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The History of interwar Poland starts with the recreation of independent Poland in 1918, and ends with the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the onset of the Second World War.

The final borders of the Second Polish Republic were not established until 1922. The Polish political scene remained chaotic and shifting, especially after the death of Józef Piłsudski in 1935. Nevertheless, between 1921 and 1939 Poland achieved significant economic growth.

Formative years (1918-1921)

From its inception: the Second Polish Republic struggled to secure and maintain its existence in difficult circumstances, forced to deal with remnants of devastating economic exploitation by the former partitioners, who soon imposed new trade embargos on sovereign Poland. For many years, there was wide spread poverty among all citizens regardless of ethnicity. The new job opportunities before Poland's industrialization of the mid 1930s were virtually nonexistent.[1][2] Most Polish leaders of that period wanted to create a much larger Polish state; one original plan, dating back to the Paris Peace Conference, included the incorporation of East Prussia and the German city of Königsberg being placed in a customs union with Poland. At the same time, the exact boundaries of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were equally desired; much of this land had been controlled by the Russian Empire since the Partitions of Poland and its inhabiting peoples were struggling to secede and create their own countries (such as Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics).[3] Opinions varied among Polish politicians as to how much of the territory a new, Polish-led state should contain and what form it should take. Józef Piłsudski advocated a concept of Międzymorze ? a more democratic, Polish-led federation of independent states ? while Roman Dmowski of the Endecja faction, set his mind on a more compact Poland composed of ethnic Polish or 'polonizable' territories.

To the southwest, Poland encountered boundary disputes with Czechoslovakia over Austrian Silesia (see: Zaolzie). More ominously, an embittered Germany begrudged any territorial loss to its new eastern neighbour. The December 27, 1918 Great Poland Uprising liberated Greater Poland. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles settled the German-Polish borders in the Baltic region. The port city of Danzig (Polish: Gdańsk), a city with close ties to both Poland and Germans, and then with a significant German majority but as economically vital to Poland as it had been in the 16th century, was declared a free city. Allied arbitration divided the ethnically mixed and highly coveted industrial and mining district of Silesia between Germany and Poland, with Poland receiving the smaller in size, but more industrialized eastern section in 1922, after series of three Silesian Uprisings.

The German-Polish borders were so complicated that only close collaboration between the two countries could let the situation persist (1930 km., compared to the 430 km. of the present-day Oder?Neisse line). The unification of the former Prussian provinces lasted for many years. Until 1923, these provinces were ruled by a separate administration.

Military conflict proved the determinant of Poland's frontiers in the east, a theater rendered chaotic by the repercussions of the Russian revolutions and civil war. Piłsudski envisioned creating a federation with the rest of Ukraine (led by the Polish-friendly government in Kiev he was to help to install) and Lithuania, thus forming a Central and East European federation called "Międzymorze" (literally "between seas"). Lenin, leader of the new communist government of Russia, saw Poland as the bridge over which communism would pass into the labor class of a disorganized postwar Germany.[4] And the issue was further complicated as some of the disputed regions had assumed various economic and political identities since the partition in the late 18th century while some did not have an ethnically Polish majority in the first place they were still viewed by Poles as their historic regions, since they envisioned Poland as a multiethnic state.[3] In the end, the negotiations broke down, sinking Piłsudski's idea of Międzymorze federation, instead, wars like the Polish-Lithuanian War or the Polish-Ukrainian War decided the borders of the region for the next two decades

The Polish-Soviet war, began in 1919, was the most important of the regional wars, and one of the most important conflicts of the interwar period.[5] However, it was not until 1920 that its two participants realized they were facing more than a local border dispute. Piłsudski first carried out a major military thrust into Ukraine in 1920 and in May Polish-Ukrainian forces reached Kiev. Just a few weeks later, however, the Polish offensive was met with a Soviet counter-offensive, and Polish forces were forced into a retreat by the Red Army. Poland was driven out of Ukraine and back into the Polish heartland, with the decisive battle of the war taking place near the Polish capital of Warsaw.[5] Although many observers at the time marked Poland for extinction and Bolshevization,[citation needed] Piłsudski halted the Soviet advance and resumed the offensive, pushing Soviet forces east. Eventually both sides, exhausted, signed a compromise peace treaty at Riga in early 1921 that divided the disputed territories of Belarus and Ukraine between the two combatants.[3] These acquisitions were recognized by the international agreement with the Entente. Poland reluctantly granted local autonomy to the Ukrainian population of Galicia, many of whom were embittered by their incorporation into a Polish state.[6] In 1922, in the aftermath of the Polish-Soviet War and Polish-Lithuanian War, Poland also officially annexed Central Lithuania following a plebiscite, which was never recognised by Lithuania.

The Riga arrangement influenced the fate of the entire region for the years to come. Ukrainians and Belarusians found themselves without a province of their own, and some Poles also found themselves within the borders of the Soviet Union. The condition of those left under Bolshevik rule as a result of the Treaty was would be later marked by forced collectivistion, state terror, purges, labor camps and famine. The newly-formed Second Polish Republic, one third of whose citizens were non-ethnic Poles, engaged in promoting Polish identity, culture and language at the expense of the country's ethnic minorities who felt alienated by the process.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 September 2011 03:41
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