by Russia
, or Austria
and that was it: the country was in their hands. For almost a century the government might as well not have existed, as the Commonwealth descended into a state of anarchy. The Poles got tired of this at about the time of Washington and passed a new constitution, very progressive for the day (the second modern-type written constitution of a sovereign state in history,note
inspired by the American constitution). Unfortunately by then the country had already been fatally weakened and it was too late. Russia, Prussia, and Austria, the "three black eagles", decided that enough was enough and partitioned the country between them in three stages (1772, 1793, 1795).
Then came the Napoleonic Wars
, which in 1807 temporarily reestablished Poland as an autonomous but not fully independent state, though within a much smaller territory than the former Commonwealth. The Duchy of Poland didn't last long, but the Congress of Vienna, rather than abolishing it outright, broke it up into three nominally independent pieces, which from largest to smallest were the Kingdom of Poland (under Russian control), the Grand Duchy of Poznań (under Prussian control), and the Free City of Krakˇw (under Austrian control).
Poles in Austria generally enjoyed the right to speak their language and quite a bit of self-rule, and were fairly supportive of the Habsburgs (even today, Emperor Franz Josef is remembered fondly in southern Poland, while praising other rulers of the "three black eagles" would make Poles twitch); this was also partly due to the fact that the Catholic Habsburgs much preferred the Catholic Poles to the Orthodox Ukrainians who also lived in Austria's chunk of Poland (which was known as Galicia).
Poles in Prussia were, at first, well-treated (Frederick The Great
required the heir to the throne to be fluent in Polish, although this was never really implemented). After, borders were shuffled and the smaller number of Poles left in Prussia were often in ethnically-mixed areas such as Upper Silesia and found their circumstances changed drastically for the worse, especially after the abolition of their autonomy in 1848. Political hardship (like Bismarck's efforts at Germanification, mainly by settler colonialism), rather than breaking the Prussian Poles, substantially strengthened their national identity and spirit, but economic hardship compelled many of them to move to the thriving Rhineland (where they were a much smaller minority) or to the Americas.
The Russian Tsars really didn't like Poles, partly due to the fact that Russia had been virtually prostrate before Polish economic and military power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and so, after they were finally victorious, the Russians went out of their way to punish the Poles under their rule. Not surprising, then, that the Poles tried, several times, to regain their independence (not counting the rioting during the Revolution of 1905). The first big time, the November Uprising of 1830ľ31, they actually had something of a chance, as the Congress Kingdom of Poland was technically autonomous and in personal union with Russia, and as such had a halfway decent military. Unfortunately, the Uprising was botched from the beginning. Not surprisingly, the Russians took further steps to eliminate the Polish threat, which meant that the second big uprising, the January Uprising of 1863, was restricted to guerilla warfare and ended in tragedy, and the abolition of Polish autonomy
, with many Poles being sent to Siberia
So during WW1
, many Poles, including future leaders such as Pilsudski
and Sikorski, joined Austro-Hungarian forcesnote
) and helped the Central Powers to establish a puppet Polish Kingdom in former Russian territory, as the lesser of two evils. If sent to the western front, they usually deserted to join the French Foreign Legion
. After the war, foreign rule was cast off and Piłsudski and others founded a new, independent Poland which managed to defeat the Soviets in the Polish-Soviet War
against terrible, terrible odds through sheer strategic brilliance. This defeat convinced the Soviets that they weren't in any shape to spread their revolution, which kept them bottled up for about thirty years.
Immediately after the collapse of the Russian Empire resulted in the renewed independence of most of the former Commonwealth, Poland laid claim to the Lithuanian city of Vilnius,note
leading to a war between the former allies. The Ukrainians who had invited the Poles in to rescue them from the Reds found that Warsaw, ultimately, had none of their best interests at heart (Piłsudski personally was very ashamed by this). The new Poland's German minority also suffered. Poland ended up suffering from a sluggish economy caused by a century of exploitation and field trips from World War I military powers, being surrounded by many powerful enemies, and deep internal tensions between Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Jews, and political factions everyone belonged to. The tensions became more severe in certain areas and relaxed in others after a military coup and the establishment of the "Government of Moral Sanitation"
Then, in September 1939
, everything fell apart with Germans and Soviets paying a visit over the borders.
