Wojciech Jaruzelski, 1923-2014
May 25, 2014 8:52 PM   Subscribe

Wojciech Jarzelski, Poland's last Communist leader, has died from complications following a stroke.

He is best known as the opponent of the Solidarity trade union movement. On December 13, 1981, he declared martial law (martial law previously), banning Solidarity and arresting/interning most of its members.

Jaruzelski also oversaw Poland's peaceful transition to an electoral democracy by permitting partially free elections in 1989, in which he was replaced in office by Lech Walesa. He faced trial in the new Polish state for his decision to have soldiers fire on striking miners in 1970. The trial was discontinued over Jaruselski's ill health.

He continued to insist that history would look more favorably upon his reputation. He was 90 years old.

Further reading

For the general reader, you can't go wrong with Tina Rosenberg's The Haunted Land: Facing Europe's Ghosts after Communism.

Lawrence Weschler, Passion of Poland (1984)

Timothy Garton-Ash, The Polish Revolution (1985)

Andrzej Paczkowski and Malcolm Byrne, From Solidarity to Martial Law. The Polish Crisis of 1980-1981 : A Documentary History

David Mason has written extensively about this period.
"Stalemate and Apathy in Poland" (1985)
"The Polish Party in Crisis" (1984)
"Solidarity, the Regime and the Public" (1983)

On the web
http://www.13grudnia81.pl/ (site operated by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance--in Polish)

Photos from martial law (Institute of National Remembrance website)
posted by orrnyereg (8 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Renoroc at 9:01 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by tychotesla at 9:45 PM on May 25, 2014

NARRATOR: In 1983 the Pope returned to Poland during this charged, dangerous time. He had come to reassure his countrymen and to confront the government.

BILL BLAKEMORE: And so we're all looking very closely when Jaruzelski and the Pope come out for their first public formal meeting. And the camera pans down, and you realize that Jaruzelski is standing there, his knees are trembling. And we all searched for explanations.

Jaruzelski himself ultimately said, "Those were the classic, cliched trembling knees in front of something I knew was extremely powerful." The Pope had this kind of authenticity of nationhood, so that even Jaruzelski himself was put on notice that he was in front of the master.
—Frontline, The Millenial Pope
posted by migurski at 10:31 PM on May 25, 2014

I think I recently gave up on my threadbare, me-30-years-back-sized Solidarność t-shirt, so I suppose my sympathies are clear. But the Polish sentiment seems to have moved in favor of Jaruszelski at least having made a difficult choice for the right reasons, or something like that, and Lech Wałęsa did live to be President of Poland, which is exactly the thing that in 1981 nobody ever thought could ever be possible.
posted by dhartung at 10:49 PM on May 25, 2014

There are still people in Poland who are disappointed that he "got away", there were demonstrations under his home on each December 13th, the anniversary of the martial law. But the majority is content to let him be judged by the history and/or the God.
The weight of his decisions was measured in human lives, and although I never supported him, I'm glad that he at least was aware of that when he was making them, as far as I know. Now may he rest in peace.
posted by hat_eater at 12:07 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

If nothing else he was a Pole, and his martial law was a much better thing than a Russian invasion. RIP.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:24 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a tough one.
He fought as hard as he could to preserve the old, communist Poland and yet, when it became clear that all that was over, he quietly set about dismantling the whole structure.
The Poles are far too sensible a people to have fallen into civil war, but the transition from communism to democracy could have been far, far uglier had it not been for Jaruzelski easing the way.
He was a cold, hard bastard but he may have been exactly the cold, hard bastard needed at the time.
Not a great man. Not even a good one
Still, history may look favorably on him.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:49 AM on May 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Jaruzelski was a complicated man. The country was lucky that he didn't love power for its own sake. Late in his life, he faced his accusers with dignity and steadfastness. It's still not clear what happened in 1981, and that's what history must judge him on. But in 1989, and thereafter, he acted honorably and deserves our respect.
posted by idlewords at 3:47 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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