- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

WARSAW Twenty years may have softened their rhetoric, but the two protagonists in Poland's 1981 military crackdown still blame each other for the events that nearly tore the communist nation apart.
Lech Walesa, 58, the shipyard electrician who launched the anti-communist Solidarity trade union, still accuses the old regime of a tragic mistake Poland still suffers from.
Wojciech Jaruzelski, 78, the communist boss who sent tanks into the streets, still insists Solidarity left him no choice if Poland was to avoid a much bloodier crackdown by Soviet forces.
On the main points there is little argument: On Dec. 13, 1981, Gen. Jaruzelski declared martial law, crushing a 16-month Solidarity upheaval against communist repression.
The government jailed 10,000 opposition activists, including Mr. Walesa. Dozens were killed in clashes with police during ensuing strikes and protests.
"Poland's hope was destroyed, and that was an unpardonable mistake," Mr. Walesa said in an interview at his office overlooking the Old City in Gdansk, a pearl of Renaissance-era Baltic architecture.
"Jaruzelski should have joined the nation and tried to tame Moscow. This would have been much better for Poland. If it were not for that martial law, Poland would be part of the European Union already."
Gen. Jaruzelski says Solidarity's refusal to temper its calls for mass demonstrations threatened to trigger a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion like the one that violently smashed Hungary's 1956 uprising.
"Today, after 20 years, I can see it even more clearly," the former four-star general said, speaking in the Warsaw office he still occupies as a former president during Poland's 1989-90 transition to democracy.
"When I looked at the map as a Polish general, I thought how a Soviet marshal or general looked at this map, and I was aware that they looked at it with utmost concern, and I understood. There could have been no Warsaw Pact without Poland."
He said he still believes the "principal responsibility" for martial law rests with Solidarity, though he concedes: "Solidarity was right in a long-term perspective, and its reasoning won."
Mr. Walesa dismisses Gen. Jaruzelski's claims that there was room for negotiation in the tense days of 1981.
"Jaruzelski did not have any proposals for us, and his camp was not ready," he said. "He was trying to divide us and stop the course of events."
Martial law ended in July 1983, the year Mr. Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The general perception, however, is that it lasted until 1989, when Solidarity and the communists finally sat down to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power.
No former officials have been convicted in connection with the martial-law crackdown, despite the repeated efforts of postcommunist prosecutors.
Last month, a court in Katowice acquitted 22 policemen after a two-year trial on charges they gunned down nine workers in a confrontation during a coal-mine strike on Dec. 16, 1981. It was the second time a court let them off for lack of evidence.
Public opinion over the years has tended to side with Gen. Jaruzelski's view of the dilemma and the Soviet threat. A survey of 978 adults last month by the CBOS agency showed 48 percent believed his decision was either "decidedly" or "rather" just. Only 25 percent said it was unjust. CBOS said the poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.
Mr. Walesa became Poland's first popularly elected president in 1990 and remains a national legend, but his political fortunes have waned. A popular ex-communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, defeated him in 1995 and is now in a second term. In a vain bid to regain the office last year, Mr. Walesa got barely 1 percent of the vote in a crowded field of contenders.
Now he keeps busy on the speaking circuit Mr. Walesa remains a popular draw in the United States addressing such modern worries as globalization.
Gen. Jaruzelski has spent much of the last decade defending his actions and, lately, fighting off criminal charges. He currently is on trial for his role in the shooting deaths of dozens of striking shipyard workers in 1970, when he was the defense minister. He insists he is innocent.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide