Poland, the EU’s sixth-largest economy, will hold a presidential election on Sunday, weeks after the ballot was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Boasting more than 1,000 years of history, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II, then spent decades under communism.
Today it is a member of NATO and the European Union.
Here are five things to know about this central European country of 38 million people:
– Rule of law –
Since coming to power in 2015, the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced various reforms, especially to the judiciary, that have drawn concern at home and abroad.
In response, the European Union launched unprecedented proceedings against Poland over the “systemic threats” to the rule of law — a move that could see its voting rights suspended.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova condemned the changes, telling the German weekly Der Spiegel in February: “This is not reform. This is demolition.”
Brushing aside concerns about democratic standards, the PiS argues the reforms are necessary to tackle corruption in a judiciary still haunted by communism.
– Climate challenge –
Poland needs to spend an estimated 700 to 900 billion euros ($780 billion to one trillion dollars) to achieve zero-emissions, according to a former energy minister.
Its massive Belchatow brown coal-fired power station is Europe’s largest such plant and its “single largest greenhouse gas emitter,” according to the ClientEarth global environmental NGO.
Its right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government rejected the EU’s 2050 zero emissions goal, insisting it could cripple Poland’s economy.
Warsaw wants the bloc to fund a “fair” transition to carbon neutrality for Poland, which depends on coal to generate nearly 80 percent of its power.
– Video games –
Poland has also made a name for itself in the video game industry, with hits like “The Witcher,” “Dying Light,” and “This War of Mine.”
The upcoming autumn release from video game developer CD Projekt Red, “Cyberpunk 2077”, has already been crowned the “most wanted game” by gamers around the world.
Fun fact: one of the game’s protagonists has the personality traits and voice of Canadian actor and “The Matrix” star Keanu Reeves.
– Majority Catholic –
More than 90 percent of Poles declare themselves Catholic, but only 38 percent attend Sunday mass. The Church is still going strong in rural areas but is losing its appeal in big cities.
Clergy sex scandals have tainted its image, though the Church still enjoys close ties with the governing conservatives. Both have called LGBTQ rights a threat to the traditional family. Two-thirds of Poles are against the Church’s involvement in politics.
– Jewish history –
Poland was for centuries considered a safe haven for Jews chased out of Western Europe. By 1939, there were 3.3 million in the country, or around 10 percent of the national population. It was Europe’s largest Jewish community at the time.
But Nazi Germany cut short this 1,000-year Jewish history. World War II claimed the lives of six million Poles, half of them Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Of the remaining few, most emigrated, with the last wave taking place after the communist regime orchestrated an anti-Semitic campaign in 1968.
Today, an estimated 8,000-12,000 Jews live in Poland.