Prague, Feb. 14 (RFE/RL) - This was to be expected. And it happened. A special Polish parliamentary committee yesterday recommended that
former communist leaders, including the party's head General Wojciech
Jaruzelski, should not face prosecution for the forcible imposition
of martial law in December 1981.
Martial law resulted in the suspension for several years of all civic rights and paralyzed the operations of established public institutions. Set up in December 1991, the committee has been investigating whether the decision violated the Polish constitution.
The committee's work was initially designed to establish facts,
leaving the judgment to proper legal authorities. But in the end, the
outcome appears basically political.
The committee has recently been dominated by the post-communists and their Peasant Party allies (13 deputies), with opposition in minority (five deputies). The vote reflected this division.
The leftist majority voted almost unanimously, with only one member abstaining, to ask the parliament to discontinue the proceedings. The opposition was united in calling for sending the case to the special court empowered to judge top state officials.
Jaruzelski and other communist leaders have consistently argued that their decision to impose martial law was prompted by fears of an
impending Soviet military intervention. They have said that the
Soviet Union was alarmed by the rise of Solidarity, the mass labor
and public movement sprung from workers' strikes, but determined to
introduce democratic changes into the communist system of government
in Poland. And they have maintained that, while martial law might have
represented political "evil," it was a "lesser evil" than Soviet
Their critics have refuted those arguments. They said that there was no danger of any direct Soviet intervention in Poland at the time of the imposition of martial law. They emphasize that Moscow's apparent unwillingness to become entangled in Poland has been confirmed by Soviet archival documents, some of which were provided to Polish investigators by Russian authorities.
Instead, the critics say that the Soviet documents show that Polish
communists might have themselves asked Moscow to threaten Poland
with intervention to pacify Solidarity's demands. And they also argue
that the Polish communist leaders never attempted to
come to terms with the public's demands for democracy, insisting on
the defense of the system which give them a monopoly on power. And they
say that the communists were ready to break the law to preserve their
political interests and positions. The critics say that this alone is
the sufficient ground for political condemnation and legal punishment.
The martial law regime extended over almost two years. It formally
ended in July 1983, but its consequences in limiting public liberties
lasted until the fall of communism in 1989. During those years,
thousands were arrested or kept in jail without trial, dozens lost their lives, and millions were affected by rigors and restrictions imposed by the communist authorities.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Jaruzelski said that the
committee's decision "meant an objective, just and honest assessment
of the December 1981 event."
Former president and historical Solidarity leader Lech Walesa
disagreed. Commenting on the case yesterday, Walesa noted that "the
makeup of the committee and the current political setup do not allow
for an honest judgment of martial law."
For his part, chairman of the committee, post-communist deputy and
current minister of education Jerzy Wiatr said that the case was "the
most difficult in Poland's parliamentary history. The committee was
divided on this issue, but so is the parliament and society as a
The parliament, in which the post-communists and their allies have a large majority of seats, is almost certain to accept the committee's
recommendation. Jaruzelski and his aides are very likely to be
absolved of any responsibility.
But some of them, including Jaruzelski himself, still face
criminal proceedings resulting from armed assaults against striking
workers in Poland's coastal cities in December 1970. Dozens of
workers were massacred then by army troops. Jaruzelski served as the
communist minister of national defense at the time, directing the military
action in defense of party policies. He says he is innocent of any
crimes or abuses of power.