Why Poland is in the news

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Have you wondered why Poland is so much in the news?

Pick up a newspaper or look at the evening television news and you will still see Poles lining up to get food or army tanks rolling down the street.

The reason we see and hear so much about Poland is because a great struggle is going on there. The struggle is between the Polish people and their communist government. The government is trying to put the struggle down by calling in the Army. When an army takes over complete control, as it has done in Poland, we call it martial (pronounced marshal) law. That is what's happening in Poland today.

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What the P lish people want is more freedom. The communists who run the government feel they cannot allow this to happen. If they did and gave away too much freedom, they would lose control. It would make Poland a free and democratic state, which is the opposite of a communist state.

To appreciate why the Poles want their freedom so badly, you have to understand history.

The Poles have fought many battles to get back the freedom they once had.

Back in the 1500s - about 500 years ago - the Poles once ruled an empire that stretched across most of central Europe. It even included the Ukraine and Lithuania, which are now part of the Soviet Union. But foreign wars weakened the Polish empire. It started to break up.

Poland's big problem has been its geography - that is to say, its position on the map. It is sandwiched right between two strong neighbors. These are the Germans in the west and the Russians in the east.

Poland has lost much of its land in the past because of these two powerful neighbors.

In the 1800SPh /O mo/ letely disappeared from the map. For about 100 years it no longer existed as a separate nation. Its lands were all gobbled up by the Russians, the Prussians (Germans), and the Austrians, who divided the country among themselves.

Although they had no nation of their own during this period, the Poles still felt very strongly about their nationality. By this we mean the Poles held on to all those things, such as the language and their customs, that help make one country different from another. People who feel very strongly about their own country are called nationalists. When there was no Polish nation, the church to which most Poles belonged, the Roman Catholic Church, helped keep the people together.

It was not until 1918 that the name of Poland appeared again on maps when it became an independent country. It was not for long. In 1939, at the start of World War II, Germany and Russia again took over the country.

Toward the end of 1944, the Russian Army drove out the Germans. From then on the Russians helped set up a communist government that has been in power ever since.

The Poles have not liked the communists because they feel the communists get their orders from the Russians. From history you can see why the Poles would not like the Russians.

Today, the Polish people also blame the communist rulers for making a mess of running the country. Most goods we can buy easily are in very short supply or simply don't exist. Meat is rationed. Because of these shortages people have to line up for hours to buy practically anything.

About 17 months ago, Polish workers decided they wanted a freer and more efficient form of government. They formed their own trade union. It was to be quite separate from the trade union run by the communists. The name they gave to their trade union was Solidarity. A trade union is an organization of workers who band together to fight for better working conditions.

Solidarity became so popular that in no time millions of workers left the communist trade union and joined it. This was really when the trouble started in Poland.

What those workers, led by a man called Lech Walesa (who can be recognized by his drooping mustache), were doing was to challenge the communist government. This was bound to cause trouble because the communist government wants to be king. Like all communist governments, it does not want to share power.

As time went by Solidarity got bolder and bolder. Its members won the right to strike, which never happens in a communist country. They also brought about a freer way of electing leaders, which also doesn't happen in a communist country.

Finally the communist government couldn't take it any longer. The government decided to crush the spreading Solidarity movement by bringing out the Army.

So far only the Polish Army is involved. The situation could get more serious if the Soviet Army comes in to help the Russians' fellow communist leaders. Russia could do that if things got worse.

Poland is important to the Russians. For one thing, it is the largest and most heavily populated East European country that comes under Soviet domination.

Another thing that makes Poland so important is that if Russia ever went to war with the West, its main supply lines go right through Poland.

All these factors make Poland a very important country indeed. No wonder we're always hearing about it.

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