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Interview: Poland's Jaruzelski Again Denies Seeking Soviet Intervention Against Solidarity

Poland's last communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, in September
Poland's last communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, in September
A document recently appeared in Poland purportedly containing a transcript of a December 1981 conversation between Soviet Marshal Viktor Kulikov and Polish communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski.

The two men discussed the tense political situation in Poland, the need to declare martial law, and the possibility of a Soviet military intervention. The document seems to show that Jaruzelski requested Soviet military aid, which he has always denied.

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Yelena Vlasenko spoke with the 87-year-old general to get his reaction to the fresh document.

RFE/RL: Where did the stenograph that was published in the bulletin of the National Memory Institute come from?

Wojciech Jaruzelski:
I was recently on a well-known program on Polish television moderated by a well-known journalist, and I spoke in detail about this topic.

First of all, I said that I get very angry when I talk about this because -- although it isn't fashionable these days in Poland -- I always stress: I admire the great Russian people and Russia. I love Russians. And I also admire Marshal Kulikov, my friend, who fought on the territory of Poland.

So it is painful for me that it was precisely from this source that some sort of type of supposed documents emerged that people are saying will be used by a court that will decide whether I should be tried for treason and so on.

Now, to get to your question: Twelve years ago, in 1997, there was an international conference near Warsaw at which there were representatives of Russia (including Marshal Kulikov), America (including [Zbigniew] Brzezinski), Solidarity (including [Tadeusz] Mazowiecki), and the former Polish authorities, including myself. There an aide to Marshal Kulikov named Anoshkin sold an American journalist -- for dollars -- the working notebook that he used during Marshal Kulikov's visit to Poland from December 7 to December 17, 1981.

President General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and his adviser Bronislaw Geremek (left to right) during the first multiparty session of the Polish parliament in Warsaw on July 4, 1989.
And in that notebook -- it has been published here, by the way -- there is not a single word about this conversation with me. There isn't a word about my conversation with USSR Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Baibakov, in which conversation Marshal Kulikov also participated. There isn't a single word.

Twelve years pass -- 12 years! -- and suddenly a stenograph appears from this same Anoshkin from my conversation with Marshal Kulikov on the night of December 8-9. I think it is surprising that so many years have passed and now suddenly there's such an awakening. Where is this coming from?

The Key Statement

And now for the content of this. I am not saying this is a forgery. I am saying that it is written in such a way that it can be interpreted in various ways. And I think the main thing is the final word -- I don't remember it, but he wrote that at the end of the conversation Marshal Kulikov asked me if he could report to Brezhnev that we have made the decision to introduce martial law. And my answer was: "Only if you provide us with help."

And since they answer us that there won't be any help, where is the logic? There won't be any help; we aren't sure of our strength, which is why we are asking for help. They refuse it and I declare martial law. That means that either I wouldn't introduce martial law, logically, without that help which had been refused, or I declare martial law and it is a suicidal, bloody misadventure. Neither the first nor the second thing happened.

This is the crucial moment: we could settle this with our own resources. It is very sad for me that former citizens of the Soviet Union, military people whom I respect -- we fought together! -- now are playing a role in getting a Polish court to charge me with the most serious crime. After all, I think they should be grateful to me and the Polish armed forces in general that we ourselves did what they would have had to do sooner or later so that a civil war did not develop. And that was a real threat. Civil war. The collapse of the state and the infrastructure. Naturally this had to be prevented.

The world was divided into two antagonistic blocs and Poland occupied a key geopolitical location. If such a misadventure, a civil war, had emerged here, they would have come. And there didn't need to be any declaration "we are coming or we are not coming." Because around our borders, everywhere, there were hundreds of thousands of tanks, divisions, and so on.

And we knew that, without a request from us, if such a situation evolved, it would have happened that way -- logically! Because this was the result of the fact that we were in a bloc and there was another bloc and if some destabilization had occurred in the bloc that we were in, naturally, you have to resolve that.

