Connect to share and comment

Jaruzelski, age 86, again mounts a defense

The struggles of the general who crushed the 1981 Solidarity uprising reflect Poland's complicated history.

Wojciech Jaruzelski speaks during an interview in Warsaw, April 10, 2006. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)

WARSAW, Poland — General Wojciech Jaruzelski may be ill and 86 but he continues to divide his country over his 1981 decision to crush the Solidarity labor union with force, saying he was acting to prevent a possible Soviet invasion.

The latest blow-up over the general’s past came last week following the broadcast of a documentary called “Comrade General,” which took a hard and unfavorable look at Jaruzelski’s Communist past.

“The film was a type of prosecutorial presentation,” writes Rafal Ziemkiewicz, a conservative columnist for the Rzeczpospolita daily.

The general is outraged at what he called the one-sided nature of the film, which hit at the core of his defense: that he is a Polish patriot who was acting out of the best interests of his country, not a communist stooge in the service of the Russians.

In a recent interview, Jaruzelski sat stiffly at his desk, his eyes shaded by the dark glasses that are his trademark, and spelled out his reasons for declaring martial law.

“Our country was in great danger,” he says, stressing that the Soviets had held massive maneuvers on the Polish border. “There were tanks on the border and Soviet forces in the country which would have been called on in extreme circumstances.”

“Intervention would have destroyed the country,” he adds, saying “I would have put a bullet in my head” if the Soviet army had invaded Poland.

Opinion polls show that about half of Poles agree with his reasoning, and feel that he acted correctly, while the other half are vociferously opposed and see him as a traitor. Every year on Dec. 13, the anniversary of the day Jaruzelski declared martial law, protesters gather outside his modest Warsaw house. This year, they waved signs with slogans such as “We're waiting for Justice” and “We remember your crimes,” while a smaller group held a sign reading, “We believe in you General” and chanting, “May you live 100 years.”

Interest in Jaruzelski persists because he is much more than a communist thug who used the military to crush a brave resistance movement. His complicated life reflects Poland's tangled history over the last century.