Publication date:
Michał Buchowski and Katarzyna Chlewińska

Poland is one of the less diversified societies on the globe. Walter Connor reported that in 1971 that among 138 countries taken into account only 12, i.e. 9.1% could be considered ‘national’, Poland included (1994: 96). The historical Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania (14th to 18th centuries) was in itself diverse linguistically, ethnically and religiously, and it also welcomed various ethnic and religious minorities. In this respect, it was a very tolerant regime in a sea o mostly intolerant European countries (e.g., already in the 13th century Polish kings allowed Jews, who were expelled from western countries, to settle and practice their faith). One could say that at that time it represented a case of an ‘imperial regime of tolerance’ (Walzer, 1999), in which various self-governed collectives were allowed to observe their religious practices, provided they did not proselytise (similarly to millets in the Ottoman Empire). Still, when the republic was reborn after WWI, religious and ethnic minorities comprised almost one third of the population. Only after WWII, due to the Holocaust, border changes, and ‘population exchanges’ with the defeated Germany and victorious Soviet Union, the country was made practically homogenous ethnically (Poles) and religiously (Roman-Catholics). Actually, having a homogenous population was an official aim of the communist authorities and it was exercised throughout their reign. The last thirty years may be divided into three periods: the continuation of the systematically liberalised communist rule, democratic change after 1989 till the EU accession in May 2004, and the last five years, as soon after Poland’s accession to the EU a new law on national, ethnic and linguistic minorities was accepted and put into practice.