The Social Role of Wojciech Jaruzelski in “National Salvation” of Poland in 1981

UDC 321(438)”1981”:329.15

Oksana Cherniak – candidate of philology, associate professor of the foreign languages department of International relations faculty, Lesia Ukrainka Eastern European University

Yana Sydoruk – 4th-year student of International relations faculty, Lesia Ukrainka Eastern European University,

© Cherniak O., Sydoruk Y., 2014

The article reveals the role of Wojciech Jaruzelski activity in Poland in 1981, and highlights the event of martial law. The role of public opinion is examined and historical aspects concerning Jaruzelski tenure are partly involved.
Key words: the communist regime, the Polish People’s Republic, martial law, “Solidarity”, democracy, National Salvation.

Сидорук Яна, Черняк Оксана. Суспільна роль Войцеха Ярузельського у “національному порятунку” Польщі в 1981 р. У статті розкрито роль діяльності Войцеха Ярузельського у Польщі в 1981, а також висвітлено події запровадження воєнного стану. Розглянута роль громадської думки та частково задіяні історичні аспекти, що стосуються перебування при владі Ярузельського.
Ключові слова: комуністичний режим, Польська Народна Республіка, воєнний стан, “Солідарність”, демократія, національний порятунок.

Сыдорук Яна, Черняк Оксана. Общественная роль Войцеха Ярузельского в “национальном спасения” Польши в 1981 г. В статье раскрыта роль деятельности Войцеха Ярузельского в Польше в 1981, а также освещены события введения военного положения. Рассмотрена роль общественного мнения и частично задействованы исторические аспекты, касающиеся пребывания у власти Ярузельского.
Ключевые слова: коммунистический режим, Польская Народная Республика, военное положение, “Солидарность”, демократия, национальное спасение.

