Every 13 December Poles remember the introduction of martial law by the communist authorities. A painful memory of the end of the Solidarity carnival that began in 1980, but also regarded as the beginning of the end for communism.
On 13 December 1981 the communist authorities imposed martial law in Poland. The military were on the streets, Solidarity leaders were interned, phone connections were cut off and the country’s borders were closed.
The authorities claimed that Solidarity, the 10 million strong trade union and political movement had brought the economy to its knees and that the country was on the verge of civil war. Those Solidarity activists who escaped imprisonment organised strikes that were ruthlessly and violently put down.
Martial law was predictably welcomed by the Soviet Union and condemned by the West. It was yet another chapter of the Cold War. The instigator of martial law, General Jaruzelski, returned to talks with the opposition seven years later as the economy deteriorated and the international situation changed.
Solidarity could not resist military force but did manage to get an effective underground up and running just a few weeks after the introduction of martial law. The communist authorities achieved their short -term goal of remaining in power but in the years that followed failed to deliver any significant economic reform.
The international reaction was strong with the USA introducing sanctions and western countries attempting to give aid to Solidarity. The Cold War intensified before the late 1980s thaw.
After Gorbachev’s reforms and with the economy deteriorating the communists eventually sued for peace with Solidarity and 1989 saw the end of communist rule. But the perpetrators of martial law were never brought to justice. That irks with many to this day.