Why Was Martial Law Declared In Poland In 1981

Basis of Martial Law in Poland in 1981

On December 13th 1981, martial law was declared in Poland in order to suppress a growing social and economic crisis.

Poland in the 70s and 80s was a country full of political discontent and longing for more democracy as the members of the communist Polish United Worker’s Party led the country in a tyrannical manner.

The rising fuel prices, shortages of food, and a strict censorship had made Poland a place of struggle where people vied for their basic rights. Protests were regularly held which resulted in violent scenes.

The government had become increasingly worried about their stability – if the protests would get out of hand, the people could decide to overthrow the government.

Therefore, General Wojciech Jaruzelski believed the only way to restore order was to impose martial law and control the situation.

On paper, the martial law was declared for the sake of military security and sovereignty, although in reality, the government sought to suppress the independent social movements that had started to rise.

Jaruzelski warned people that the Polish People’s Republic was threatened by “the enemies of socialism” and “counterrevolutionary formations”.

The government implemented a complete curfew, main transport channels were blocked, the Solidarity movement was banned, and the police were given additional powers.

Listening to the radio or watching TV was strictly controlled, and anyone who violated any of these rules faced severe punishment.

The Pope’s Reaction

The Catholic Church condemned the military rule imposed in Poland, calling it “illegal and unjust”.

Pope John Paul II urged people to follow a peaceful approach despite their struggles.

John Paul II was in fact the leader of the Polish Solidarity movement and a key figure in de-escalating the protest-related unrest.

In one of his sermons, he picked the Gospel of St. Matthew to encourage people to maintain dignity as they suffer through the martial law.

He regularly gave out sermons, saying that the Polish people should have faith that oppression would not last forever.

John Paul II also contacted western countries, pleading for help to end the military rule.

He spoke out strongly for human rights, which, in turn, resonated with the public sentiments which, in due course, inspired people to not give up on their fight against oppression.

The courage and determination showed by Pope John Paul II inspired the people of Poland to endure the martial law, and many other countries to join in the protest against the unfair rule imposed in the country.

The End of The Martial Law

The martial law in Poland ended in 1983, although it is estimated that it could have dragged on until 1987 as the government was in no rush to end it.

It saw the end of the Solidarity movement, but also the beginning of a new era in the country’s history.

Many people had managed to go around government surveillance, and decided to set up their own new political party in order to challenge the government.

These courageous acts eventually paid off, and thanks to the solidarity among the like-minded people, the martial law was scattered one by one.

The leader of the citizens’ movement, Lech Wałęsa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 in recognition of his efforts.

The year 1989 marked the official collapse of the communist rule in Poland, prompting the foundation of a ‘Third Polish Republic’.

International Impact of the Martial Law in Poland

The martial law in Poland was an example for other countries in the region.

The media in Europe extensively covered the events, which brought world attention to the unfairness of the oppressive regime introduced in the country.

Protests in other parts of the world, such as the Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing, were largely inspired by what happened in Poland in 1981.

China adopted martial law to control the innocent protesters who were demanding the end of the communist rule.

This further highlighted the damaging nature of the martial law, and questioned the power of the authoritarian rulers.

International shame spurred investigations into the events, and western countries began to actively support Poland’s struggle.

The US, in particular, provided financial aid, medical, food, as well as political support.

The Long-Term Effects of Martial Law in Poland

The martial law in Poland did not end well for the government as the people had started to revolt and demand their freedom.

Dictatorship began to crumble, and the rule of the communist regime finally ended in 1989.

Since the end of the military rule in Poland, the country has seen an increase in democracy, economic development, and even the rise of a new generation of independent and rational citizens.

The martial law gave the citizens of Poland the courage to stand up for what they believed in, and what was ultimately more important – the observance of human rights.

The world learned a valuable lesson from the martial law – that no matter how oppressive a government might be, freedom will eventually prevail.

The Role of the United Nations

The United Nations swiftly responded to the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981, calling for an immediate and effective end to the military rule.

An Investigation Commission was quickly set up to monitor the human rights violations in the country.

The General Assembly of the United Nations passed a number of resolutions in condemnation of the martial law.

The UN also called for an immediate end to the oppressive rule and asked the government to recognize rights protected by the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, as well as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

When the military rule finally ended in 1989, the United Nations sent a mission to the country to observe the situation and, if necessary, to provide assistance in handling the transition to democracy.

Warsaw Pact’s Response

The other members of the Warsaw Pact provoked by the martial law in Poland, as voiced their discontent about the fact that Poland had violated the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

The foreign ministers of the other members of the Warsaw Pact released a joint statement in which they denounced the introduction of martial law.

Despite their condemnation, none of the other countries acted to assist the Polish people when the army crackdown was occurring.

Each country argued that it was an internal matter of Poland, and there was nothing they could do to stop the military rule.

Many years later, it became clear that the other countries in the Warsaw Pact had been supporting the communist rule in Poland in a passive way.

Assessment of Martial Law in Poland

Although the military rule was introduced to suppress the rising level of dissent in the society, it had long-term and profound implications for the country.

The martial law in Poland has been seen as an example of the oppressive, authoritarian rule by the government, and is seen as a violation of basic human rights.

The introduction of the martial law created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the country, and thousands of people were wrongfully imprisoned or forced into exile.

The enduring struggle of the Polish people against the oppressive rule did not go unnoticed, and people from all over the world showed solidarity with them.

The events in Poland in 1981 showed us that a repressive government cannot force its will forever, and eventually, a victorious struggle of a people will always prevail in the end.

Lee Morgan

Lee J. Morgan is a journalist and writer with a particular focus on Polish history and culture. His work often focuses on the history and politics of Poland, and he is passionate about exploring the country's unique culture. He currently lives in Warsaw, where he continues to write and research about the fascinating country of Poland.

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