When I was little it was clear in my head who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. The general in dark glasses deprived my five year old self of my favourite pork chops and the electrician-cum-president with a moustache made it so I could finally have a Barbie doll when I was eleven (and actually slightly growing out of dolls but had wanted one very badly all my life).
Now on the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Martial Law in Poland, and at the same time 30th anniversary of my own birthday I think it is time to revisit those events that I thought I knew so much about as I was born then (so clearly I was weaned on it).
Of course, in the larger scheme of things I still maintain the same good/evil dichotomy. Democracy is good, totalitarian 'real socialism' is bad. But as always, devil is in the details.
In this book Jaruzelski explains the reasons behind the introducing the Martial Law (which is in the collective Polish memory one of the darkest episodes of our recent history)
Solidarność is (or rather 'was', as it is well dead now) a movement that in 1980's counted over 10 million members, that is a quarter of population. It was a movement openly antagonistic to the government and the Party (which back then were one thing), yet it was permitted to exist and it was negotiated with. Whether that was because it was too powerful to be ignored or because the government was genuinely ready for reforms is still open to discussion.
Now, those 10 million members were not 10 million democracy-loving, capitalism-yearning enlightened individuals. Most of them were workers who wanted to work less and get more and wanted the government to give them things. Poland was experiencing one of the worst economical crisis in its history. And I mean CRISIS, not this wanker crisis we're having now. I mean, real crisis, when the only thing in shops is industrial vinegar and absolutely everything is rationed. Polish main export was (and probably still is) coal. Now, you realise that if all coal miners go on strike this is not going to help? It is clear now, if the export falls by 50%, we don't meet our export obligations, piss off our international partners (especially Western ones, who on the political front of course supported our struggle of course, but they wanted their coal, ok?), we are not going to get much in return except for debts. This is clear now, we now know how the free market economy works but we didn't then. Back then no one thought about it. There was no unemployment because the government gave everyone jobs, and people thought that the government was like God, it could print more money, turn water into wine. So if we just strike long enough, it would finally give in and give us more money and more things to buy with this money.
When the money hungry, rat-race, highly competitive capitalism did arrive in Poland in the 90's, most of the Solidarność members realised they got a little more than they bargained for.
There was, of course an intellectual minority in Solidarność (and in satellite organisations, mostly KOR) who was fully aware that the government couldn't just conjure up food and clothes but they didn't care. Their agenda was different, they wanted that government to collapse, they wanted capitalism and democracy, though no one in Poland really and truly knew what it meant at the time. Let's just say if anyone knew what the Iron Lady was doing in UK then, then maybe they would have more love for Jaruzelski. Yet, somehow the general running interpretation in Poland is that Thatcher was this amazing woman who dealt efficiently with the crisis, while Jaruzelski was the evil communist who crushed strikes and the good working Polish people.
Except for that, there was always Soviet Union, not the Gorbachev's teddy bear of a Soviet Union, but Brezhnev's grizzly bear. Let's just say they weren't pleased with was happening in Poland. Again, it is up for discussion whether they would actually get military involved Poland or not. Jaruzelski believed they would. And I believe him, I believe the threat was real. Yes, the Soviet Union was involved in Afghanistan at the time, and starting civil war in Poland was probably the last thing they needed but such reservations never stopped them before.
So Jaruzelski did what he thought was the only lesser evil option. He brought up tanks and army on the streets, introduced cerfew, etc.
Reading his book made me realise he is a very intelligent man, he is also humble and full of respect for everyone including opposition (he even managed a few nice words about Kukliński, who obviously never returned the favour). Yes, he made a ton of mistakes but he admits to them. I read this book as a book about a man who found himself in an impossible situation. There really was no way out of this, he played the cards the history dealt him and I have some respect for him for that. Of course, he makes for a perfect scape goat but I think we should stop seeing things in black and white, and maybe all fractions should man up and take some responsibility for things.