Martial Law introduced in Poland 39 years ago

Poland is commemorating the 39th anniversary of the introduction of Martial Law. The country’s Institute of National Remembrance has invited all to the “Light a Freedom Candle” initiative.

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.

Most of them were imprisoned without charge, and as many as 91 people were killed. Martial Law was lifted two years later, in 1983, yet many political prisoners remained in jail until a general amnesty in 1986.

The communist authorities decided to introduce Martial Law as the first independent trade union in the Eastern Bloc, Solidarity, was gaining political meaning. The growing opposition was a threat to the communist authorities.

It later came to pass that martial law would mark the beginning of the end of communist rule in Poland. The fact that the party was so weak as to be dependent purely on the army and the police for its power meant that its long term survival was under question. When it lost the protection of the Soviet Union, it drew that period to a close.

Poland entered the path to freedom and democracy in 1989, following the first semi-free elections after WWII took place in the country. This enabled a peaceful transfer of power to the democratic opposition.

The Institute of National Remembrance’s campaign refers to the gesture of solidarity of many people in the West, who in 1981 lit candles by their windows.