Poland makes its mark

Warsaw, Oct 13 (AFP/APP): Poland, which holds elections on Sunday, is a member of NATO and the European Union.

In the past, it was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II, then spent decades under communism.

Here are five things to know about this central European country of 38 million people:

– Non-stop growth –

Poland has posted continuous economic growth since the 1989 fall of communism and is currently the seventh biggest economy in the EU, which it joined in 2004.

It is Europe’s largest producer of poultry, apples, raspberries and potatoes. The country is also an industrial giant, notably thanks to cheap labour. About a third of the EU’s international transport is carried out by Polish firms.

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”. Next year’s release “Cyberpunk 2077” has already been crowned the “most wanted game” by gamers around the world.

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– 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 recently tainted its image, though the Church still enjoys close ties with the governing conservatives. Both called LGBT rights a threat to the traditional family ahead of the general election.

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– Migration –

The governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party rejected the EU’s migrant quotas, but the country has welcomed Ukrainians and other foreign workers.

After around two million Poles emigrated to the West when Poland joined the EU in 2004, some 1.2 million Ukrainians came to replace them. The services industry relies heavily on the foreign workforce.

According to estimates from an employer’s association, Poland will require a total of five million foreign workers by 2050.

Facing a shortage of skilled workers it already surpassed the United States in 2017 as the top temporary labour migration destination, according to the OECD.

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– Jewish history –

Poland was for centuries considered a safe haven for Jews chased out of Western Europe. By 1939, there were 3.3 million of them living in the country, or around 10 percent of the entire Polish population.

It was Europe’s largest Jewish community at the time.

But Poland’s 1,000-year Jewish history was cut short by Nazi Germany. During World War II, six million Poles died, half of them Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Of the few who remained, 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.

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– Marriage medal –

Poland is likely the world’s only country to give out presidential medals to couples who survive 50 years of marriage.

The marital medal was introduced in 1960 under Communist rule and is very much a product of its time.

Poland’s communist party leader at the time, Wladyslaw Gomulka, was himself happily married and frowned upon divorce and sexual debauchery.

Tens of thousands of marital medals are still given out each year, despite higher divorce rates today.

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