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    That's what the military coup looked like. In the night from 12th to 13th December, martial law was imposed

    41 years ago, on the night of 12-13 December 1981, martial law was imposed. A military junta led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski took power. The primary goal of the communist authorities was to liquidate the multi-million strong “Solidarity” movement. As a result of the military coup, several dozen Poles were killed.

    The creation of the Solidarity Trade Union was a breakthrough in the communist system. It was considered a bloodless revolution by many Western commentators. In the Kremlin, the creation of Solidarity was considered a defeat for the “Polish comrades”, which was to be repaired by all available means. As early as on the 3rd of September 1980, the Soviet authorities prepared instructions for the new leadership of the PZPR (Polish United Worker’s Party). It recommended the “preparation of a counter-attack”, the aim of which was to “return to the lost positions in the working class”. The USSR aimed to destroy the “Solidarity” movement with the help of Polish communists.

    Preparations for the introduction of martial law were supervised by the Commander-in-Chief of the Warsaw Pact troops, Marshal Viktor Kulikov of the USSR, and his staff officers. From the beginning, however, the work was carried out at the General Staff of the Polish Army. Already on 22 October 1980, i.e., before the formal registration of NSZZ Solidarność, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) requested the General Staff to appoint a team which would prepare plans in case of a general strike organised by the Solidarity.

    On the same day, at a staff meeting, it was decided to work out the assumptions for the “imposition of martial law for reasons of national security”. At the same time, the Kremlin was preparing a scenario for direct intervention by the Warsaw Pact countries. The great “Alliance-80” manoeuvres, scheduled for December 1980, were to be a prelude to its implementation. Eventually, as a result of U.S. diplomatic pressure and assurances from the communist authorities that “they would manage on their own,” Leonid Brezhnev decided to call them off.

    For the purposes of martial law, various legal acts were drafted, 100,000 copies of the martial law proclamation were printed in the Soviet Union, lists of military commissars were established to take control over the state administration and larger workplaces, and institutions and enterprises that were to be militarized were selected.

    Since mid-October, over a thousand Military Field Operations Groups have been familiarizing themselves with the area of future operations. ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) units underwent intensive training in fighting with the crowd. In prisons, there were places prepared for almost 5 thousand “Solidarity” and opposition activists, who were to be interned based on lists drawn up from the beginning of 1981. 

    Changes at the top of the PRL (Polish People’s Republic) regime were also an element of the preparations for martial law. On 18 October 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski was elected the new First Secretary of the Central Committee of the PZPR. He thus concentrated control of the government, the party and the military in his hands. It was fostered by the growing weariness of society caused by the permanent crisis and the declining support for Solidarity.

    At the beginning of December 1981, the Solidarity leadership was aware of the sudden increase of tension, but they hoped that the confrontation with the communist authorities would only take place after the Polish Parliament had passed the government bill “On extraordinary measures for the protection of citizens and the state”. 

    Many leading activists of “S”, convinced of their strength and social support, made excessively optimistic political forecasts. Jacek Kuroń thought that General Jaruzelski would withdraw his hand at the last moment “in his usual way”. Some, including Janusz Palubicki, thought that the militia forces would not act against the workers and would perhaps take their side. Only a small number of activists, mostly local, decided to secure financial resources and printing machines. After December 13, they proved invaluable to the underground structures.

    The decision to impose martial law was accepted on 5 December 1981 by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the PZPR. Jaruzelski was given the freedom by his party comrades to choose a specific date to launch the operation. On the night from 8 to 9 December 1981, during a meeting with Marshal Kulikov, who was in Warsaw, General Jaruzelski informed him about the planned actions but did not give a specific date of their beginning.

    The course of this meeting is known from a note by Marshal Kulikow’s adjutant, General Viktor Anoshkin. It shows that Jaruzelski asked the Soviets to provide military support after the imposition of martial law if popular resistance was massive.

    “A strike is the best option for us. The workers will remain on site. It will be worse if they come out of workplaces and start vandalizing party committees, organizing street demonstrations, etc. If this were to sweep across the country, you guys would be the ones to help us. We can’t do it alone,”

    the communist leader argued.

    As part of the “Azalia” operation, the forces of the Ministry of the Interior and the Polish Army seized the facilities of the Polish Radio and Television and blocked domestic and foreign connections in telecommunications centres. Under the code name “Jodła” (eng. fir tree), groups of militiamen and Security Service officers began to intern Solidarity activists and political opposition leaders.

    ZOMO detachments occupied the premises of Solidarity’s regional boards, detaining the people staying there and securing the communication and printing equipment they found. Armoured and mechanized troops were sent to the cities and placed at major transportation hubs, offices, and other strategic facilities. Arrests were carried out among independent intellectuals, including organizers and participants of the Congress of Polish Culture, which was taking place in Warsaw.

    The main impact was in Gdansk, where the National Commission of the Solidarity Trade Union was meeting on Saturday and where many trade union activists and advisers were staying in connection with this. During the night about 30 members of the National Commission and several advisers were detained in Gdansk. Only a few managed to avoid arrest.

    To be continued tomorrow…

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