During the War
, Poland suffered one of the most brutal occupation in the world (tied with Japan's occupation of Manchuria). The Holocaust was carried out in Polish territory, and it was the official intention of the Nazis to plunder Poland and starve it to death. Contrary to popular wisdom, the Poles fought brilliantly against overwhelming odds
, never surrendered
, and even when stabbed in the back
by the Commies, escaped to fight another day
. The cavalry charging tanks was a myth, by the way; the incident that inspired this story involved a Polish cavalry division (actually mounted infantry, like most cavalry of the time, though with traditions and training) which routed a German infantry division but was counter-attacked by armoured cars. Additionally, while some Polish cavalry units did
deliberately engage German armor, they did so dismounted while wielding anti-tank rifles
The Poles didn't take occupation lying down. As well as organising a resistance movement
, tens of thousands of Polish men escaped from the country and made their way to Britain and France to continue the fight
, forming entire squadrons of airmen and divisions of ground troops. By the end of the war, there were ~250 thousand Poles fighting alongside the Western Allies, with another ~200 thousand aiding the Soviets. Suffice it to say that Poland had more than its fair share of Awesome Moments
during the period.
Poland lost a fifth of its population in the war- seven million
people in all, mostly civilians. Out of a pre-war Jewish population of 3.3 million, only 300,000 survived (Poland's Jewish population were Polish citizens; Israel did not exist until after the war). Most of whom were then expelled by the Communists
After the war, the country was taken over by the Reds with Rockets
, who shoved Poland's eastern border west a few hundred miles, expelling millions of Poles from their ancestral homes, and shoved Poland's western border a few hundred miles further west, depositing them in former Eastern Germany, where they in turn kicked millions of Germans out of their
ancestral homes, thus accounting for the country's suspiciously straight borders (the western border follows the line of the Oder and Neisse rivers) and the fact that Warsaw, originally chosen as the capital for its central location, is no longer especially central. Stalin
was not a nice guy. Poland suffered long and hard under deeply incompetent Communist rule
, and eventually Polish people were instrumental in its downfall
Post-1989, Poland joined NATO
and The European Union
. The latter led to a large movement of Poles to the UK and caused a Polish plumber scare in France. Poland, along with Ukraine, hosted Euro football championships in 2012. The games' overwhelmingly positive reception came off as a shock to many Poles, who by then were used to thinking of their country as one big international humiliation.
Home of the trade unionist with the impressive moustache (who became President) and formerly had identical twins as its President and Prime Minister. Also home of a very famous and popular former pontiff
Polish is a West Slavic language, a group which also includes Czech and Slovak and a number of minority languages. note
It is the most spoken member of the group and the second-most spoken Slavic language, with 40 million native speakers (38 million in Poland itself) and over a million second language speakers (no exact figure exists).
Brace yourself now, 'cause you're in for a hell of a ride.
Polish language is hard, meaning it is both hard to learn and pronounce. It has many "hard" consonants like:
- s (snow; sizzle)
- sz (shampoo)
- ś (similar to 'sz', but softer; show)
- z (zoo)
- ż (mirage, like 'dż', but without 'd', somehow may seem longer for English speakers; in transcription from Cyrillic this sound is rendered as "zh")
- ź (like 'z', but soft; leisure)
- c (schnitzel, what's)
- cz (touch)
- ć (chicken, often transliterated as 'ti')
- t (tone)
- dz ('d' and 'z', but one sound)
- dż (journal)
- dź (jingle)
- k (kite)
- g (gun)
The vowels are read like in Spanish. 'w' sounds like English 'v' and next to voiceless consonants even like 'f'.
