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    Poles commemorate 37th anniversary of martial law

    On December 13th 1981, the communist military junta of General Jaruzelski announced that they had declared a state of martial law in Poland in order to put a stop to the Solidarity movement. 10 million Poles had joined the first free trade union in the Soviet Block and used the movement to pressure the communist regime to start democratizing the country. In response, the regime deployed thousands of soldiers out on the streets on the morning of December 13th 1981, arresting thousands of solidarity activists. Up to 100 political dissidents were killed by the security forces.

    Solidarity was formed in August 1980 as a protest against the firing of Anna Walentynowicz from from her job as a crane operator at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Walentynowicz was fired for belonging to an illegal trade union 5 months ahead of her planned retirement, severly limiting her future pension. Workers across Poland had had enough of being treated poorly and within a month 1 million people were on strike under the slogan „Bring Anna Walentynowicz Back to Work”. The government was forced to back down and allow for the movement to found the first legal trade union in the Soviet Block on August 31st 1981. 

    The 15th months Solidarity existed as a legal organization is known in Polish history as ”the Carnival of Solidarity”. The working masses, and all people longing for democracy and an independent Poland, were for the first time optimistic about future. It was all cut short by General Jaruzelski announcing the introduction of martial law. In a telewized speech on morning of December 13th, Jaruzelski claimed that Poland was on the edge of an abyss. He continued by saying that the strikes were damaging to the economy and that an atmosphere of hatred in which there were voices calling for acts of reprisals against the reds. Jaruzelski announced that a Military Council of National Salvation had been formed and that it would implement martial law across the country. 

    Apart from the deaths and arrests, a curfew was introduced, telephone lines disconnected, mails were yet again subject to censorship and all independent organizations, including Solidarity, were declared illegal. Key sectors of the Polish economy were placed under the control of the military and employees were subject to military courts if declared enemy’s of the state. 

    General Jaruzelski justified his decision as the smaller evil, claiming that his actions had prevented a Soviet invasion of Poland. Documents from declassified archives in both Poland and Russia later showed that there was no truth to the claim and that Jaruzelski had actually pleaded with the Soviet leadership to promise him help to put down the unrests in case the Polish Army would not be able to handle the problem on its own. 

    For many years after communism fell, Poles would gather on the night between December 12th and 13th in front of the villa Warsaw villa where Jaruzelski lived, to commemorate all the victims of martial law and Jaruzelski’s regime. Today, people mark the day by attending commemoration
    marches and participating in or observing historical reenactment shows. 

    This year, Polish President Andrzej Duda, commemorated the event by issuing high orders to a couple of dozen dissidents of the Solidarity Movement. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented on the events 37 years ago by saying that it took away the last small remnents of freedom that Poles had. 

    Martial law was abolished on July 22nd 1983 but many political prisoners remained behind bars until an amnesty was issued in 1986. 

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