The general theoretical outline of the problem and its importance. More than 32 years ago, on 13 December, 1981, the State Council of the Polish People’s Republic proclaimed martial law in the country. A Military Council of National Salvation was formed, with Jaruzelski as chairman. According to Jaruzelski, martial law was necessary to avoid a Soviet invasion. That’s why it is important to investigate today if the introduction of the martial law was “national salvation” for Poland.
Research on the theory and study of the phenomenon of martial law, of Wojciech Jaruzelski social and political activity is made in the works of N. Denysiuk, O. Mazanova, S. Filimonov [3, 5, 7], in which there was an attempt to disclose the political and economic situation in Poland, the activity of opposition organizations in the late 70’s and prerequisites for a broad protest movement in the early 80’s.
To solve the given problem generalized works of Ukrainian and Polish scientists on the history of modern Poland are important. The authors of the study for the first time highlighted the causes of the crisis of the political system in 1980, explored the forms and methods of struggle of the trade union “Solidarity” against the communist regime, considered the causes, course and consequences of mixed socio-economic and political reforms. The negative role of leadership of Poland in aggravation of socio-political and economic crisis was explored by E. Holzer, J. Kzheminski, A. Szudrowicz, F. Dubet, A. Dzhytsimski and T. Skutnik [8, 9, 14].
The purpose of the article is to investigate and give the estimation of the political activity of Wojciech Jaruzelski. The objective is to determine the role of the tenure of President Wojciech Jaruzelski and his imposition of martial law in 1981 as a “national salvation” for the country.
Wojciech Jaruzelski was buried with full military honors at Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw, on Friday, May 30, 2014. The personality of Jaruzelski caused controversies during his lifetime, so it causes them today. The funeral of the General was accompanied by numerous protests. His opponents gathered both before the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army, where the funeral liturgy was held, and at Powązki Military Cemetery. Why does the figure of the late General Jaruzelski inflame so many emotions among the Poles?
Jaruzelski died on 25 May 2014, in a Warsaw hospital after suffering a stroke earlier that month. He was the last communist leader of the Polish People’s Republic, served as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party from 1981 to 1989, Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985 and the country’s head of state from 1985 to 1990. He was also the last commander-in-chief of the Polish People’s Army (LWP).
In September and October of 1981 the first Congress of Trade Union “Solidarity” was held in Gdansk at which it was decided to start a struggle for power. Political slogans were put forward in the first place. (At that time, the “Solidarity” comprised 9 million people.). The political crisis was added to the economic one in the country. Poland turned out to be before the Soviet intervention for the purpose of restoring order. To avoid intervention and civil war and under the pressure of the Soviet leadership according to the Article 33 of the Constitution of Poland Polish authorities declared martial law on the territory of the whole country. At night 12 to 13 December of 1981, the Military Council of National Salvation headed by Wojciech Jaruzelski was established. After transformation of socio-political system in Poland in 1989-1990, he was elected as the President of Poland by not the popular vote, but by the National Assembly [11].
General Jaruzelski was charged with complicity in the bloody suppression of workers’ strikes in the Polish coast in 1970. As the Minister of National Defence, he was also responsible for participation of the Polish Army in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. However, the vast majority of Poles remember Jaruzelski as a person who on 13 December of 1981 imposed martial law in Poland and led the Military Council of National Salvation.
On 13 December, 1981, General Jaruzelski informed the Poles by the radio about introduction of martial law and giving the full power to the Military Council of National Salvation. The decree of martial law temporarily limited constitutional rights of citizens and introduced new demands of labor organization, suspended the activities of all political parties, civil society organizations and trade unions. Restrictions on the movement of all citizens were introduced, all forms of tourism and sports, strikes, mass rallies and meetings (except for religious ceremonies) were banned, the activity of self-governing organizations was stopped, all means of information distribution was prohibited, censorship of mail and telephone calls was introduced, citizens were obliged to surrender their weapons of all types.
“Police hour” was introduced on the whole territory. The police and army received broad powers to restore order in public places. The institute to punish those who do not perform military orders was introduced. Transport, communications, energy, trade and 129 largest enterprises were subject to militarization. The academic process was stopped in all educational establishments, borders and airports were closed. Only two national newspapers came out [4].
Several thousand opposition campaigners were interned, and strikes were crushed with the help of the army and special riot police units. On 16 December nine miners were killed in the Wujek Coal Mine. Many members of the opposition and underground trade-unionists were sentenced to prison terms, others were forced to emigrate.
Some 10,000 people were rounded up and about 100 died during martial law.
Lech Walesa, one of those arrested, condemned the declaration as a “great crime the broke the unity of the nation” [13]
Jaruzelski later explained, the introduction of martial law in Poland was supposedly “lesser evil.” If this had not been done, Soviet troops would have entered the Polish People’s Republic. And then the events similar to those in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 would have happened… Do the explanations made by Jaruzelski have the foundation? People in Poland debate about it till nowadays. Some of them believe that Jaruzelski actually prevented large blood, and therefore his actions were justified. Others believe that talk of a possible Soviet intervention are only “horror”, which Jaruzelski used trying to justify himself. In fact, the Soviet Union, who had already got into the war in Afghanistan, would hardly dare to the second major military operation.
But, according to NATO documents declassified to coincide with the 30th-anniversary of the declaration of martial law, the Soviet Union had little intention of intervening in Poland as it had done in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary 12 years earlier [13].
After years of legal wrangling and delays, Jaruzelski finally appeared in court in 2000 to answer charges of ordering the shooting of striking shipyard workers in 1970. The trial was expected to last 30 years. In 2006 he was charged by the Institute of National Remembrance on two counts relating to abuses during his time in office, but he pleaded ill health and avoided appearing in court. In February 2008, Jaruzelski told the reporter that he did not expect to live to the time of announcing any verdict.
Activists of the “Solidarity” tried to judge him for the imposition of martial law in 1981, but the court refused to hear the case on the grounds that the post-communist Polish Parliament justified him in 1996 [6].
The polls also showed that most Poles were ready to accept the explanation as to Wojciech Jaruzelski martial law as the “lesser evil” that was intended to prevent a Soviet invasion. Described by many Poles as a dictator, who was acting according to the instructions from the Kremlin, he insisted that he was a Polish patriot, who always tried to do everything for their country.
The introduction of martial law in Poland was for the Poles a big shock. This day remained deeply in the memory of the Poles who lived in those days. Appearing on Polish television at 6 AM on December 13, 1981, General Jaruzelski said:
(archive) – Our homeland is at the edge of an abyss. State structures are ceasing to function. Each day delivers new blows to the waning economy. Chaos and demoralization have reached the magnitude of a catastrophe. I appeal to all the citizens. A time of heavy trials has arrived. And we have to stand those in order to prove that we are worthy of Poland. Before all the Polish people and the whole world I would like to repeat the immortal words: Poland has not yet perished, so long as we still live! [1].
Criminal proceedings were initiated against General Jaruzelski as to the introduction of martial law. He was accused of committing the communism crime, which was in control of “criminal armed organization, the purpose of which was to commit crimes.”
Marshal of the Senate, former member of the anti-communist opposition Bogdan Borusewicz admitted that he “does not feel any mourning” after the death of Jaruzelski. Borusewicz said that the general was the “face of communism.”
Primarily negative memories are connected with the personality of Jaruzelski – said the speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland Bogdan Borusewicz.
Activity of General Jaruzelski is also sometimes considered in a positive way. Representatives of one of the parties note that Wojciech Jaruzelski chose “the lesser evil”. As the leader of the left Leszek Miller suggests, having introduced martial law, General Yazuzelskyy saved many lives: “He was an architect of the round table, without which today we might not be able to participate in the elections to the European Parliament” [15].
In his eulogy, Kwasniewski said that in ordering the imposition of martial law, General Jaruzelski chose, “with sincere conviction at a moment of severe crisis the lesser of two evils: protecting us from either foreign intervention or a fraternal civil war” [12].
It should be noted that though Wojciech Jaruzelski was one of the initiators of the “round table”, he did not participate in its meetings.
After the democratic changes in 1989 Jaruzelski served as President of the Polish People’s Republic. He held this position until December 1990, till the election of Lech Wałęsa as the president in the popular vote.
Opposition leader of the Polish People’s Republic time Aleksander Hall is sympathetic to the fact that the figure of General will always provoke controversial emotions in the society. The historian noted that at the final stage of his activity General Jaruzelski, nevertheless, played a positive role:
– Besides the darkest pages of his biography (and, in my opinion, there were many of them), there are also others – at the final stage of politic activity, after all, he played a positive role: he allowed bloodless transition of Poland to the path of democracy. He did not interfere in the changes that were then introduced in Poland. I respect the decision of the government regarding the form of General Wojciech Jaruzelski funeral – said on Radio Gdansk Aleksander Hall [2].
General Jaruzelski was buried at Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw with full military honors. The mass mourning at Field Cathedral of the Polish Army was attended by President Bronislaw Komorowski and former presidents Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwasniewski.
On 12 December last year, the President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski lit a candle in the window of his Warsaw residence – in memory of the victims of war. Komorowski urged Poles to remember those who can not enjoy democracy and freedom in the full extent. “Let the gesture of solidarity from us, Poles, reinforce the belief that freedom can not be stopped, can not be subjected to censorship or beat by a policeman. Freedom can not be imprisoned,”- said the president of Poland last year. Komorowski was speaking then primarily about Belarus. Today, these words are relevant for Ukraine.
Conclusions. This period of being Wojciech Jaruzelski in power is considered by many as a negative phase of the history of Poland after the Nazi occupation. Almost all social organizations (except pro-governmental) were closed in the state, strict censorship was introduced. There was a sharp increase in the number of suicides. According to Jaruzelski and a number of politicians of “old generation” cruelty of the regime was a necessary measure, taking into account the danger of the invasion of the Warsaw Pact countries, it was a “lesser evil” than direct foreign occupation.
In present day Poland, a person’s opinion in this debate is very strongly correlated with their current political affiliation, with left-wing supporters acknowledging the need for martial law and right-wing supporters opposing it. According to the 2001 poll results 49% of Poles agreed that the decision was justifiable, while 27% did not. Furthermore, 61% agreed that martial law prevented a Soviet military intervention, while 57% agreed it allowed the ruling party to keep their power.