I am not accusing the former Soviet Union or its leadership of wanting this. For them, this was also a black scenario. A black scenario! But there would have been a moment when this would have become unavoidable. And that's why, in order to make sure things didn't get to that point, we declared martial law and by doing so we saved the Polish people from misfortune. And I think we also provided great help to our friends -- friends at that time -- who did not have to enter into Poland and deal with all the consequences.

Avoiding Civil War

RFE/RL: The most serious accusation against you is that you requested the intervention of Soviet troops in Poland before you declared martial law. Is this untrue? Did you ever say these words?

I did not say the words requesting the introduction of Soviet troops. I calculated that we would settle this with our own resources, but I described for Marshal Kulikov the situation, the very difficult situation that could have developed in various ways, very dangerous ways.

But we were in a position to settle it. You could draw basically any conclusions from these words. For instance, if I am saying that the situation is very serious, it must mean I expect them to help us. But we didn't need that help.

Look at how the martial law occurred. It went by, one might say, smoothly. There were hardly even any strikes. The army was respected and we knew that. But if there had been help, considering the mood of the Polish people and its history, it would not have been martial law. It would have been war. It would have been a war, and part of the Polish armed forces would have resisted. And I might have gotten a bullet in the forehead if I had requested that help.

You have to look at this according to the overall logic of this subject and not take isolated phrases from unofficial texts. You know that in the Soviet Union bureaucratic matters were handled very strictly. Every document, even the numbering of the pages, registration, and all sorts of other measures.

But now it turns out that a marshal's aide for 28 years has been holding in his pocket some sort of stenograph and he suddenly now decides to declare it in order to give the Polish court the grounds to put me on trial. This is sad, and I would add is unworthy. I don't want to talk about it anymore, because it is painful.

RFE/RL: Do you remember the name of the American journalist who received the original notebook? Maybe this is all originating with him?

I think his name was Kramer, [Mark] Kramer. I'd say that the fact that such notes are sold for dollars, and that American journalist later handed it over to the Polish side, to the institute that organized the conference. That's how I know that it was sold for money. Kramer told his Polish partners that himself.

Pressure To Declare Martial Law

RFE/RL: If I may ask a few more questions. First, has your opinion of Solidarity changed over the last decades? And second, how do you see the dynamic of Polish-Russian relations now?

That is a very broad theme. My attitude toward Solidarity, of course it has changed. In 1981, there were ten million of them, including very radical forces who wanted to take power by force. They, with their strikes and other means, brought the economy to ruins. There was anarchy, and so on. There were also remarkable people among them, honest people. But they had already been pushed aside and the radicals already had the decisive voice.

General Wojciech Jaruzelski broadcasts the declaration of martial law on national TV on December 13, 1981.
And, in connection with this, we had to declare martial law as a result of the meeting of the Solidarity leadership on December 11-12, on the eve, you could say, of the declaration of martial law. And as soon as we knew how that meeting was going, what it was threatening us with, then -- only at that very last moment -- we made that decision.

Before that, we tried very hard to avoid this decision and our talks with Soviet friends took place in this spirit. We constantly resisted, said we wouldn't declare martial law. We were even criticized for that at a Soviet Politburo meeting on December 10. There is a document saying, "Why don't they declare martial law?" And so on. And all the time we expected we'd be able to work things out with Solidarity. But that turned out to be impossible.

But then, step by step, we moved forward toward a shared vision of the development of the country. There were changes in international relations. The Cold War was ending. The blocs were dissolving, and conditions emerged for holding the roundtable and elections.

And I was the president during this period, during this, you might say, decisive period. So I also contributed to these changes. That's all about Solidarity. There are a lot of people that I respect, and I think it was their misfortune and our misfortune that in 1981 they were pushed out of the mainstream [of the movement].

Relations With Russia

As for relations between Poland and Russia.... As I already told you, I have tremendous respect for Russia and Russians. I love Russians, it is that simple. I know that this is very unfashionable in Poland and I am losing a lot of support saying this, but I emphasize this. I emphasize that this is unalterable.

