Martial Law in Poland, 13th December 1981

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

Martial Law in Poland, 1981

On December 13, 1981, the communist authorities introduced martial law in Poland.

Until now, there has been a historical dispute as to whether martial law was necessary.

Would the Soviets themselves have entered Poland with their army, just as they did in 1968 in Czechoslovakia?

The communists feared the Solidarity workers’ movement which had enormous support in Poland.

The Polish Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła elected in 1978, considerably added to the worries of the regime.

Solidarity (headed by Lech Wałęsa), officially registered as an Independent Self-Governing Trade Union, quickly gained incredible popularity throughout Poland.

The Soviets could not tolerate such independent social movement and “recommended" their party companions in Poland to solve this issue as soon as possible.

Telephones were cut off at midnight.

Hundreds of cars, tanks, armed personnel carriers were moved out of the military bases and thousands of soldiers took to the streets of the cities.

I lived next to one of those bases and remember the night when trucks and tanks were rumbling right under the windows of our block of flats in the cold, in the snow.

In the morning, General Jaruzelski's (Head of the State Council) speeches were broadcasted every hour. To my surprise, instead of my favourite cartoons and children programs on Sunday, I saw the man in an army uniform, talking about things like responsibility, Poland, the need to fight the anarchy, and the like.

Martial Law in Poland, 1981
gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski

My mother was terrified and cried all the time. My father fervently searched for his army papers and military allocation in case of war, because gossip was that draft could be announced. Similarly my brothers, who were over 18, were could also be drafted.

It was a tragic day for many families (sympathizing with Solidarity, of course).

Thousands of opposition activists, including Lech Walesa, were interned. Most of us were paralyzed by fear. All manifestations of a negative attitude towards the communist authorities were suppressed, often in a bloody manner.

Martial Law in Poland, 1981

Martial Law in Poland, 1981

Foreign correspondents smuggled information about the situation in Poland abroad. The series of photographs by Chris Niedenthal the climate of those days very well.

It was not possible to move outside the voivodship without a special permit.

In the flats of Solidarity activists and sympathizers, searches were carried out in search of illegal and anti-regime leaflets and other prints, popularly known in Poland as “tissue paper" (illegal, opposition publications) and duplicators.

A curfew was introduced.

Groups of people were dispersed in the streets.

At home, the braver ones listened quietly to Radio Free Europe.

Radio Wolna Europa

On that day the communists “brought order" to Poland. Or at least they thought so…

Our road to freedom lasted almost 8 years.

In June 1989, the first free elections after WW II were held in Poland, and in November 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down.

The end of an era of forced communism the in Middle and Eastern Europe was over.

This day, the 13th of December 1981, is one of the historic landmarks of the 20th C.

So in a way, one might say, I was a witness of events that now the young Poles, born after 1981, learn about these gruesome times from history books at schools or documentaries on TV.

Decree of the Council of State of 12 December 1981 on martial law.

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