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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.