Sunday, 13 December 2009

Nightmare of the past – episode 28

We have plenty of phrases to describe what happened twenty eight years ago: Wojna Polsko – Jaruzelska (Polish vs. Jaruzelski war), Dzień, w którym Jaruzelski wypowiedział wojnę Polakom (The day Jaruzelski declared war to Poles), or maybe simply Stan wojenny (Martial Law).

Each year, around 13 December the topic of martial law is revived, victims are commemorated, opponents stage demonstrations in front of general’s house in Warsaw. Each year historians, journalists and ordinary people ask if it really had to happen.

My take on this is that we will never find out the truth on the backstage of the martial law. Probably Polish society will be divided in its views on martial law.
Those who claim it could have been prevented point out that Jaruzelski and his henchmen (the biggest part was played by Czesław Kiszczak) were preparing their crackdown on Solidarity since August 1980 and the risk of Soviet intervention in late 1981 was diminutive. They also argue the CPSU leaders were reluctant to offer military help to Poland, as the Soviet economy was on its knees, war in Afghanistan stirred up more troubles than expected and they were afraid of the reactions on the international political arena.
The supporters of the imposition of martial law remind that Brezhnev doctrine was still in force and the threat of Soviet invasion was real. Moreover, they say solving the problem with our own hands was lesser of two evils and if Warsaw Pact armies had trespassed onto the territory of Poland, death toll would have been much higher.

This year, the Institute of National Remembrance published in its bulletin the alleged evidence that general Jaruzelski had been asking or even insisting on [military] help from the Soviets (the article is available only in Polish, the quality of English-language releases from IPN leaves a lot to be desired). I took the trouble to read the short paper, which consists of introduction and the record of conversation between Jaruzelski and Soviet general Kulikov, which took place four days before martial law was declared. In the introduction professor Dudek from IPN asserts Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in spite of Soviets’ refusal to cross the borders of Poland. Meanwhile in the document Mr Kulikov mentions the operation “Shield-81” (a plan of Warsaw Pact military intervention in Poland, known also as ZAPAD-81), though he hopes Polish army will put down the counterrevolution.

Documents, though patchy and from dodgy source (I would like to point up that for no apparent reason documents drawn up by Russians and Secret Service Officers are the most reliable source of information for IPN. For sure Russians, who have always hated Poland and wanted my country to be subjugated to theirs, had always clear intentions and Esbecja officers were morally impeccable and always told and wrote the truth!) show Jaruzelski’s determination to clamp down on Solidarity movement and his fear that Polish army forces would not be up to the task of restoring the law and order of socialism. Historians argue Jaruzelski can be accused of treason on the basis of those documents, the general asserts the notes had been fabricated, former president and former PZPR member Aleksander Kwaśniewski says what Jaruzelski did was a well-thought-out stratagem aimed to outwit comrades from USRR. This is a step too far, but I have another supposition. Jaruzelski tried to sound Soviet military leaders out. Bearing in mind his war experiences and the fact he had been in charge of Polish military units which had taken part in the military operation in Czechoslovakia in 1968, I conclude he must have been afraid of the implications of military support from allies.

In 1981 Jaruzelski found himself between the devil (opposition in Poland) and the deep blue sea (Soviet comrades). The choice he made is controversial but cannot be judged easily – he might have tried to save the domination of communist party in Poland (what he actually succeeded in), it have might have been an adroit coup d’etat, or it could have been the measure taken to prevent a bigger tragedy – the words from general’s speech sound still enigmatic to me.

I was born six years after the incidents I describe had taken place, so I cannot remember those events, that is why apart from reading and listening to the accounts of martial law I am provided by the media, I asked my parents and grandparents how they had felt before and after 13 December. Like millions of Poles, neither affiliated with the party, nor keen to join the opposition, the feared the Russian invasion. No wonder, they had heard about what had happened in Hungary in 1956, remembered well disgraceful operation in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and knew that our potential to put up resistance against Warsaw Pact forces would be much stronger than in the other countries of Soviet Bloc. Even in the Polish army anti-soviet moods prevailed. Those who served there only in the minority were the ones who had voluntarily reported, on account of their desire to defend the socialist homeland, most of the soldiers were called up and if the push had come to the shove they would have started a rebellion.

But the fear of Russian intervention was not the worst. What really filled them with dread was the possibility of CIVIL WAR. Almost nobody mentions that aspect today, everybody focuses on military problems. According to their descriptions of those days, never, after WW2 had the Polish society been so divided as then. The majority backed Solidarity, this part of the nation was numerous and well-organised, the minority followed the line of the party. There were the splinter groups stemming from the Solidarity, whose members wanted to solve the problem of communist power in a very radical way. The chant:

A na drzewach zamiast liści,
wisieć będą komuniści.

