Martial law in Poland

Martial law in Poland (Polish: Stan wojenny w Polsce) was declared in the period between 13 December 1981 and 22 July 1983. The government of the Polish People’s Republic drastically restricted everyday life by introducing martial law and a military junta in an attempt to counter political opposition, in particular the Solidarity movement. Thousands of opposition activists were imprisoned without charge, and as many as 91 killed. Although martial law was lifted in 1983, many political prisoners were not released until a general amnesty in 1986.

Since the 1970s, communist Poland was in a deep economic recession. First Secretary Edward Gierek obtained a series of large loans from foreign creditors to achieve a better economic output that instead resulted in a domestic crisis. Essential goods were being heavily rationed, which acted as a stimulus to establish the first anti-communist trade union in the Communist Bloc, known as Solidarity, in 1980. Gierek, who permitted the trade union to appear per the Gdańsk Agreement, was dismissed from his post less than a month later and confined to house arrest. Following countless strikes and demonstrations by employees of chief industrial regions, Poland was directly heading towards bankruptcy.

The Military Council of National Salvation was formed by the new First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who was determined to put an end to the demonstrations by force if necessary. On 13 December 1981, Jaruzelski announced the introduction of martial law in a televised speech. The Polish People’s Army, Citizens’ Militia (MO), ZOMO special units and tanks were deployed onto the streets to demoralize demonstrators, begin regular patrols and maintain curfew. Intercity travelling without a permit was forbidden, food shortages intensified and censorship was placed again on all media and post. The secret services (SB) wiretapped phones in public booths and state institutions.

On 16 December, pro-Solidarity miners organized a strike against the declaration of martial law at the Wujek Coal Mine in the industrial city of Katowice. The ZOMO squads harshly pacified Wujek, which resulted in 9 miners’ deaths. All other demonstrations across Poland were met with an armed force, which utilized water cannons, tear gas, batons, truncheons and clubs to disperse crowds and beat protesters. Thousands were detained, and some were tortured in state prisons. On 31 August 1982, in the copper-mining town of Lubin, three people were mortally wounded. Until the end of martial law on 22 July 1983, approximately 91 people were killed, though this figure varies and is still debated among historians.

After the short tenure of Stanisław Kania, General and Minister of Defence Wojciech Jaruzelski was chosen as the new first secretary. Before assuming office, Jaruzelski ordered the Polish General Staff to update plans for a nationwide martial law on 22 October 1980. In November 1980, the Ministry of Internal Affairs planned to potentially facilitate thousands of oppositionists in state prisons and places of internment.

On 5 December 1980, Kania spoke of the preparations relating to martial law at the Warsaw Pact Summit in Moscow. He presented his own view of how to weaken Solidarity and insisted that a „psychological-operational method” would be most appropriate to prevent violence. This method entailed strong propaganda against the movement and deploying secret services (SB) to go undercover and infiltrate Solidarity headquarters in the hope of creating internal conflicts within the opposition. General Jaruzelski was not fully satisfied with the plan, and, in case of failure, already planned radical actions involving the army. Stanisław Kania warned Brezhnev that an armed intervention from the Soviet side to aid Jaruzelski would be met „with a violent reaction, or even with a national uprising” that would shake the politics of the Eastern Bloc.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, chief security advisor to US president Jimmy Carter, stated that if the Soviet Union would undertake an armed intervention in Poland, the US would strike back in a riposte manner. According to historian and publicist Paul Kengor, then-US president Ronald Reagan considered sending American troops to Poland to scare off the Soviets. This claim was not supported by Brzezinski nor by Richard Pipes from Harvard University. Kengor then elaborated that Reagan eventually abandoned the plan after he was convinced by his own advisors that the US army stationed across Europe was less capable and much weaker than the Soviet forces. The United States eventually struck back with economic sanctions against Poland and the USSR. A censored regional newspaper that reported about the Bydgoszcz events, in which the militia abused Solidarity members. The censorship was to prevent the slander of state services

