General Jaruzelski goes on trial for the imposition of martial law in 1981





A frail but stiff-backed General Wojciech Jaruzelski strode into a Polish courtroom as if on parade yesterday to face trial for using tanks and bayonets to crush the Solidarity revolution in the bleak midwinter of 1981.

The 85-year-old man, who was once the very symbol of communist repression, faces a possible ten-year jail sentence for “directing a criminal organisation” – a reference to the Military Council that imposed and ran the martial law crackdown of the early 1980s. It is a strange legal device – “the generals are being treated like gangsters”, said the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza– that seemed to be the only way of nailing down the general and seven other top Communist officials, all in their eighties.

For Poland it is a final reckoning with one of the most divisive and emotionally charged events of the Cold War. At its heart is a question that can be only partly answered in a courtroom: was Jaruzelski a Polish patriot or a Soviet puppet?

While onlookers at the Warsaw court struggled to recognise the other defendants – Stanislaw Kania, 81, a former Communist Party leader, and General Florian Siwicki, former head of the General Staff – there was no difficulty in recognising Jaruzelski. He wore the same sinister, dark glasses that he wore to make the television announcement at 7am on Sunday, December 13, 1981. In an almost robotic fashion the general told viewers that the Polish experiment in freedom was over. There was to be a dawn-to-dusk curfew, strikes were banned, the right to association suspended, petrol sales to private cars forbidden – and Solidarity was declared illegal. The reason: Poland “is on the brink of an abyss” – codewords for a Soviet invasion.

A frail but stiff-backed General Wojciech Jaruzelski strode into a Polish courtroom as if on parade yesterday to face trial for using tanks and bayonets to crush the Solidarity revolution in the bleak midwinter of 1981.



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