List of the used literature

1. Броніславскій Є., Вачнадзе Г.Н. Польський діалог. Події в Польщі очима польських, радянських, американських, англійських, німецьких і французьких журналістів. – Тбілісі: Ганатлеба, 1990.
2. Войцєх Ярузельський – символ комунізму чи архітектор змін? [Електронний ресурс]. –Режим доступу до ресурсу:
3. Денисюк Н. Політична ситуація в Польщі напередодні запровадження воєнного стану (1980–1981 рр.) / Наталія Денисюк // Україна і Польща в ХХ столітті: проблеми і перспективи взаємовідносин. – К.– Краків, 2002. – С. 217–220
4. Криза 1980 та запровадження воєнного стану [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу до ресурсу: < =com_content &task =view&id=4388&Itemid=69
5. Мазанова О. П. Кризові явища в Польщі та політика римсько-католицької церкви (70–80 ті роки ХХ століття) / О. П. Мазанова // Київський університет імені Тараса Шевченка. Вісник. Історія. – Вип. 37. – К., 1998. – С. 65–71
6. Тимовський М., Кеневіч Я., Хольцер Е. Історія Польщі / Пер. з польської. – М.: Весь світ, 2004
7. Філімонов С. М. НСПС “Солідарність” напередодні введення воєнного стану в Польщі / С. М. Філімонов // Військово-науковий вісник. “Львівська політехніка”. – Львів, 2000. – С. 85–92
8. Holzer J. „Solidarnoњж” 1980–1981. Geneza i historia / Jerzy Holzer. – Warszawa, 1990. – 370 s.
9. Krzemiсski I. Proces formowania siк NSZZ „Solidarnoњж” 1980 / Ireneusz Krzemiсski. – Warszawa, 1989. – 218 s.
10. Martial law in Poland [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу до ресурсу:
11. Pieniądze ,,Solidarności’” [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу до ресурсу: http://www.trybuna. n_show.php?code=2006060610
12. Poland buries last communistera leader [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу до ресурсу:,Poland-buries-last-communistera-leader-#sthash.hZj9llxg.dpuf
13. Poland remembers 30th anniversary of martial law declared to crush Solidarity [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу до ресурсу: http://www.
14. Szudrowicz A. NSZZ „Solidarniњж” 1980–1981 / Alojzy Szudrowicz. – Bydgoszcz, 1998. – 190 s.
15. Tymowski M. Historia Polski. – Warszawa, 1991. – 381 s.


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