- strzelać (pronounced: [s t sz e l a ć]) - to shoot
- bezwzględny (notice 5 consonants in a row) - ruthless (if describing a person) or absolute (if a scientific term)
- gżegżˇłka ([g ż e g ż ˇ ł k a]) - a folk name for a cuckoo, and a sadist's favourite spelling bee challenge
- Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz ([g ż e g o ż, b ż en cz y sz cz y ki e v i cz]) - a Polish name (the first name meaning: Gregory, last name means something similar to 'buzzing')
- To clarify, this isn't actually a popular name; it was used as a gag in a Polish comedy movie and became somewhat of a meme since then.
- In this gag the protagonist uses the name to confuse a Nazi officer who tries to write down his personal data (along with birth place: Chrząszczyżewoszczyce, powiat Łękołody). Hitlerity ensues.
- Also, the entire scene is based on a gag from a book that served as the basis for another Polish comedy, "CK Dezerterzy". In "CK Dezerterzy", the protagonist Kania identifies himself as "Szczepan Brzęczyszczewski" to an Austrian officer, and gives his birthplace as "Mszczonowieścice, gmina Grzmiszczosławice, powiat Trzcinogrzechotnikowo".
Polish language uses several additional letters:
- ć, ś, ż, ź (described above)
- ą ("ow" not as in cow; won't)
- ę ("ew" not as in screw; you rang?)
- ł ("w"; bowl, why)
- ˇ (like "oo", only short; hoot)
- ń (sort of soft "Ni"; senior)
This means that when you see a Polish word in a generally English text, you can't be sure if it is really written like that, or just the Polish signs were left out. We try to make this article consistent, except for the links. The ą's and ę's tend to mess with namespaces, so they have to be omitted there.
By the way, ż and rz are pronounced the same way, except when "rz" is just "arr"-"zedd". And ˇ the same as u, and h same as ch. They, however, make a difference in how the word is inflected.
Many Polish words are impossible to pronounce
by non-native speakers. Very few non-natives can speak Polish so fluently that their foreign accent will not be noticed. Polish is considered to be the most difficult of the Slavic languages for English speakers to learn, which is saying something.
Polish children are taught the poem: Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.
(The beetle sings in reeds in the city Szczebrzeszyn, which is famous for it.) Making foreigners pronounce the poem is a favourite sadistic pastime of Polish people.
The other is making them pronounce the word pchła
) or żelatyna
Polish grammar is even harder than the pronunciation. There are thousands of rules, each with thousands of exceptions. Some (irregular) words do not obey any rule at all. Most meaningful words undergo inflection.
- wycierać - to wipe
- wycieram - I wipe
- wycierasz - you wipe
- wyciera - he/she/it wipes
- wycieramy - we wipe
- wycieracie - You wipe (plural)
- wycierają - they wipe
- wycierałem - I (a man) was wiping
- wycierałam - I (a woman) was wiping
- wycierałeś - you (a man) were wiping
- wycierałaś - you (a woman) were wiping
- wycierał - he was wiping
- wycierała - she was wiping
- wycierało - it was wiping
- wycieraliśmy - we (men) were wiping
- wycierałyśmy - we (women) were wiping
- wycieraliście - You (men) were wiping (plural)
- wycierałyście - You (women) were wiping (plural)
- wycierali - they (men) were wiping
- wycierały - they (women) were wiping
- wycieraj - wipe!
- wycierajmy - let's wipe!
- wycierajcie - wipe! (plural)
- wycierałbym - I (a man) would wipe
- wycierałabym - I (a woman) would wipe
- wycierałbyś - you (a man) would wipe
- wycierałabyś - you (a woman) would wipe
- wycierałby - he would wipe
- wycierałaby - she would wipe
- wycierałoby - it would wipe
- wycieralibyśmy - we (men) would wipe
- wycierałybyśmy - we (women) would wipe
- wycieralibyście - you (men) would wipe
- wycierałybyście - you (women) would wipe
- wycieraliby - they (men) would wipe
- wycierałyby - they (women) would wipe
- wycierający - a wiping man
- wycierająca - a wiping woman
- wycierające - wiping something
- wycierająco - wipingly note
- wycierając - while wiping
- wycierany - a man being wiped
- wycierana - a woman being wiped
- wycierane - something being wiped
- wycierano - something was being wiped
The word wycierać
belongs to classes: imperfect, transitive. Other classes may have different forms. For example, when one wants to say 'I have wiped', he must use the word wytrzeć
(perfect counterpart of wycierać
) - the past form: wytarłem
. Note that we didn't include the archaic forms of Polish, which are even worse than the modern language.
