Purpose: To analyse the issue of public debt in Poland and examine its effect on other areas of socio-economic life as well as government policy. Approach: The question of public debt is placed in its historical context by looking at how it grew during the Communist system and influenced the transition period. The article draws on a range of secondary economic statistics and considers in detail a number of public policy issues, such as the reform of the pension system. Findings: One result of the large debt incurred by the end of the 1970s was that Poland became indebted to creditors in the West. This dependency helped to shape its economic policy at the end of the 1980s. The transition to a market economy placed new burdens on the country’s public services, primarily due to the resulting large deactivation of labour. Furthermore, the creation of a compulsory private pension system at the end of the 1990s diverted significant funds out of the government’s budget and swelled the country’s public debt. Since the outbreak of the economic crisis, Poland has avoided a recession by increasing public investment by utilising available European Union funds. However, due to internal and external limits on the size of its public debt, the government is being pressured to reduce this spending. In order to create more fiscal room, the government has partly dismantled the compulsory private pension system as a short-term solution to the growing debt crisis. Value: In the wake of the global financial crisis and economic turmoil in the European Union, the matter of public debt has taken on increased importance. This paper considers this question from a long-term perspective in a country that has been relatively successful during the international economic downturn. By examining public debt from this broad perspective, we can better understand the economic situation in Poland and the European Union, whilst also shedding light on some of the surrounding academic perspectives and public policy debates.