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Rare Pictures of Martial Law in Poland

Martial law in Poland (Polish: Stan wojenny w Polsce) refers to the period of time from December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983, when the authoritarian communist government of the Polish People’s Republic drastically restricted normal life by introducing martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition. Thousands of opposition activists were jailed without charge and as many as 91 killed. Although martial law was lifted in 1983, many of the political prisoners were not released until a general amnesty in 1986.














General Jaruzelski had ordered the Polish General Staff to update plans for nationwide martial law on October 22, 1980. After the introduction of martial law, pro-democracy movements such as Solidarity and other smaller organisations were banned, and their leaders, including Lech Wałęsa, jailed overnight. In the morning, thousands of soldiers in military vehicles appeared on the streets of every major city. A curfew was imposed, the national borders sealed, airports closed, and road access to main cities restricted. Telephone lines were disconnected, mail subject to renewed postal censorship, all independent official organizations were criminalized, and classes in schools and universities suspended.

During the initial imposition of martial law, several dozen people were killed. Official reports during the crackdown claimed about a dozen fatalities, while a parliamentary commission in the years 1989-1991 arrived at a figure of over 90. In the deadliest incident, nine coal miners were killed by ZOMO paramilitary police during the strike-breaking at the Pacification of Wujek on December 16, 1981. Others were also killed and wounded during a massive second wave of demonstrations on August 31, 1982.

The government imposed a six-day work week while the mass media, public services, healthcare services, power stations, coal mines, sea ports, railway stations, and most key factories were placed under military management, with employees having to follow military orders or face a court martial. As part of the crackdown, media and educational institutions underwent “verification”, a process that tested each employee’s attitude towards the regime and to the Solidarity movement; as a result, thousands of journalists, teachers and professors were banned from their professions. Military courts were established to bypass the normal court system, to imprison those spreading “false information”. In an attempt to crush resistance, civilian phone lines were routinely tapped and monitored by government agents.

At the invitation of Jaruzelski, a delegation of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party visited Poland between December 27 and 29. The Hungarians shared with their Polish colleagues their experiences on crushing the ‘counterrevolution’ of 1956. Earlier in the autumn of 1981, Polish television had broadcast a special film on the 1956 events in Hungary, showing scenes of rebels hanging security officers etc.

The introduction of martial law was enthusiastically supported by some figures on the radical right like Jędrzej Giertych, who believed Solidarity to be a disguised communist movement dominated by Jewish Trotskyites.

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