In short, Polish language runs on For the Evulz
...On the other hand however, Polish spelling is quite simple (almost phonetic) as compared to English (or traditional Chinese).
Where the Brits would make jokes about the stupid Irish, Americans used to make jokes about stupid Poles (Polacks, if you're being really
journalist Giles Coren recently brought richly-deserved criticism upon himself for using it in an article in which he suggested that Polish expats had no business in Britain because of what their ancestors actually didn't
do to his.), but this seems to have died off sometime in The Seventies
, or transferred over to the Brits, since many migrants go to the UK nowadays.
The origin of the stereotype is probably history: the large wave of Polish immigration to the US came after the large wave of German immigration; Germans generally stereotyped the Poles as being a bit slow. Poles also tended to settle where Germans had shown up the generation prior: for instance, the 1850s-80s saw big German immigration to the Great Lakes region, while the 1870s-1920s (ish) saw big Polish immigration to the same area (sidenote: Chicago
consequently has the world's highest concentration of ethnic Poles outside of Poland). The jokes probably spread from the more-settled Germans to the wider population. In the meantime, some ethnically German Americans continued to use the word "Polack" for "any stupid person"; a few even forgot that it was originally a slur
and have to be embarrassingly corrected by their Polish friends. Polack
comes from Polish name for Pole, Polak
, and, according to Wiktionary, was considered neutrally through the late nineteenth century.
Polish gamers infested Dawn of War
(and several other online games) for a long time, filling it with servers apparently devoted to nationalism (PL PL PL POLSKA, similar to BR) and being really bad at the game. Two things which don't mix very well, by the way - if you're so proud of your nationality, it's best not to spam that nationality out
while you're getting your rear handed to you.
Notes on Poland: On the subject of "things you must know about X country before writing about it":
- It exists.
- Poles' stereotype of their history tends to be one part Glory Days, one part Doomed Moral Victor. And history is SERIOUS BUSINESS. This is at least partial reason why they're pissy about forgetting that...
- It's not part of Russia. Poles and their language are similar enough, though, for at least two Polish actors are members of the Lzherusskie Club.
- By the way, it's not part of Germany either.
- It really is its own thing.
- There hasn't been a Communist government since 1989.
- Although post-communist leftist parties had held power for ten years, they were democratically elected. They are no different that your average social democratic Western party, though. Law in force prohibits and penalizes the promotion of totalitarian ideologies, including communism and fascism. The former is a curious case, as the extent is limited to promoting practical implementations of the ideology along the lines of what happened in the 20th century. An actual Communist Party of Poland exists and is about as influential and popular as you expect.
- The Teutonic Knights are bad. Ronald Reagan is good. Poland had a historically close relationship with the United States after the fall of communism and one of her most loyal allies. Poles are, on the whole, less turned off by hawkish American politicians than the rest of Europe.
- Poland is one of the few countries outside France where Napoleon Bonaparte is adored, due to his restoration of the Polish state. Partial restoration, that is.
- Poles are quite insistent that Poland is not in Eastern Europe, but Central. It's a geopolitical matter.
- Having said all that — the history of Poland in the eyes of the Western world tends to be stereotyped in these two ways: either "Butt Monkey of Europe" or "plucky little country". In case the abridged story above doesn't make it clear: It's a modern stereotype. While history dealt Poland a particularly bad hand in the late 18th century, it was a master poker player before. Even then, it survived being disappeared by three superpowers for 123 years.
- As it's not Russia, people usually don't speak Russian as a first language or have Russian names (excluding those with a common root, like Michał or Piotr).
- English is now the most widespread foreign language, and the one which young Poles learn in school - perhaps one reason why so many young Poles choose UK or Ireland to work abroad.
- Languages are a complex thing. German isn't seen as foreign conquerors' languages anymore and many Poles will be able to understand it or even reply in kind. A minority might be offended, kind of like the minority of Frenchmen who will refuse to speak to a foreigner who doesn't use French.
