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If there was only one statement that could get every Polish person really worked up, it would be saying that Poland is an Eastern European country. The understanding of the concept of Central and Eastern Europe is an ongoing source for debate, varying considerably from nation to nation, and also from time to time. To fully answer whether Poland is an Eastern European country, we need to think broader about the meaning of ‘Eastern Europe’ and look at the geography, history and culture as defining factors. And once the roots of Eastern Europe are understood, it is easier to understand the apprehensive sentiment towards this categorisation so embedded in Polish people.

Where is Eastern Europe?

There are several different definitions of Eastern Europe but they all lack precision and can be interpreted in many ways. The geographical border of the eastern edge of Europe is defined by the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, however, the west side of ‘Eastern Europe’ is a subject to overlap and historical changes.

European regions according to EuroVoc: green – Western Europe, red – Eastern Europe, blue – Northern Europe, yellow – Southern Europe. According to this split Poland is part of the Eastern Europe (source: wikipedia.org)

If the geographical center of Europe is taken into consideration, Poland very often happens to be exactly in the middle, although everything depends on where the furthest points of the continent are defined. In the most accepted theory one line is drawn from the north coast of Norway to the south coast of Italy and the second one from the south-west coast of Portugal to Ural Mountains in the north-west of Russia. The two lines cross in Polish town Bialystok making Poland the geographical center of Europe.

European regions according to the World Facebook: green – Southern Europe, yellow – Western Europe, light blue – Central Europe, blue – Northern Europe, orange – Eastern Europe. According to this split Poland is a part of Central Europe (source: wikipedia.org)

The most common and accepted geographical division of Europe places Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Switzerland in Central Europe and Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia in Eastern Europe.

Historical approach

We see that the current geographical theories place Poland outside Eastern Europe. How come than that Poland is still often considered an Eastern European country? Of course, because of history. The cold war has created a division that influenced generations of Europeans and has an impact to this day. Historically, all countries that have been under the influence of the former Soviet Union were considered an eastern bloc (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia). This cold war legacy influences the perception of Western Europeans and despite big historical shifts (most of the countries from the former eastern bloc joined the European Union in early 2000’s) associations between these countries and the former Soviet Union are still being made.

Why Polish people don’t like being considered Eastern European?

The historical reasons behind the split between Western and Eastern Europe are the same reasons why Polish people can be offended when Poland is being categorised as an Eastern European country. Polish people want to cut off from the past and they see themselves much more Western than Eastern. Times of the cold war are left far behind and Poland in the last 30 years did everything to move away from Russian influences.

Poland has developed itself rapidly over the last 30 years and is one of the fastest growing economies in central Europe. Businesses and Tourism are flourishing and people are positive about the future. Countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova have economies that are up to -70% GDP per capita compared to Poland. A combination of poverty, lack of respect towards democratic values by sitting governments and lack of general freedom are usually the first connotations that come to mind if a Polish person is asked about the East.

Politically, Poland made all possible steps to move even further away from the former Soviet sphere. In 1997 the country joined NATO and a few years later, in 2004 became a proud member of the European Union. Polish economy is tightly connected with Germany and the rest of Western Europe (rather than Russia).

It makes sense that Polish people don’t like being called Eastern Europeans if they do everything to move away from the negative view associated with that part of Europe. It may take another few generation though to forget about the cold war and historical divisions.

If you are interested in Poland you should also check out Facts about Poland.

When deciding where to live in Poland, many factors are in the eye of the beholder. What about affordable housing, low cost of living, access to well-paying jobs, good schools for your children, and quality healthcare. Other aspects may include proximity to family, climate, politics and opportunities.

Poland is quite a large country with a lot of diversity in scenery, opportunities and quality of life. There are many unique regions that could make your Polish experience really different depending on where you decide to live. To help you with your decision (or if you haven’t settled in permanently yet, perhaps help you to change your mind) we’ve prepared our ranking of the top 7 best Polish cities to live and work in.

#7 Słupsk

slupsk

Population: 95,274
Voivodeship: Pomeranian Voivodeship

Słupsk, probably the most open-minded and tolerant city in Poland is governed by Robert Biedroń, a Polish LGBT activist. Biedroń won the mayoral elections in 2014 and secured 57% of the vote, becoming the first openly gay mayor ever in Poland. His attitude, ideas and initiatives gained him a huge number of fans and help Słupsk to become a modern and great city to live in.

If the environment, tolerance and equality are close to your heart, Słupsk is a great choice for you. Proximity and easy access to Tricity means that you won’t have problems with finding a job and can enjoy big city life whenever you feel like it. And when you are done with making money and going out, you can relax in Słupsk which offers tranquillity and access to nature. What more could anyone ask for?

