This Day in History | 1981 – Military crackdown on Polish people

General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Poland’s military rulers have declared a state of emergency after imposing martial law and placing leaders of the Solidarity trade union under arrest.

The country is effectively sealed off from the outside world with the military insisting the action is necessary to prevent the country from descending into civil war.

Borders with East Germany, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia have been closed and air space over Poland has been shut.

It is aimed at curbing the growing influence of the independent trade union Solidarity who reacted to the measures by calling a national strike.

Prime Minister General Wojciech Jaruzelski announced the crackdown on Solidarity on national television.

He warned Poles the country could no longer function under current tensions but pledged no blood would be spilt.

“We have been patient but now our patience has run out,” he said.

The army was immediately dispatched to the streets in a massive show of military strength imposing strict censorship and a curfew.

The newly formed Military Council for National Salvation is instructed to shoot anyone breaking the new laws.

Soldiers are patrolling Warsaw in armed personnel carriers with automatic weapons.

Those on foot are patrolling the streets with riot shields and truncheons.

In the sparse reports leaking out of Poland it is understood some angry crowds have formed in Warsaw jeering and shouting “Gestapo” at soldiers.

Solidarity party offices have been raided and its leaders arrested except for Lech Walesa.

He has avoided detention by agreeing to negotiations with the government.

Demonstrations in Austria, staged mainly by Polish refugees seeking asylum there, have erupted against the action in Poland.

The Pope has called for an end to the strife and said no more blood should be shed in his homeland.

Courtesy BBC News

In context

Martial law was not lifted until 1983 and in that year Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1989, with the economy close to collapse, General Jaruzelski convened talks and allowed free elections open to Solidarity candidates.

Communists were swept from power and Lech Walesa became president of Poland.

He turned Poland into a market economy virtually overnight and his reforms, while controversial, were generally successful, sparking rapid growth and major foreign investment.

In 1995 Mr Walesa lost his re-election bid.

But the legacy of his vision meant by 2000 Poland enjoyed full membership in Nato and joined the European Union in 2004.

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