Poland gained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite country following the war, but one that was comparatively tolerant and progressive. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force and by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, boosting hopes for acceptance to the EU. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999.
Location: Central Europe, east of Germany
52 00 N, 20 00 E
Population: 38,633,912 (July 2001 est.)
Area: total:  312,685 sq km
land:  304,465 sq km
water:  8,220 sq km
slightly smaller than New Mexico
Climate: temperate with cold, cloudy, moderately severe winters with frequent precipitation; mild summers with frequent showers and thundershowers
Terrain: mostly flat plain; mountains along southern border
Elevation: lowest point:  Raczki Elblaskie -2 m
highest point:  Rysy 2,499 m

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