#6 Warsaw

warsaw1

Population: 1.711 million
Voivodeship: Masovian Voivodeship

Fusing tradition and desire to remember its history with modernity and innovation, in recent years Warsaw has become one of European’s prime cities. It is also known as the Phoenix city as it was almost completely destroyed during WWII and with the help of the nation, was rebuilt from scratch. The spirit and energy of those times are still present and admired by millions of tourists who visit the city every year.

As with any capital, Warsaw offers well-paid jobs and access to all sorts of opportunities. The job market is especially attractive for foreigners, with lots of international companies looking for English and German speakers. Thanks to the abundance of theatres, museums, galleries, bars, restaurants and vibrant nightlife, you will never be bored.

Loads of opportunities and possibilities, obviously come with a price tag. The high cost of living, expensive housing (in comparison to other Polish cities) and constant busyness. In the end, Warsaw is no different to any other European capital and if you don’t like big city life you are not going to enjoy living in Warsaw.

If you’re interested in Warsaw check out what to do and see in Warsaw.

#5 Toruń

torun

Population: 204,847
Voivodeship: Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship

Medieval and charming Toruń ranks high on almost every urban quality of life list and it’s not a surprise as this architectural treasure escaped destruction during the World Wars and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the hometown of Nicolas Copernicus who had a great influence on his city – Toruń’s university is one of the best, especially in science subjects like physics and chemistry.

If you like smaller cities with unique architecture and relaxing vibe Toruń is the one for you. Perfect place to have a family and settle down or just to slow down a little bit. And if you are not ready for a calmer life you should definitely visit Toruń just to experience its beauty and charms. Don’t forget to try famous gingerbread which is the local speciality.

If you’re interested in Toruń check out what to do and see in Toruń.

#4 Gdańsk

gdanks

Population: 460,354
Voivodeship: Pomeranian Voivodeship

Situated in the North of Poland, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, Gdańsk is one of Poland’s most modern cities. A thriving centre of culture, science, sports and entertainment, the city has a unique feel that sets it apart from the other Polish destinations. Created by centuries of maritime ebb and flow as a port city, Gdańsk played a very important role in the collapse of communism and often is referred to as the “city of freedom”.

Every year Gdańsk wins in rankings for the happiest place to live in, with 79,2% of its population feeling content with their life. Beautiful beaches, good weather and lively city centre must contribute to this impressive result. If you’re interested in Gdańsk check out what to do and see not only in Gdańsk but also in Gdynia and Sopot (Trojmiasto).

#3 Kraków

krakow

Population: 759,131
Voivodeship: Lesser Poland

City of legends and magical places, Kraków is Poland’s old capital and a perfect place to settle down. The old market square is breathtaking and often is voted to be the best one in the world (last time in 2013 by Lonely Planet). The city centre is full of historical attractions, museum, bars, restaurants and shops tucked away down the old narrow streets.

Kraków is probably the most touristic of all Polish cities and locals are used to foreigners who they really like and make an effort for. Proximity to the Tatra Mountains means that you can go skiing or hiking every weekend without any hassle. And of course, finding a job as a foreigner is quite easy as Kraków is a big city with the vibrant job market.

If you’re interested in Kraków check out what to do and see in Kraków.

#2 Poznań

Poznan (source: wikimedia.org)

Population: 552,393
Voivodeship: Greater Poland Voivodeship

City of business, trade and huge student population, Poznań has a distinctive vibe, quite independent of tourism. Buzzing any time of the day and night, Poznań is full of restaurants, pubs and clubs. Do to the entrepreneurial spirit Poznań citizens, the city has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Poland (around 2% at the moment) and therefore a great place to look for a job, even if you don’t speak Polish yet.

Poznań is situated only a 2.5h drive away from Berlin which makes it a great spot to travel from and explore. Thanks to its vibrant job market the city is very attractive for foreigners and next to Wrocław, one of the most favourite destinations for expats to settle down.

If you’re interested in Poznań check out what to do and see in Poznań.

#1 Wrocław

wroclaw

Population: 631,377
Voivodeship: Lower Silesian Voivodeship

Full of life and character, with magnificent architecture and vibrant colours, Wrocław is one of expats most favourite cities in Poland to live and work. Because of the presence of many rivers, islands and over 200 bridges, the city has a growing reputation as the Venice of the North. European Capital of Culture 2016 and one of the host cities during Euro 2012, has over 100 bars and clubs, open often almost 24h a day. Wrocław is definitely a city of action, events and fun and it appeals to people looking for those qualities.

Wrocław attracts not only people but also big companies that are looking for skilled employees who speak multiple languages. Lots of them are looking for native speakers which makes Wroclaw the perfect place to live for expats. And a big community of foreigners is always a bonus if you are looking for friendly people in a similar situation.

If you’re interested in Wrocław check out what to do and see in Wrocław.

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