Therefore I am always glad when our relations improve, when there is more interaction and cooperation. And I am upset when various conflicts arise, unnecessary conflicts that, for the most part, revolve around the assessment of history. And history can be evaluated in various ways. Only the facts are certain, but the evaluation of the facts is a subjective thing and it shouldn't influence today's relations.

And we have political forces that understand this, as well as those that do not. And this is where various conflicts emerge from. But I think that now we have arrived at a path where the current government understands that we must cooperate and improve those relations.

I am convinced that considering the logic of history, our common Slavic roots, our common interests, we shouldn't just be neighbors, but friends. I don't know if I'll live to see it -- probably not, since I'm 87 -- but I will be very pleased if this process moves forward in a positive direction and if we develop the very best neighborly and friendly relations with Russia.

RFE/RL: You just mentioned history and that reminded me of the recent statement by the Polish legislature about the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet secret police and the Russian Foreign Ministry's quite harsh reaction. Do you have some advice on how we can look at the Katyn tragedy? How should we act?

First, put all emotions aside. Because it has already been discussed by the Soviet side, by the Russian side.... I am proud that I was the first to whom Gorbachev handed the official information that this evil deed was tied to an order by the [Soviet] NKVD and was carried out by NKVD forces.

The Soviet side handed me the lists of the murdered Polish officers. Then this was confirmed by [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin. And it was confirmed by [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin.

Of course, you can still interpret various details about how it happened and what happened before that and what came after. But no one is denying the facts from their side or from ours. We are talking about various shades, about prosecutorial questions and, of course, you have to get to the bottom of them. Historians have to look into this.

But this must not influence relations between our countries. I always emphasize that the first victim of Stalinism was the Russian people -- the first victim. And then the others. I myself was deported after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and I lived in Siberia, in Altai Krai, in the taiga. My father was in the camps, and then he died and is buried there, in Altai Krai, in Biisk.

All this happened, but I have no bitterness. I have very warm relations with Russians, particularly average Russians, who always treated me with warmth and understanding. We were on the front together and that brings people together. We fought together and bled together.

The Soviet Union arranged it so that we had the most secure and convenient borders on the west, the Oder and the Neisse rivers. It guaranteed these borders to the end because the West, particularly the Federal Republic of Germany, did not recognize this border. And the only security was the Soviet Union. This was very important for us, and we respected them for that.

Moving Past Emotion

Now I would like to tell you a fact that might help develop a philosophy about how one has to look at history. In 1989 I made a trip to England. I was hosted by Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher at her residence at Chequers for official talks and she invited me personally up to the attic.

There, in the attic of this ancient, ancient palace, there were many antique relics -- it was like in a theater. And there was a big table and on that table there was a folder, an old, brown folder. Do you know whose folder that was? I said, "How could I know?" And she said, "Napoleon's." "I've never brought a French person here," she said.

Imagine, 200 years had passed. France and England are in one union. World War I passed. World War II. The modern friendship. But still, everyone has a different opinion about that. For the English, he was a murderer and a man who brought a lot of harm. For the French, he was a hero. And you have to respect that, mutually. Is it worthwhile changing relations between countries over that? Over the interpretation of history?

This is a clear example. And there are a lot more of them. In the Soviet Union, in Russia, [18th-century Russian Count Aleksandr] Suvorov is a great general, a hero. But we always remember how during the Kosciuszko uprising he massacred the population of Praga near Warsaw. And what of this? Should this lead to conflicts between us now? Nonsense.

Most likely, there are forces that are interested in constantly enflaming such hatreds, such enmity. But I think they are the minority and that healthy common sense will prevail and that we will be friends. Our common fate is tied to friendly relations.

RFE/RL: Are the current authorities in Russia and Poland working toward such relations?

I think that, step by step, we are moving in that direction, both our side and the Russians. I respect the things Prime Minister Putin has said. I think that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and other politicians and historians have also expressed themselves correctly on this. But it is a complicated road and there are various obstacles. But I think the development of relations gives grounds for hope that things will keep improving.