Wojciech Jaruzelski

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Wojciech Jaruzelski (1981)

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski (6 July 192325 May 2014) was a Polish military officer, politician and de facto leader of the Polish People's Republic from 1981 until 1989. He was the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party between 1981 and 1989, making him the last leader of the Polish People's Republic. Jaruzelski served as Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985, the Chairman of the Council of State from 1985 to 1989 and briefly as President of Poland from 1989 to 1990, when the office of President was restored after 37 years. He was also the last commander-in-chief of the Polish People's Army, which in 1990 became the Polish Armed Forces.


Speech at Kansas State University (11 March 1996)[edit]

  • Poland is not situated in a territorial vacuum on some uninhabited island. Indeed, the opposite is true. It lies in the most geostrategically sensitive part of Europe. In those recent years, Europe and the world were divided into two opposing political and military blocks. That meant that all internal conflicts inevitably led to external repercussions, reflecting on the climate of relations and the pattern of international forces.
  • The introduction of martial law was the most dramatic decision I had ever taken. And life had treated me harshly. I experienced my country's tragedy in 1939.
  • I had to face up to many a dangers, often looking death in the face. Later, in the decades which ensued, I often had to resolve complex dilemmas. But that dilemma of 1981 was of a quite different dimension and of the very greatest specific weight since I bore the responsibility for the fate of the nation and country.
  • The most important thing is to hit the bull's-eye at the historically most appropriate moment. Which is why all opportunist dilatory foot-dragging is intolerable. But any historical false starts and voluntaristic acceleration are also dangerous. Grain and fruit and also society must have time to ripen, especially the home politicus.
  • I am saying this to avoid any suspicion that I want to defend, at no matter what price, the decisions I took. Martial law was an evil which resulted in various human vexations and sufferings which I very much regret. But even so, they were a lesser evil than the multidimensional catastrophe which faced us as a very real danger.
  • Were it not for the declaration of martial law, the substantiation of that announcement in mid-winter would have signified not only economic but also biological catastrophe. No grand issues and dilemmas may be studied without their historical backgrounds in separation from the realities of a given moment. A historian seated in the tranquility of archives and libraries can allow his thoughts to wander in various directions. Basing on continually supplemented sources, he knows today what took place in the past. But a politician active at that time knew only what was happening at a given moment. And he also had to take into account that which could take place. A historian enjoys the comfort of delivering evaluations which have no practical effects.
  • A politician has to bear the weight of decisions whose effects are often enormous. And those decisions have to be taken. A controversial decision is better than no decision or waiving it, since it permits a situation to be brought under control while allowing it to be reined in with the possibility of correction.
  • The absence of a decision could result in an impetuous, dangerous development of a situation which has got out of any control. There is no ideal solution in such circumstances. The only thing is to find the optimal solution, "a lesser evil."

Excerpts of Martial law speech (14 December 1981)[edit]

Jaruzelski in 1981

"Excerpts from Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski's speech declaring martial law" in UPI

  • Citizens of the Polish People’s Republic. I turn to you today as a soldier and as the head of the Polish Government. I turn to you in matters of supreme importance. Our country has found itself at the edge of an abyss. The achievements of many generations, the house erected from Polish ashes, is being ruined. The structures of the state are ceasing to function. New blows are being struck every day at the dying economy.
  • The nation has come to the end of its psychological endurance. Many people are beginning to despair. Now it is not days but hours that separate us from a national catastrophe. Honesty compels one to ask the question: Did things have to come to this?
  • The self-preservation instinct of the nation must be heard. Adventurists must have their hands tied before they push the homeland into the abyss of fratricide.
  • Citizens. Great is the burden of responsibility that falls on me at this dramatic moment in Polish history. It is my duty to take this responsibility. Poland’s future is at stake-the future for which my generation fought and for which it gave the best years of its life.
  • It cannot be said that we didn't show good will, moderation, patience, sometimes there probably was too much of it ... the initiative of the great national understanding was backed by millions of Poles.
  • Citizens of Poland, very heavy is the burden of responsibility which lies upon me at the very dramatic moment in Polish history. But it is my duty to take it, accept it, because it concerns the future of Poland, for which we of my generation fought on all the fronts of World War II and gave the best years of our lives. I declare that today, the army council of national salvation, has been constituted. The council of state, obeying the constitution, declared a state of war (at midnight) on the territory of Poland.
  • Our soldier's hands are clean; he knows his hard service ... and has no other aim but the good of the nation.
  • We wish a great Poland, great with its achievements, culture, forms of social life, its position in Europe. The only way to gain this is by socialism accepted by society, constantly enriched by the everyday life experience.
  • The steps taken today serve to preserve the basic features of socialist renewal. All the reforms will be continued in an atmosphere of order, businesslike discussion and discipline, also economic reform.
  • To make tomorrow better we must realize tough realities today, to understand the necessity for renunciation.
  • We are a sovereign country so we must get out from this crisis by ourselves. We must draw away danger with our own hands. History would never forgive the present generation for wasting this chance.