In February 1981, the Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of the Internal Affairs carried out a training scenario, the purpose of which was to explore how martial law would be introduced. The ministries agreed that martial law should be preceded by appropriate propaganda calling for its support, and the decision itself should be based on a pretext that it would bring peace and stability for the society. It was also highlighted that martial law must occur before the fully mobilized Fighting Solidarity and its allies organize a general strike that would paralyze the entire country. By March, the situation escalated after the Bydgoszcz events, in which local Solidarity delegates invited for a regional national council meeting in Bydgoszcz to discuss potential strikes were beaten and abused by the citizens’ militia (MO). The event, which was to feature in newspapers as a provocation, was concealed by censors. On 27 March, Solidarity organized a warning strike directed at the government, but, on 30 March, Lech Wałęsa met with Mieczysław Rakowski and a compromise was achieved. The general strike was called off and the situation stabilized for a short period.

In July, the Soviets increased their military presence in the military base at Borne Sulinowo, where the Red Army stationed per Warsaw Pact agreement as in all other Eastern Bloc countries. Without notifying the Polish authorities, the Soviets unexpectedly sent over 600 tanks to Borne Sulinowo. A month later, commander-in-chief of the Warsaw Pact, Viktor Kulikov, requested that Soviet military advisors are to be placed in the Polish General Staff and assigned to nearly all Polish regiments. It is suspected that Kulikov, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union, was tasked with sending undercover KGB agents to monitor the situation in Poland from the Polish military’s perspective. His request, however, was immediately denied by the Polish government.

Over 25,000 posters announcing martial law were secretly printed in the Soviet Union, transported to Poland by airplane and hidden in the large building housing the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The full extent of the actions undertaken by Jaruzelski to instigate martial law was not known by even some of the highest notables in the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party or the Polish Sejm.

The Military Council of National Salvation (WRON), which was founded on 13 December and presided over the military junta. Its Polish abbreviation „WRONa” means a crow bird, and members of the council were known to the opposition as evil „Crows”

On 12 December 1981, shortly before midnight, the Polish Council of State gathered in Warsaw’s Belweder Palace and approved nationwide martial law. Simultaneously, the Military Council of National Salvation (WRON – Wrona is translated as „Crow”) was founded and its members were high-ranking generals or military officers in the Polish People’s Army, who were in charge of the military junta. The generals and officers later became known to the public as evil „Crows”, in relation to the Polish name of the council.

At precisely 00:00 (12:00 a.m.), the Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia (ZOMO) began „Akcja Jodła” (English: Operation Fir) and arrested the first members of Solidarity who were at close reach. They were then placed in previously-prepared detention facilities. In total, between 70,000 and 80,000 soldiers of the People’s Army and 30,000 functionaries of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (including SB, ZOMO and the militia) were deployed for action. Around 1,750 tanks, 1,900 armoured combat vehicles, 500 militarized transport units, 9,000 cars and several helicopter squadrons were in service. Twenty-five per cent of all units concentrated in the capital, Warsaw, or in surrounding localities.

Preceding Jodła was „Akcja Azalia” (English: Operation Azalea), which began at around 22:30 (10:30 p.m.) on 12 December. Per Azalea, the SB secret services, paramilitary troops, the Militia, ZOMO and Border Protection Troops stormed 451 telecommunications exchange facilities and cut telephone lines to allegedly prevent the spread of misinformation. However, the operation’s true purpose was preventing Solidarity from contacting its branches in other cities to mobilize protesters. Radio and television stations were also besieged. Any volunteers wishing to assist in the arrests were drafted into ORMO.

The Polish Radio informed about martial law being imposed at a 06:00 (6:00 a.m.) audition, and transmitted the speech made by General Jaruzelski. Telewizja Polska network and its chief news program Dziennik (English: Journal) aired the speech in a slightly modified version. The declaration was watched by millions of Polish citizens despite the early hour.

Source: Wikipedia

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