- It should be noted that the closer to border with Germany, the more Polish schools choose to teach German as the second foreign language, whenever curriculum allows.
- Russian was learned before the fall of communism (1989), so many people old enough speak it. Now it is much less popular, although by now it's mostly got past the political associations.
- To be more precise, most Poles can more or less understand the meaning of simple sentences from other Slavic languages (many words stem from common roots), but don't expect comprehension of complex ideas and two-way communication in Czech or Russian from people who never learned these languages. However, someone who speaks Czech in particular should have minimal problems learning spoken Polish in, say, the space of a year, and vice-versa. The writing system might take longer.
- It's not cold there, except in the winter.
- However, a winter without snow is extremely rare (although it rarely snows all winter long, either). Poland has a climate in between the temperate maritime climate of Britain and France and the temperate continental climate of European Russia, meaning that compared to the UK the summers are hotter (temperatures in the 30s are common and in the low 40s not unheard of) and the winters are colder (sometimes down to -20, the interior temperature of a domestic freezer).
- Conversely, Polish autumn is either absolutely ugly (if it's wet), or one of the most gorgeous sights on this Lord's good red-golden earth.
- Alcoholic drinks other than vodka are available. The most popular drink is beer, which includes several brands of lager on par with most European brands.
- In fact, Poland is currently undergoing a minor shift in drinking customs, with a growing number of beer fans getting bored with regular lager and trying new styles. New small breweries dedicated to craft brewing are opening every year, targeting mostly the generation of 30-40 year olds.
- Poles' consumption of alcohol is rather unremarkable, when compared in quantity to other European nations. Be wary, though, if you've made Polish friends. They may want to test your strength, If You Know What I Mean.
- The reason for that reputation might be that unlike Britons and their casual pub culture, Poles prefer to drink in binges. Sadly, while there's a growing tendency to drink casually, quantity still seems more important than quality, with most drinkers judging the beverage's value by the alcohol percentage.
- Curiously enough, the Polish law on outdoor drinking is one of the strictest among the non-Muslim countries; even holding an open can of beer out in the open is likely to get you fined (let all the foreigners who have heard a lot about Polish drinking habits not lower their guard should they visit Poland).
- Poles are pretty touchy when it comes to pointing out their country's flaws; that is, as long as you're not Polish yourself. A foreigner speaking ill of Poland in the presence of a Pole gambles getting tangled into a long and boring tirade about why what they're saying is absolute bullshit. However, it's generally safe to notice out loud that Poles drink and swear much; the locals don't seem to mind that at all.
- In the first US Presidential debate of 2004, Sen. John Kerry did, indeed, forget Poland. Poland had about 200 troops in Iraq when the invasion started.
- There was a quite sizable Polish force in Iraq. Another one is serving in Afghan province of Ghazni.
- Statistically speaking, Poland is the most religious country in Europe, even more so than (fellow Catholic countries) Ireland and Italy.
- However, statistics aren't always an accurate representation of reality. Polls have shown that more and more people are simply getting by without thinking about religion at all. While most state they're Catholic, they may do it out of force of habit, upbringing, or peer pressure. Mass attendance has been falling down steadily since 1987, to a record low of 40% in 2011. There is a growing anti-clerical movement which got 10% of the vote during the 2011 parliamentary elections, echoing that trend.
- Pope Karol "John Paul II" Wojtyła is a major factor that keeps Polish Catholicism alive, as he had one of the highest approval ratings of modern popes and was loved far and wide.
- Anyway, Poland's reputation for being staunchly Catholic seems to have emerged in the latter parts of the 20th century, possibly in order to replace Spain and Ireland as the stereotypical Catholic (and thus backward) countries of Europe. Whether the Poles like it or not, their perceived Catholicism is one thing that makes it easier for West Europeans and Americans to tell them from the Russians.
