Poland's Wojciech Jaruzelski still fighting hard to shape history

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Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader, is still fighting hard to shape history. Press any hot button and the general holds forth in long, clear, numbing sentences, as if back at a Party Plenum. Martial law imposed by him in the early hours of Dec. 13, 1981, to break Solidarity and Lech Walesa? That, he claims -- as he has always done -- "saved Poland" from the Soviets. His unswerving loyalty to Moscow and a decade of strongman rule? That paved the way for democracy. Gen. Jaruzelski's self-obsession has filled several memoirs, including his Polish best-seller, "Martial Law: Why?" A man so closely associated with the darkest episodes in his nation's recent past wants the future not so much to forgive him as to understand him -- and even give him a little credit for a free, undivided Europe.

But the here-and-now prevents him from completing the makeover. All his pleasant demeanor and engaging intelligence, which emerged in earnest once the uniform came off for good, can't shake the younger politicians and prosecutors who also see Poland's history worth fighting over. With time, the public's judgment of Gen. Jaruzelski -- initially forgiving, even admiring -- has grown harsher. He spends his days in courtrooms and faces jail if convicted for ordering, as defense minister in December 1970, troops to fire on striking workers in Gdansk, 45 of whom were killed.

This case had languished in the courts for 15 years without resolution. Yet this spring, armed with new evidence from the archives, prosecutors went after him for "communist crimes" related to martial law, regardless that postcommunist Polish parliaments have twice investigated and absolved him of wrongdoing. Gen. Jaruzelski believes the ruling right-wing politicians want to put him on trial at year's end to mark the 25th anniversary of his imposition of martial law -- the most recent of many national traumas.

Turning 83 next month, Gen. Jaruzelski doesn't relish this latest fight, though it gives him yet another chance to tell his side of the story.

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