Tag Archives: 1981

Martial Law: A Positive Trigger?

This week marks 30 years since the rule of martial law was imposed in Poland. It was enforced from December 13th 1981 to July 22nd 1983, and even with the passing of a few decades, it is still a subject evoking strong feelings and emotions. It also does not help that the primary player of that period, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, is still alive and is one of the remaining symbols of communism in Poland, having been the Polish Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985 and head of state from 1985 to 1990.

To summarise the martial law period in Poland for those that might be unfamiliar with it, it was as follows. Pro-democracy movements such as Solidarność were gaining momentum throughout 1980 and 1981. The communist leaders initially wanted to show leniency and be open to some discussion with the agitators; however as time went by, they began to realise that their authority was being challenged. Fear grew that the disruptions would develop into something more revolutionary such as had happened in Budapest in 1956 or in Prague in 1968. In both instances, Soviet military intervention had been used to quell efforts at democratising the countries. In both examples, the Warsaw Pact had been invoked to justify sending in the troops. In 1980 and 1981, the Polish leaders including General Jaruzelski began negotiations with Moscow to use the same option to force authority once more in Poland.

However, it turned out the Soviets were unwilling (for the first time) to step in and it meant the Polish leaders had to take their own action. A ‘state of war’ (stan wojenny) was declared. While there was no actual war or external threat, the authorities used the premise of escalating internal threats as a reason to implement martial rule. The following speech made by Jaruzelski on December 13th 1981 shows him trying to pull the patriotic heart-strings of the public:

“The atmosphere of conflicts, misunderstanding, hatred causes moral degradation, surpasses the limits of toleration. Strikes, the readiness to strike, actions of protest have become a norm of life. Even school youth are being drawn into this. Yesterday evening, many public buildings remained seized. The cries are voiced to physical reprisals with the ‘reds’, with people who have different opinions.
The cases of terror, threats and moral vvendetta, of even direct violence are on the rise. A wave of impudent crimes, robberies and burglaries is running across the country. The underground business sharks’ fortunes, already reaching millions, are growing. Chaos and demoralization have reached the magnitude of a catastrophe. People have reached the limit of psychological toleration. Many people are struck by despair. Not only days, but hours as well are bringing forth the all-national disaster.” He then finished by reciting the Polish national anthem.

Martial rule imposed tough times on the Polish people. Demonstrators were summarily arrested without charge, pro-democracy groups were banned, curfews imposed and communications disrupted by telephone lines being cut and post being censored. As some Polish people tried to rebel against the system, it caused further crackdowns. Estimates of over 100 deaths in the time of martial law have been suggested. Even for those that did not rebel and suffer directly, there were detrimental effects for all involved, through food rationing, forcing 6 day working weeks, military courts and a ‘verification’ system used to ensure people were not anti-authoritarian.

However, it seems that this could be seen as the nadir of the Communist period in Poland – a sort of ‘darkest moment just before the dawn’ leading to the sunlight of democracy. Surviving such a period would have given confirmation to those groups such as Solidarność that they were on the right path. The shadow of the Soviet Union was also lessening, so it could be seen that in the battle for Polands future, it would be ‘good’ Poles against ‘bad’ Poles in a battle for hearts and minds without waiting to see when the troops from Moscow would land to support the government. It’s also possible that the Polish people themselves would have had more belief in themselves to be the change they wanted to see. If this was the worst that the government could throw at them, then why can’t democracy be forced? The art of kombinować would have ensured that people survived (maybe even thrived) despite difficulties.

Thus, it should be a case that the 30th anniversary of martial rule should be celebrated as a trigger for something more for Poland, rather than as a symbol of the worst of communist times.

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Poles must stop living in the past

Friday, 1st of August, was a day devoted to remembrance of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Its heroism and glory, that had to be concealed during the years of communism. Now in full shine thanks to the massive media coverage… hours of live broadcasts on all news channels, metres of tape and pages of text have been devoted to various analysis, diaries, transcripts, comments, interviews…

The remembrance celebrations for the 64th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising have become another episode in an endless celebration of history while the needs of the current inhabitants of Poland are being neglected. We should be focusing on making new and innovative things happen.

So let’s dash the burden of our troubled past and start living in the present.

