Poland’s last communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, pleads not guilty at a Warsaw court hearing last month to charges related to his imposition of martial law in 1981.
As Poland’s last communist-era head of state, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski faced off with the country’s growing pro-democracy Solidarity movement and drew widespread criticism and outrage for his 1981 crackdown on the organization. Now some former detractors are reconsidering his legacy.
In December of 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law on Poland, orchestrating a brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union movement that eventually saw some 90 people killed, and around 10,000 detained in internment camps. But as Jaruzelski and six other former top officials set out their defense in a criminal trial over their coup and crackdown, many of the former leaders of Solidarity have emerged among the general’s staunchest defenders. In a bizarre twist of history, the leaders of the very movement Jaruzelski sought to crush 27 years ago now say he was right, at the time, to curb Solidarity’s growing appetite for power.
In his lengthy defense statement at the Warsaw regional court, Jaruzelski, who was prime minister at the time as well as the head of the Communist Party, explained his motivation for declaring martial law this way: In 1981, he argued, the Solidarity movement was in the throes of an internal power struggle between radicals and moderates, with Moscow watching closely, having reinforced the Soviet troop contingent stationed in Poland.