- Polish politics tend to fall on the right side of the spectrum, compared to most all countries in the EU. Its two largest political parties are the Civic Platform (PO), which is more or less neoliberal, pro-European, and certainly not leftist; and Law and Justice (PiS), which is national-conservative, deeply rooted in Catholicism, and somewhat Eurosceptic. Its leftist parties haven't been contenders since their implosion in the early 2000s, although the aforementioned anticlericalist movement has a strong social-democratic twist to it. Interestingly, when you look at a map of Poland according to the strength of the two political parties (here's the map for the 2010 Presidential election◊; PO in orange, PiS in blue) you find that PO's support almost perfectly matches the once-Prussian part, while the rest (formerly Russian and Austrian) are strongholds of PiS; the main exception is Warsaw, which, while formerly in the Russian part, is the capital and largest city and consequently has a more cosmopolitan, forward-looking culture.
- It should also be noted that, despite the Poles being generally pretty conservative and not at all supportive of gay rights when compared to Western Europe, Poland is still much more gay-friendly than most of post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states. It may partly stem from the fact that even the most traditional of Polish people would rather be associated with the liberal, developed Europe than with the backward, reactionary Russia.
- Poland also has a long, close relationship with Hungary dating back to the Middle Ages. Today, both nations celebrate a Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day. A popular saying emphasized this relationship in war and drinking. Yeah, it's that kind of brotherhood.
- Finally, with the country's admission into the European Space Agency in late 2012 and the creation of the Polish Space Agency in 2014, it can be assumed Poland can into space. Though technically, it already could in 1978.
Here are some minor tropes memetically related to Poland:
- Badass Mustache — Cracked.com went as far as to claim Poland's fortune is dependent on the quality of her leader's facial hair. (In that case, Poland should be OK for a while—Bronisław Komorowski, the current president, has a respectable mustache.
- Nope, he shaved it off quite a while back. Although, to be fair, he simultaneously lost a lot of weight and looks a bit more serious now, and Poland actually seems to be doing a bit better since he did it.
- Bling of War — the Winged Hussars tend to prop up in period fiction, if not for any other reason, then because you just can't turn down guys looking so crazy.
- Butt Monkey — yeah, we spoke of it above.
- Lech Wałęsa, the former President and leader of the Solidarity movement that toppled the Communist rule.
- Pope John Paul II
- Roman Polanski
- Marie Curie, nee Maria Skłodowska.
- Nicolaus Copernicus, probably ethnically German, but loyal subject of the King of Poland.
- Jan Sobieski, the elective King of Poland, who turned the tide of the Ottoman invasion on Europe by reinforcing the besieged Vienna in 1683.
- Fryderyk Chopin. His father was a Frenchman, but he was very much a Pole.
- Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's advisor.
- Stanislaw Lem, Science Fiction author.
- Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, an explorer of large swaths of Australia, who named that continent's tallest mountain after...
- Tadeusz Kościuszko, a revolutionary and Badass enough to be a national hero in four countries - Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and USA (he founded West Point).
- Kazimierz Pułaski, the creator of USA's cavalry, a general and an American national hero; commemorated since 1929 with his own Memorial Day (11th Oct.), usually treated as a day of Polish-American pride (and consequently a rather Big Deal in areas with large Polish-American populations like Chicago, Greater Detroit, and Wisconsin). Also, owner of a bombastic name by American standards: Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski herbu Ślepowronnote .
- Joseph Conrad, whose given name was Jozef Korzeniowski. Wrote in English.
- Zdzisław Beksiński, surrealist painter.
- Ernest Malinowski: An engineer. Constructed at that time the world's highest railway Ferrocarril Central Andino in the Peruvian Andes in 1871-1876.
- Miroslav Klose, ethnic German footballer born in Opole and currently the highest-scoring individual player of The World Cup, playing for his ethnic homeland in four straight tournaments.
And note that almost none of this includes the large number of ethnic Poles who settled outside of Poland and contributed massively there—particularly in the US.
The Polish Flag
The flag's colors, common throughout the world, originate from a merging of the heraldic symbols of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: the White Eagle of Poland and the "Pahonia", coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, featuring a white knight on horseback on a red field; the state ensign adds on the white half the Polish coat of arms — a crowned white eagle on a red field.