Poland on the Eve of Martial Law: 25 Years On
Recorded on December 12, 2006
Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium
On December 13, 1981 Poland awoke to find itself under Martial
Law. Imposed by Prime Minister Jaruzelski to "defend socialism"
from Solidarity, the first independent trade union in Eastern
Europe during the Soviet era, all travel, outside communications,
economic activity and media reports were put under military
administration. Solidarity's leaders and activists were arrested
and imprisoned without sentence, and active resistance was brutally
crushed. Martial Law was eventually suspended on December 31, 1982
although much of the restrictive legislation continued throughout
the 1980s. At a state dinner in Warsaw in November 1988, British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called for "personal and political
liberty," joining growing international pressure from the Pope and
President Reagan. On June 5, 1989, Solidarity won the first free
elections in Poland after WWII by a land-slide.
What was it like to wake up to the sight of tanks and armed
military units on the street? And what are the longer-lasting
consequences of this event? Successive polls show that around 50%
of Poles consider Jaruzelski's decision to impose martial law as
justified, although prosecutors filed charges against Gen.
Jaruzelski this March, to prosecute the unconstitutional imposition
of martial law. Our panelists will reflect on their direct
experiences of martial law in Poland, what happened afterwards, and
analyze the residual effects on modern Poland today.