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Poland imposes martial law ‘to avert anarchy’ – archive, December 1981


Poland imposes martial law ‘to avert anarchy’

By Hella Pick
14 December 1981

Poland was locked tight under martial law last night, as the country’s leader, General Jaruzelski, made a last, desperate gamble to avoid “catastrophe.”

Mr Lech Walesa, the moderate leader of the independent trade union, Solidarity, was brought from Gdansk to Warsaw for talks with party officials, while hundreds of more militant union leaders were being interned throughout the country. Apparently, General Jaruzelski wants to use his emergency powers to force the moderates in the Polish Communist party and in Solidarity to rally round the banner of national unity.

The government spokesman, Mr Jerzy Urban, told a press conference in Warsaw that “Walesa is not arrested and not interned. He is being treated with all due respect.”

But there was no independent contact with Mr Walesa last night or any firm news of his whereabouts. The East German news agency, ADN, reported him as among those interned but later asked subscribers to delete the reference to Mr Walesa. Highly placed American sources said their best information was that he was under house arrest.

Official emphasis that all was well with Mr Walesa and that Solidarity would continue did not deter the distribution in Warsaw yesterday of leaflets originating in the militant Ursus tractor factory calling for “an immediate general strike in the whole country” in response “to the attack on the union aimed at its liquidation.” The response to this will be tested as factories throughout Poland reopen this morning.

Yesterday, Poland gripped in winter cold, and becalmed by shock, remained relatively quiet. Largely isolated from the outside world, with communications cut and borders sealed, the information that did get out suggested that there was little resistance as party militia rather than army units were used to swoop on dozens of Solidarity offices throughout the country, arresting many of the union’s activists. About one thousand Poles from various political groups were interned, the government spokesman disclosed.

General Jaruzelski went out of his way to plead for calm, and to reassure the country that “this was no military coup.” Warning that Poland is “on the edge of the abyss” the emotional terms of [his] pre-dawn announcement of martial law reflected his awareness that he had moved the country on to the razor’s edge.

But it could also plunge the country into civil strife, causing international repercussions that made NATO countries, and presumably the Kremlin also, activate crisis management teams to monitor events.

There was, however, no sign that Warsaw Pact troops had been placed on alert, and the Kremlin’s initial reaction was to concentrate on broadcasting a factual account of events in Poland. Moscow Radio’s only comment during the hours that followed the declaration of the emergency in Poland was to explain that the action had been taken in response to “the anarchy facing the country” and the “extremist actions of Solidarity leaders who are trying to take over the country.”

General Jaruzelski himself made his announcement in a 20 minute speech first broadcast at 5am and then repeated hourly until 9am. The speech came after troops carrying automatic rifles had taken up positions in central Warsaw – and presumably in Poland’s other principal cities.
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The day Poland’s head ruled its heart

By Michael Simmons
14 December 1981

The day before yesterday’s declaration of a State of Emergency In Poland, a solitary soldier – a boy of about 20 – stood nervously at the top of Warsaw’s main street, Marszalkowska, fingering his Soviet-made submachine gun. Another soldier of similar age, inexplicably armed only with a clip-board, stood next to him, as if to offer moral support. If that was a sign of martial law to come, it was the only one to be seen in the centre of the city.

A few yards away at the government run Metropole Hotel, there were two Solidarity flags flying above the main entrance – a splash of colour on a grey winter day. It is a safe bet that nine out of ten people waiting in the snow at the tram stop nearby were more pleased to see the flags than they were to see the soldiers. Asked, however, whether they thought the Army, or the internal security forces, might soon intervene, the answer, equally certainly, would be: “Yes – and sooner, rather than later.”

General Jaruzelski’s dramatic move will have surprised few Poles. Their weariness after more than 500 days of strikes and on-off tension has left little capacity for surprise. Talking with them last week, as they waited in the pitiful queues that are to be seen in almost every part of the frozen country, they were saying that something would have to give. Today, their judgment will probably be that “the General” had little choice.

The view of many of them will be that though martial law may be seen as an act of desperation and failure to reach the urgently needed understanding with Solidarity, there may yet be some very slender straws of hope. Perhaps, they just might be saying – though very cynically – to themselves, there might now be born an understanding of some sort.

On the other hand, standing a few days earlier outside the fire cadet training school, in the suburb of Zoliborz, among the crowd of thousands that were offering sullenly their support to those on strike inside, it was clear where public sympathies lay. Cigarettes, food and flowers were being handed through the railings to the strikers that could get to them. For the security services there was no sympathy, only abuse. If those now responsible for enforcing martial law get the same treatment, it will not be long before tempers get frayed and fighting breaks out.
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Western protest ‘is weak’

17 December 1981

BRUSSELS: A spokesman for Solidarity yesterday accused western governments of making a half-hearted response to the state of emergency in Poland.

Stefan Trzcinski, speaking for the Warsaw branch of the free trade union, told a press conference here that the west should have protested much more vigorously against the actions of Poland’s military rulers. “The stand so far taken by western governments is half-hearted and incorrect,” he said. “These methods will not produce stability or peace in Poland.”

Mr Trzeinski, who was visiting the headquarters of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICETU), left Poland at the weekend, just before the government announced its crackdown. “Acquired rights cannot be arbitrarily withdrawn … this cannot he allowed to happen in the heart of Europe.” he said. “There’s going to be trouble for years to come.”

Meanwhile in Moscow, Pravda said that martial law in Poland gave the country a chance to solve its problems. The newspaper also renewed Soviet attacks on the United States, saying that the secretary of state, Mr Haig, was menacing Poland’s leaders.

Mr Trzeinski said any aid sent to Poland would strengthen the military regime. Mr Trzecinski described contingency plans that Solidarity had worked out for a possible crisis of this kind. Wells had been drilled in large factories in case of water cuts, stockpiles of food had been built up, and alternative energy supplies had been secretly arranged. But he insisted that Solidarity’s plans had been purely defensive. He rejected the government’s claim that the union had been plotting to seize power.

Red alert over Poland

Hella Pick describes the fears – both east and west – for world safety in the wake of Poland’s military clampdown
16 December 1981

First the NATO Council, and now the EEC foreign ministers, have issued statements about Poland which seek to convey an air of calm understatement. Yes, there is a worrying situation, they argue, but it is for the Poles themselves to deal with on their own – ie Hands Off to the Soviet Union. The western statements point out, moreover, that the crisis is for the Poles to solve “without the use of force.’’

In its turn, the Kremlin has been telling the west to keep out of Polish affairs – and trying to suggest in the same breath that it is reasonably relaxed about the state of emergency in Poland, and confident that General Jaruzelski has a “positive” programme for pulling the country through.

But beneath the stiff upper lip, and the mutual warnings against direct involvement, there is the most profound concern – both east and west – that Poland could plunge the world into its deepest crisis since the Cuban missile episode of 1982. The situation in Poland is so brittle and unpredictable that nobody can even begin to guess whether General Jaruzelski can rally the Polish people. Outside observers, and even the diplomats in Warsaw who still have open communication lines, can only guess at the extent of resistance. Few doubt that the country is still in its “phoney war” period.
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