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Poland

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Poland

Where is it?:

East of Germany in Eastern Europe. Bordered by the Baltic Sea on the north, home to the famous Gdansk shipyards of the last century's Solidarity movement. Surrounded by other former members of the Soviet bloc: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania. Also bordered by the isolated Kaliningrad Oblast section of Russia. In land area, Poland is a bit smaller than the U.S. state of New Mexico.

Capital:

Warsaw, which is also Poland's largest city. The city was rebuilt after receiving extensive damage during World War II.

National symbols:

The simple flag of Poland includes the national colors, a white bar above a red one. Alternately, there's a flag that bears the country's coat of arms -- a white eagle on a red background -- on the upper white portion. That flag is reserved for maritime use and official use abroad. The national anthem, "Poland Is Not Yet Lost," dates back to 1797 and the Polish Legions' participation in Napoleon Bonaparte's conquest of Italy.

Language:

Polish is spoken by more than 97 percent of the population. It's the second-most-spoken Slavic language after Russian.

Population:

More than 38 million, though the country lost six million in World War II. One of the most populous nations in the European Union, the country is also nearly 90 percent Roman Catholic.

History:

Poland has a rich history dating back to prehistory, and got its first official ruler over a united, Catholic nation in 966. It was spared the Black Death bubonic plague that wiped out much of Europe in the 14th century, and experienced a golden age in the 16th century as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during which the country's borders were expanded to become the largest country in Europe. Poland experienced a series of partitions and rebellions, the devastating blow from the Nazi invasion in World War II and the postwar Soviet communist rule. The pro-democracy Solidarity movement defeated communism in 1989.

Economy:

Poland is definitely a success story in the post-communist transitional Eastern European countries. It experienced 5 percent annual GDP growth up to 2009 and even had lower unemployment than the European average as the recession wound down in 2010. An estimated 17 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Tourism is also increasingly becoming a greater contributor to Poland's economy.

Military:

Poland has land forces, naval and air forces, and a Special Forces unit. Conscription into the armed forces is set to end in 2012. As of April 2004, women are only allowed to serve as officers and noncommissioned officers. Nearly 16 million men and women are deemed fit and available for military service. Poland was also to be a point for the Eastern European missile defense shield pushed by the George W. Bush administration, which greatly heightened tension with Russia, which saw it as a militarily aggressive move and not a defense from an Iranian attack.
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