Warsaw. Photo: flickr/CharlesFred

In 2009 Poland commemorates several key anniversaries.

60 years ago – on 1 September 1939 – the Second World War began with the German assault on the Westerplatte peninsula. On 17 September 1939 the Soviet army also invaded Poland. The country was divided yet again and devastated during the war.

55 years ago – on 1 August 1944 – the Warsaw Uprising began. Some 18,000 insurgents and 180,000 civilians died. The Soviet Army did not intervene, finally capturing Warsaw on 17 January 1945. Despite Stalin's pledge to allow free elections, Soviet occupation led to over forty years of communist rule.

30 years ago – on 2 June 1979 – John Paul II began his first pilgrimage to his native Poland as Pope. Millions of Poles attended his outdoor masses – starting off a "chain of events that led to the end of communism," as Lech Wałęsa, the co-founder of the Solidarity movement has said.

Twenty years ago – on 5 February 1989 – the Round Table talks produced the first partially democratic elections, which Solidarity candidates won by a landslide.

Poland's first non-communist Prime Minister, the Solidarity adviser Tadeusz Mazowiecki, came to power on 24 August 1989. In 2009 Poland will promote its critical role in the fall of communism as "Freedom 89: Made in Poland."

A decade later – on 12 March 1999 – Poland joined NATO. Poland is now actively involved in the alliance. It has forces in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Kraków, Poland's second city, hosted NATO Defence Ministers in February 2009.

Five years ago – on 1 May 2004 – Poland joined the EU, becoming the Union's sixth largest member. Poland has been a clear beneficiary of EU accession with booming growth rates from 2006-8 and billions of euros of foreign direct investment. It is an advocate of further EU enlargement for the Western Balkans as well as Ukraine and Turkey. On 7 May 2009 Poland celebrates its first EU major foreign policy success: the launch of a new Eastern Partnership for six of the EU's eastern neighbours.

Poland takes over the EU Presidency in July 2011. The day it after the Presidency ends, 1 January 2012, is the date the Polish Government has originally set for entry to the euro. Later that year – from 9 June 2012 – Poland is due to co-host Euro 2012, the European Football Championships, with Ukraine.

Today – nearly 5 years after EU accession – is an excellent vantage-point from which to study Poland's transformation.

In the section Poland and EU enlargment besides a summary of key facts about the country you find short background briefings about the economic impact of Poland's EU accession, its relations to the Western Balkans and to Turkey.

The downloadable manual on the Polish enlargement debate offers a tour through Poland's rich think tank and media scenes. It also describes the current government, the lively political debate on Poland's future, and highlights the key officials involved in Polish policy towards South East Europe.