Poland is an Eastern or Central European country bordered by Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and the Baltic Sea. Earlier in its history, in union with Lithuania as a commonwealth, it was one of the major powers of Europe. However, as the power of its leaders waned with Poland's increasing decentralization, it was gradually divided up by other powers, such as Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Later on, after the Russian disaster in World War I, Poland regenerated itself as an autonomous nation. In this first independent state, military leader, Jozef Pilsudski (regarded as a founder of Poland) along with successive military dictators, ruled over Poland. The Solidarity movement to give more political freedom was also born in Poland. For a while Poland was able to hold off the Soviet Union's and Germany's attempts to subjucate them, but when the Second World War was started in Europe, Nazi Germany and the communist superpower divided up the polish territories. However, unlike the first World War, Poland remained under Russian/soviet influence past the war until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Modern Poland was thus formed in the aftermath of its communist past.
Highly developed agricultural people have lived in the area that is now Poland for the last 7500 years, the Slavic people have settled in this territory for over 1500 years, and the History of Poland as a state spans well over a millennium. The territory ruled by Poland has shifted and varied greatly. At one time, in the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the largest state in Europe, before the rise of the Russian Empire. At other times there was no separate Polish state at all. Poland regained its independence in 1918, after more than a century of rule by its neighbours, but its borders shifted again after the Second World War.
Following its emergence in the 10th century, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the Poles to Christianity, created a strong kingdom and integrated Poland into the European culture. Internal fragmentation eroded this initial structure in the 13th century, but consolidation in the 1300s laid the base for the new dominant Kingdom of Poland that was to follow.
Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), the Jagiellon dynasty (1385–1569) formed the Polish-Lithuanian union. The partnership proved beneficial for the Poles and Lithuanians, who coexisted and cooperated in one of the most powerful states in Europe for the next three centuries. The nihil novi act adopted by the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1505, transferred most of the legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the State was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility. The Lublin Union of 1569 established the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as an influential player in Europe and a vital cultural entity, spreading the Western culture eastwards.
By the 18th century the nobles' democracy had gradually declined into anarchy, making the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention. Over the course of three successive partitions by the countries bordering it (the Russian Empire, Habsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Prussia), the Commonwealth was significantly reduced in size the first two times and ultimately ceased to exist in 1795. The idea of Polish independence however was kept alive throughout the 19th century and led to several Polish uprisings against the partitioning powers.
Poland regained its independence in 1918, but the Second Polish Republic was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. Nevertheless the Polish government in exile kept functioning and through the many Polish military formations contributed significantly to the Allied victory. Nazi Germany's forces were compelled to retreat from Poland as the Soviet Red Army advanced, which led to the creation of the People's Republic of Poland. The country's geographic location was shifted to the west and Poland existed as a Soviet satellite state. By the late 1980s Solidarity, a Polish reform movement, became crucial in causing a peaceful transition from a communist state to democracy, which resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state.