A new era began when Poland became an EU member in May 2004, five years after joining Nato and 15 years after the end of communist rule.
It was the birthplace of the former Soviet bloc's first officially recognised independent mass political movement when strikes at the Gdansk shipyard in August 1980 led to agreement with the authorities on the establishment of the Solidarity trade union.
The shoots of political freedom were trampled again 16 months later when communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law. But the movement for change was irreversible. Elections in summer 1989 ushered in eastern Europe's first post-communist government.
The presence in the Vatican of Polish Pope John-Paul II was an important influence on the Solidarity movement throughout the 1980s. The Roman Catholic church remains a very potent force in Polish life.
In the years between the end of communism and EU accession, power in Poland switched between the centre right and the centre left. Successive governments faced sleaze allegations.
The country has had some success in creating a market economy and attracting foreign investment. There was a massive movement of workers to western Europe in the years after Poland joined the EU, but the exodus slowed down after the global economic crisis took hold.
Poland still has a huge farming sector - agriculture accounts for about 60 per cent of the country's total land area - which is unwieldy and very inefficient. Poverty is particularly widespread in rural areas.
Warsaw's profile on the international stage was raised by its support for the US-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Polish peacekeeping troops served in south-central Iraq from 2003 until 2008, and the country has also contributed a sizeable contingent to the Nato peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.
President: Bronislaw Komorowski
Bronislaw Komorowski, the speaker of parliament, became acting president on the death of President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in April 2010. He defeated Mr Kaczynski's twin brother and former prime minister, Jaroslaw, in the July second round of the presidential election.
A leading figure in the centre-right Civic Platform party, Mr Komorowski has served in several post-Communist governments since 1989, including a term as defence minister in 2000-2001.
He became speaker in 2007, and Civic Platform adopted him as its candidate for the presidential elections due in the autumn of 2010. These were brought forward to June-July on the death of President Kaczynski.
Born in 1952 and an historian by profession, Mr Komorowski was active in the anti-Communist civil rights movement from the 1970s.
Prime Minister: Donald Tusk
The governing coalition led by Mr Tusk won a decisive victory in the October 2011 parliamentary election, putting him on course to serve a second term as prime minister.
His campaign had stressed his reputation as a safe pair of hands and a competent manager of the Polish economy.
It was the first time an incumbent government was returned to office for another term since the reintroduction of democracy in 1989. Analysts said the result was a sign of Poland's growing political stability after two decades of fractious politics.
Mr Tusk became PM when he formed a coalition between his centre-right Civic Platform and the centrist Peasants Party after the parliamentary elections of October 2007.
The early elections were forced by the collapse of the right-wing coalition led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the identical twin of the then president Lech Kaczynski.
In his first term, Mr Tusk's government pursued a policy of close cooperation with the European Union. It also sought to use EU funds modernise Poland and privatise state enterprises.
Mr Tusk advocates deeper EU integration and eventual euro membership for Poland.
Poland's broadcasting market is the largest in Eastern and Central Europe and has attracted foreign investment. There is freedom and diversity of information, although laws against deriding the nation and its political system are still in force.
Public TVP has the largest share of the TV audience for its two national channels. It operates regional services and satellite network TV Polonia.
There are proposals to fund public broadcasting from the state budget, rather than the TV and radio licence fee.
Polsat and TVN operate the leading commercial TVs. Polsat has a digital pay-TV platform and is present in the Baltic states. Digital pay-TV platform Cyfra+ was launched by France's Canal+. Digital terrestrial TV is expected to offer up to 30 channels.
Public Polish Radio reaches just over half of the population. There are more than 200 radio stations in all.
There are more than 300 newspapers, most of them local or regional. However, fewer than 30% of Poles read any kind of newspaper. The press is almost completely privatised and foreign ownership is high. The biggest-selling daily is the Fakt tabloid.
There were 22.5 million internet users in Poland by June 2010 - around 58% of the population (Internetworldstats).