Warsaw

General Wojciech Jaruzelski

more than a year ago

Born to landed Polish gentry in 1923 and sent to a forced labour camp in Kazakhstan by invading Soviet forces in 1940, Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski is perhaps one of life’s most unlikely committed communists. His forced exile in Kazakhstan not only resulted in the death of his father, from dysentery, but also led to permanent spinal injuries, and severe snow blindness and eye damage: a fact which required him to wear dark glasses for much of his later life. (His now infamous appearances on television wearing huge sunglasses were not about wanting to keep a low profile or vanity: he was medically required to wear them in front of bright studio lights).

Jaruzelski is probably best known as the man who declared martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981, as result of growing Solidarity influence over the country’s working class. Jaruzelski has always defended the declaration of martial law - and the subsequent crackdown against Solidarity, including the imprisonment of its leading members - as having been the only way to save Poland from a full-scale Soviet invasion. In his words, it was the ‘lesser of two evils.’ While some documents released in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union suggest no such invasion would ever have taken place, an opinion poll carried out in 2001 suggested that most Poles were willing to give Jaruzelski the benefit of the doubt. Members of Solidarity - especially those beaten, arrested and imprisoned during 1981-2 are less willing to see Jaruzelski as anything less than a tyrant and a brutal dictator. The latest claims to emerge in the case - those of members of the former Czech military - suggest that troops in the Czech Republic had indeed been mobilised for a possible invasion of Poland in the autumn of 1981. It is highly unlikely, however, that until the full Soviet archive on the matter is made public, that we will ever know exactly what went on in 1981.

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