(On the trees, instead of leaves,
those to hang will be communists.)

best summarised their intentions of overthrowing the system. On the other side Polish army would not hesitate to put down the counterrevolution. After twenty eight years it is still beyond my comprehension that Poles wanted to kill one another. According to what I have heard directly from many people, Poland was on the verge of fratricidal carnage and it, in their view, justified the martial law. I deeply condemn both parties that stood on the opposite sides of the barricade. Radical anti-communists’ ideas were based on primeval, though kind of natural instincts of getting their own back on their oppressors – but slaughter is not a civilised way of handling conflicts (look at the example of Romania – it probably must have happened, but their tyrant had been much more cruel than our leaders, but is there anything to be proud of?). And the determination of party or military authorities to hold on to their privileges under the system was reprehensible as well…

As an economist I cannot leave out another facet of the problem, also omitted by historians. Those from IPN claim Jaruzelski intimidated Poles with a “vision of cold and hunger”. Indeed in 1981 Polish economy was in the state of collapse, firstly because of all the flaws of socialist concept of extensive development had already come to the light, secondly because it had been paralysed by ongoing strikes. All the current economic liberals would bridle at the economic postulates of Solidarity, which boiled down to a few demands: work less, earn more and maintain the social security offered by the socialism. Their approach in the tough political and economic circumstances is still hard to assess. Soviet Union was unwilling to offer us military help, but cutting off economic aid would cost them much less…

The defenders of general Jaruzelski say martial law paved the way to democratisation and round table sessions, his adversaries state it suppressed our aspirations for independence. My opinion is somewhere in the middle. Before Gorbachev came to power in 1985 chances to secede from the Warsaw Pact and Socialist Bloc without running the risk of military intervention and economic breakdown were tiny. What paved the way for round table session were perestroika in USSR and economic decay of socialism. When the system was at the end of its tether, leaders of People’s Poland decided to share the responsibility for the country with the opposition, at least this is how I see it.

The further we go from the socialism, the more myths arouse. The social support for Jaruzelski’s decision is gradually falling and what is characteristic is that the older the surveyed are, the bigger the per cent of general’s supporters is. The older remember those days better and are more aware of historical situation, the younger, who were either too young to understand what had happened or so young that they were born after 1981, tend to be regard the martial law as a crime. I wonder to what extent the older have been manipulated by the communist propaganda and how the younger are manipulated by the one-sided picture created by Institute of National Remembrance, which has a monopoly for dealing with the modern history of Poland.

History is a part of our identity. I find it highly alarming when the young people asked by a TV journalist on street about the martial law declare they know very little about it. The remembrance of those events and victims of those days should be nurtured. But the whole debate over the martial law which is conducted every year does not move Poland forward. Mr Kurtyka will not build motorways, Mr Gontarczyk (Polish chief expert in decrying former presidents) will not solve the problems of higher education system, Mr Dudek will not simplify Polish tax code. But their merits in undermining the social trust and spreading hatred are indisputable. I partly blame them, whenever I see the youngsters, born like me in the late eighties, who chant the song bringing on hanging communist on the trees. They, who have never been persecuted, imprisoned for their political views, beaten by the milicja during the street demonstration, those who have never experienced shortfall of goods or lack of future prospects find it very easy to air their views in a free and independent country. In my perception, they are eaten up with hatred. History may judge Jaruzelski, but have the youngsters right to do that?

I can only recommend the English website prepared by the IPN. Unbiased and with decent content, but as usually done by amateurs – for sure they have not consulted any native English speaker before publishing it – the mistakes are typical for inexperienced translators (I know something about it from my own experience and mistakes I used to make and sometimes still make – see the problems they have had with word order for instance).

I appreciate it, if some of you shared your recollections of 13 December 1981. What were you doing? What did you feel? And please don’t write: “I hate that guy, he took away my Teleranek”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been born after the maritial law, but from the information about Jaruzelski that I have, I can't see him as a decent human being.

Not even ecause of the maritial law. For example - there is order signed by Jaruzelski, to shoot down Polish plane with men escpaing to the west. He could wait a few minutes and that men would fly away. That plane was over the Czechoslowacja. If Jaruzelski was so good et all, why did he ordered to kill that men? I know - it's only one incident, but for me this is the proof that he didn't mean good, only wanted to keep power. So I also don't think he wanted good to Poles when declaring maritial law.

No matter what the truth about maritial law was - Jaruzelski is responsible for that death, so he is a killer and should be judged for that.