The Republic of Poland, an early modern European power stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, was erased from the map of Europe in the 18th century. The 20th century saw the reestablishment of the state in 1918, two decades of independence, World War II, and a Soviet-imposed “people’s democracy.” In 1989, Poland began the transition from socialism to capitalism, from a Communist political system to a free-market democracy. Poland’s “big bang” reforms brought wealth to a significant part of the country’s population but were painful for many. In 2012, the country’s population of over 37 million included over 1 million living abroad. Gross domestic product (GDP) that year was $489.8 billion.

Poverty in Poland during feudalism was primarily a problem for people living ...

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