Celebrations of history have become festivals of pride – of Polish pride. Pride for “our” people, for “our” struggle, for “our” greatness. But history is not something I want to be proud of. This is not a real achievement of the people of this country. The fact that we decide to focus all our popular celebrations around history means that we feel we have no achievements in the present. Or no other interests. And we know it. Festivals of music, festivals of flowers, festivals of wine, festivals of anything else never get quite the coverage as dead people festivals do. Will we ever see a festival of, let’s say, art that brings the whole country to a halt? That gets the attention of the VIPs? That sees parades and concerts all around the country?

OK, we have a country, we have freedom. Very well. Many people don’t. But what do we do with it? Where are our talents of music, drama, comedy, architecture, science, literature, management, politics… etc.? Why doesn’t our system encourage creative people to do great things? Things we can be really proud of. Things we can see as real and present achievements. Where is the innovative music and style? Architecture that makes an impression. Experimental media… outstanding performances… We don’t let our talents flourish, we offer second-hand culture. Half of our television programmes are imports from the UK (while our public television pays millions for substandard soaps), most of what is shown in cinemas is American, while the music in our iPods is half British half American. The things our system and our people create don’t even appeal to ourselves, so no wonder we don’t feel proud of our creativity.

Is the past is the only area of greatness in our minds? We must stop living in the past in order to move on.

It is very difficult for Polish people to ever dare to see things this way. We are raised with certain patterns of thinking, we are socialised to certain myths, and most of our schooling concentrates on preserving our National sentiments; sentiments for partitions, war, and communism. We are manipulated into the romantic notions that surround Nation. Analysing the past we take sides and engage emotionally, instead of remaining cool observers. Television programmes, papers and books are filled with sweet-like-sugar pictures of heroes. Pictures people seem to fall for, but these are pictures I never believed. For I know life, and things are always complicated and people are full of passions and fears, truths and lies, and are never one-dimensional. We are manipulated into being hysterically Polish. Like our parents. And their parents. This leads our schooling to neglect the practicalities of life, like communication skills, tolerance, organisation, work ethics – which cost us so much trouble… Is remembering really the main task of the Polish people? Shouldn’t we primarily concentrate on developing some other qualities?

We, the people of Poland, remember our history too much, too often, we try to hard, we concentrate on it too much. We put too much emphasis, and heart, into it.

Furthermore: history and common experiences (war, pain, victories over enemies, lashes from greater powers) are a feature of a discourse that talks about Nation. And Nation talking always shifts our focus from everyday things – Nation serves romantic high purposes. Nation talk also excludes non-Poles.
I would prefer our present focus to be on the inhabitants of Poland, and their happiness. Inhabitants you will note, is a broader notion than Nation. It doesn’t exclude anyone.

Another things is that the national remembrance excitement is becoming obligatory, and I really hate when I’m being told what to think and what to feel. Just as “Słowacki was a great poet”.

“If you’re Polish and you know it,
And you really want to show it,
If you’re Polish and you know it,
Clap your hands (Clap, Clap).”

I hate these never ending celebrations of dead people. As someone said, Poland is ruled by coffins. And the coffins that rule Poland and the minds of people of this country are both the coffins of great Polish people, and of Polish victims.

But the worst thing is that all those celebrations strengthen the wrong parts of Polish thinking. They concentrate on the past, on finding those guilty for all that present Poland lacks… And provide a good excuse. An excuse that we are never reluctant to use when something substandard is pointed at. An excuse that comes very handy to all those lazy bastards who complain and complain but won’t lift a finger to change anything. I always say this to people: nothing will change itself, you have to make it happen. If you don’t like something, like for instance the slow pace in which roads are being built: associate with others who share similar opinion, create a pressure group, influence the government. That’s how democracy works. Decision makers will not take notice of you unless they have to.

And I hate to hear all those hypocrites who one moment criticize everything about Poland, and the Polish people, and then suddenly on another occasion, praise such remembrance occasions. So you celebrate the existence of this failed state that disappoints you so much? Why should you celebrate something you don’t like? Something that you never felt good with, something that causes you only headache and embarrassment?

Stop! Wake up people! We are alive, why don’t start living for eff’s sake? Concentrating on the present and the future. On work and fun.

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