For period 1860-1919 see Russia, Empire
A republic in eastern Europe, between Germany and Russia. During the Middle Ages, Poland was the dominant Christian power in eastern Europe, but after about 1700, its power declined. Between 1772 and 1795, it was absorbed by Russia, Prussia and Austria and did not reappear as an independent nation until 1918. In the aftermath of World War I, Poland fought both Germany and Russia, acquiring large territories from both, as well as from Austria and Lithuania. During this period, many local stamps were used. In 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union, igniting World War II. The two powers divided Poland between them, Germany occupying all of the country after its invasion of Russia in 1941. During the war, Poland suffered terribly, and some six million Poles, half of them Jews, were killed. A Polish Government in Exile was established in London and was recognized by the Western Allies, but after Soviet forces occupied Poland during 1944-45, a more malleable government was established by the Russians. After World War II, the Soviet Union's 1939 acquisitions were recognized by the new Polish regime. In return for this loss of about 70,000 square miles in the east, Poland was awarded about 40,000 square miles of German territory in the west. In 1947, the communist regime was finally established and began a thorough program of socialization. Declining farm production and harsh working conditions sparked riots in 1956, which brought a moderation of government policy. In 1970, a new series of riots brought a change of government and increased emphasis on the production of consumer goods. In the summer of 1980, the Polish labor movement, Solidarity, led by Lech Walesa, launched a series of strikes that brought major concessions from the government. Increasing democratization brought intense Soviet pressure to bear on the Polish leadership, resulting in a government crackdown in late 1981. During the 1980s, Solidarity continued to agitate for reform. Nationwide strikes in 1988 forced the government to allow open elections, and in 1989 Solidarity candidates were swept into office. In 1990 Walesa was elected president, and in 1991 Poland's first free elections since World War II were held. Poland is one of the most successful of the former communist republics to privatize its economy and reestablish democratic government. It became a member of NATO in 1999.