Speech on 1982[edit]

Jaruzelski (1968)

"Excerpts From Speech By The Polish Leader" in The New York Times

  • Citizens of the Polish People's Republic, Difficult years are behind us. Hard times had rolled over the Polish lands. They had produced internal splits and dangerously weakened that bond that throughout centuries was uniting Poles in the face of the greatest dangers. I will not recall those pre-December days. We all remember them. Nothing can conceal the merciless meaning of the then facts. It is only facts that truly count in politics, in the life of nations.
  • Exactly one year ago martial law was introduced. The year that has passed was a great test. We have passed it. It has been passed by the party, by the people's authority and all the citizens. But there is the only winner: the Polish nation. This is the shortest-put truth about the past year.
  • The rigors of martial law were applied by us sparingly. We started easing and lifting them almost right away, from the very start. Observance of law and order is getting ever stronger. That allows to positively answer the appeal of the patriotic movement of national rebirth, as well as the other social initiatives aiming at a similar direction.
  • The suspension of martial law means that its basic rigors will cease to function before the end of this year. Only such regulations should be binding either in full or limited dimension, which directly protect the basic interests of the state, create the shield for the economy and strengthen the personal security of citizens.
  • I do not make any promises. But I do promise one thing - anarchy will not be allowed into Poland. Let no one in Poland or outside cherish any illusions that the present decisions will allow for another round.
  • We have survived the boycott, restrictions and the barrage of instigatory propaganda. The Government of the United States and some of its customers can see for themselves the bankruptcy of attempts to interfere in Polish internal affairs.
  • I think, however, that it is better when we solve the Polish matters realistically, with prudence, when we discuss them calmly, normally.


  • General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Minister of Defence since 1968 and thus a major Warsaw Pact figure, became Prime Minister in February 1981 and First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party in October 1981. Jaruzelski had taken part in operations against anti-Communist resistance fighters in the late 1940s, had led Poland’s contribution to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and had been in command when Polish troops shot striking shipyard workers in 1970. Jaruzelski claimed he had opposed the last operation and he sought a peaceful settlement with Solidarity, but serious economic problems continued to create discontent in Poland and to lead to criticism of the government. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union pressed Jaruzelski to come out in defence of Communism. This pressure indicated that any meaningful change in the Soviet bloc would have to come from Moscow, and thus underlined the subsequent importance of Gorbachev’s stance.
  • In 1996, Jaruzelski was to comment ‘I always considered myself a Polish soldier and a Polish patriot first’. He possibly thought of himself as another Józef Piłsudski, who had taken over the Polish government in 1926 and instituted a benign, quasi-military dictatorship. As Prime Minister, Jaruzelski downgraded the role of the highly unpopular Polish Communist Party and sought to play off Solidarity against the Soviet Union in order to gain concessions from each – stability and aid respectively. However, temperamentally, Jaruzelski found uncertainty difficult. In an effort to end political unrest and strikes, he declared martial law on 13 December 1981, arresting Solidarity’s leaders and thousands of others without trial (scores were killed), and appointing a military council to govern Poland. On that day, with American attention riveted on Poland, Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, annexed the occupied Golan Heights. Martial law remained in place in Poland until July 1983 and indicated the strength and weakness of the Communist system: it could maintain order, but could not provide the economic growth or popular support that made order much more than a matter of coercion and indoctrination. Opposition in Poland remained at a far greater scale and was far more popular than the left-wing terrorist movements in the West such as November 17 in Greece, FP-25 in Portugal, and the Cellules Communistes Combattantes in Belgium.
  • Brezhnev and the Politburo demanded a change in personnel in the Polish United Workers’ Party and the stabilisation of the communist order. They turned to a military man, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who became Prime Minister in February 1981 and then Party First Secretary in October. Jaruzelski introduced martial law in December 1981. He did this as much to pre-empt a Warsaw Pact invasion as to reimpose order in Poland. In fact the Soviet Politburo had decided not to intervene militarily even if Solidarity were to edge its way to power; but Jaruzelski was not privy to this information. Solidarity was outlawed and more of its militants were taken into custody. Yet the strikes and demonstrations were not abated. The network of Solidarity groups and agencies survived the police onslaught; its presses produced pamphlets, postcards and audiocassettes. Graffiti-artists sprayed slogans on walls such as ‘The winter is yours but the spring will be ours’. The Catholic priesthood gave uncompromising sermons on the need for religious faith and patriotism.
    • Robert Service, Comrades!: A History of World Communism (2010)
  • Jaruzelski himself was reluctant to use any more force than was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the state order. He had an impossible task. The communist party and the institutions it sponsored – trade unions, youth associations and cultural clubs – attracted popular contempt. The result was chronic stalemate: although Jaruzelski succeeded in restoring a degree of calm, he could not liquidate Solidarity and Solidarity could not supplant his military administration. Poland was like an insect trapped in amber. No fundamental political and economic development was possible for the country. No end to martial law appeared in sight.
    • Robert Service, Comrades!: A History of World Communism (2010)

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