Poland is one of more than 40 European countries, but it lies at the very centre of the continent. To the south its limits are set by the Sudetic and Carpathian mountain ranges, while to the north almost the entire length of the border is constituted by the Baltic Sea coast. The remainder of the country is on the Central European Plain. These orographic features alone predestined Poland to being, down the centuries, a conduit for numerous communication routes that brought wandering people, carried goods, but also offered easy access to armies marching in. Thus, from the geopolitical point of view, this kind of location always brought benefits to Poland, but also a great many threats. The latter resulted above all from the fact that Polish territory proved a consistently convenient arena for successive wars – it was after all the point of contact between inputting political influences from the West (primarily Prussia and later Germany) and the East (Russia, and also Turkey). Benefits could accrue only from the transit of people, goods and ideas, with these playing different roles in the social and economic development of the country at different times. From the early 1990s on, it was possible to discern in Polish space certain processes and phenomena that were an outcome of either earlier decisions taken by the communist authorities, or else part of what the communists had inherited from earlier times but been in a position to keep the lid on, by artificial masking of them. When communism fell, there was a re-emergence, often in a kind of hybrid version of pre-War/post-War pedigree, of deep divisions in society and the economy, as well as disparities between the regions.
It is to these questions that this book has primarily devotes itself.