Poland remembers introduction of martial law in 1981

On Dec. 13, 1981, the arrests and jailings started. Radio and television programs were halted. Newspaper publication was stopped. The government prohibited Poles from traveling. The borders were closed. So were airports. Curfews were imposed. Correspondence was censored.

One hundred thousand police and soldiers enforced martial law. Their enforcement tools included 1,750 tanks and armored vehicles. Martial law, which the government declared after a Solidarity-led general uprising, lasted 586 days, until July 22, 1983.

In the first week after the declaration of a security emergency, the government put 5,000 people in prisons or internment camps. At one time or another during martial law, about 10,000 people served time in 49 internment camps. Many were leaders of the trade union movement Solidarity and the advisers and intellectuals connected with it. Fifty-six people were killed during the strikes and demonstrations.

Last week Poland marked the 26th anniversary of the introduction of martial law, the bitterly despised clampdown that hastened Polish independence. The anniversary included masses, historical re-enactments, meetings and exhibitions.

It also included some supporters of martial law, who contend that Russian troops would have come into Poland to suppress the uprising if the Polish government had not declared martial law.
The Civic Responsibility Foundation organized the re-enactment of a clash in Warsaw. The “government” forces included young men wearing uniforms, a SKOT armored vehicle, a Nysa military car and water cannons for dispersing crowds.

The “military” pitched a tent in front of the Wizytki Church and Convent.

The re-enactment of the clash between the ZOMO units and the anti-government forces came in the evening in the Bemowo district.

“We need to show the dark side of history” so it won’t fade from our memories, said Artur Luszczak, who played one of the soldiers. “Many old people do not remember or do not want to remember” the uprisings, he said. “The young do not know” what happened.

Poznan’s celebration included a special “war tram,” with a former Solidarity member at the controls. It transported high school students dressed in ZOMO uniforms. Another group of students was distributing leaflets about the anniversary of martial law. When the tram arrived at the stop where the leaflet distributors were, sirens began blaring. The ZOMO forces rushed from the tram to arrest those distributing leaflets.

In Krakow, Defense Minister Bogdan Klich joined the head of an uprising memorial organization in opening an exhibition titled “Poland’s Undergound State – Solidarity.” Wladyslaw Bartoszewski is chairman of the Committee to Preserve the Memory of Fighting and Martyrdom.

A Jagiellonian University exhibition dealt with the Independent Student Association’s role in the uprising and in battling martial law. Priests at the Church of Saint Anna said a mass to commemorate martial law victims.

Another memorial mass was held at the Mariacka Basilica. Afterwards, mass participants, politicians and former Solidarity members marched to the Katyn Cross in Saint Idzi Square to pay homage to those who had fought to free Poland.

As has become a tradition, on the nights of Dec. 12 and Dec. 13 opponents of martial law gathered in front of the Warsaw home of General Wojciech Jaruzelski to protest. The man, whom many Poles despise for declaring martial law, is still alive.
As in previous years, those who gathered outside the house included martial law supporters. They used candles to spell out the message: “We remember.”

Then they fired flares and sang the national anthem and the patriotic song “Rota.” At the end they shouted “Murderer” and “Down with Communists.”

Jaroslaw Krajewski, chairman of the Law and Justice party’s Warsaw Forum of The Young, said Poles have an obligation to remember the victims of the uprising. “That is why we come here every year,” he said.

Jaruzelski’s supporters rallied behind the slogan “Let history judge the general.”

They contended that Jaruzelski chose the lesser of two evils. If he had not introduced martial law, they say, the Russian army would have entered Poland, causing enormous bloodshed.
“Jaruzelski should be respected for making such a hard decision and bearing the responsibility for it with honor and dignity,” said Krzysztof Mroz of the organization Right of the Polish Left.

One thought on “Poland remembers introduction of martial law in 1981

  • September 3, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Hi I’m researching the postal history of the Martial Law period 1981-1982. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who may shed some light on the process, dates, how it affected people’s lives, the censorship process, copies of the postal censorship markings. etc.



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