Since 1992, the Polish economy has seen positive growth in all sectors, with industry contributing 35 percent, commerce 15.4 percent and forestry 7 percent to the Gross Domestic Product. Despite the relatively high growth rate, however, unemployment continues at around 14 percent. Inflation at about 17 percent is well above the European average.
The constitution drawn up by the Communist government in 1952 was significantly amended for the first time in 1989. The main elements in the new constitution included the establishment of a bicameral legislative system and the introduction of direct presidential elections. After a referendum in which over half of the electorate voted in favour of the amendments, in 1997 the Sejm or Polish parliament approved the new constitution. However, there are still certain aspects of it that arouse controversy, in particular the powers of the president and the role of the Catholic church.
The present president, Aleksander Kwasniewski (independent), defeated the preceding incumbent, Lech Wafesa, in the elections of November 1995. The parliament consists of the 460-seat lower house or Sejm and the 100-seat upper house or Senate. Both the Senate and the president have the power to veto the Sejm, but both their vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in the Sejm.
In the parliamentary election of 1993, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) – both of which had been satellites of the ruling communist party pre-1989 -commanded a substantial majority of the Sejm, but the elections of 1997 saw the pendulum swing back to the right leaning Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) coalition, and in October 1997 Jerzy Buzek was appointed prime minister.
Due to the country’s lengthy coastline, the climate in Poland varies between oceanic and continental. Therefore, weather conditions are subject to dramatic change. Winter lasts about three months (December-February), but can be so severe that in many northern regions temperatures drop to minus 22F (-30C). Snow remains in the mountains until Easter.
The summer months (June-August) are generally hot with temperatures often climbing beyond 86*F (30*C). The traditional “golden Polish autumn’ is usually sunny and dry.
In places, the eastern border with Russia, Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine (1,244 km/771 miles in length) follows the River Bug, while the Czech and Slovakian border along the Carpathian and Sudeten mountains to the south is 1,310 km (812 miles) in length. In the west, the border with Germany follows the Odra, Poland , s second-largest river, and the Nysa Luzycka for a total of (460 km) 285 miles. The Polish coastline beside the Baltic Sea to the north is over 524 km (325 miles) long. It consists of sandy beaches, dunes and cliffs. Lakes and woodland dominate the landscapes of northern Pomerania and Masuria while the lowland region between the Odra and the Bug is used mainly as arable land. The Sudeten and Carpathian mountains run along Poland’s southern borders. At the heart of the Polish section of the Carpathians are the High Tatras, an Alpine chain of mountains with high peaks and steep, rocky sides. Warsaw is sited on the largest river, the Vistula, which flows northwards from the mountains to the Baltic. The country’s main ports are Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin.
Poland has a varied topography. To the north, the Baltic Sea coastline is composed of sandy beaches backed by dunes, steep slopes and cliffs. Picturesque lowland plains dotted with lakes, forests, rivers and canals make up the typical moraine landscape of the Northern Pomeranian and Masurian Lakelands. Lake Sniardwy, the largest lake in this area, measures 109,700 hectares (271,075 acres). The central-Polish lowlands between the Odra and Bug rivers are cultivated extensively for agricultural use. The Sudeten and Carpathian mountains stretch along Poland’s southern boarders. The Sudeten belong to the oldest mountain massifs in Europe, with the highest peak Mount Sniezka (1,602 metres/5,255 ft). The Carpathians are younger. The Tatra range makes up their central part and is Alpine in character. It contains Poland’s highest peak, Mount Rysy, which is 2,499 metres (8,200 ft).