Thu, Dec 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Poles mark 25th anniversary of start of martial law era

AP , WARSAW

Poland marked the 25th anniversary yesterday of the martial law crackdown by communist-era authorities as prosecutors push ahead with their controversial case against the former leader who imposed it.

General Wojciech Jaruzelski launched martial law on Dec. 13, 1981, and outlawed the Solidarity trade union, which was pushing for economic reforms and democracy. Thousands went to jail, including Poland's current president, Lech Kaczynski, and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

The crackdown remains a topic of public debate to this day, with Jaruzelski defending the move as the only way to forestall an invasion by the Soviet Union.

In March, the Institute for National Remembrance, a state body that investigates communist-era crimes, charged Jaruzelski with violating the constitution by imposing the crackdown and the jailing of tens of thousands of people.

The left-wing government of former communists ousted in elections in September last year had been reluctant to bring charges over martial law; the new government of Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Lech's twin, has vowed to make purging remaining communist influence a priority.

If convicted, the 83-year-old Jaruzelski could face up to 11 years in prison -- three for violating the constitution and eight for "communist crimes."

Early on Dec. 13, 1981, secret police and militia rounded up and jailed democratic activists. Tanks and armored transports rumbled through Polish cities, armed soldiers patrolled the streets, and authorities cut phone lines.

Nearly 100 people died during the crackdown, while tens of thousands of people were arrested without charge and some 10,000 held in internment camps.

Poles planned to mark yesterday's anniversary with exhibitions, lectures and prayer services for the victims.

Prosecutors have gathered some 60 volumes of documents to build their case and counter the argument that martial law saved Poland from a bloody Soviet invasion, a leading prosecutor in the investigation said.

The foreign documents, combined with Polish archives, "confirm our thesis that martial law didn't have to be imposed, but was really imposed in defense of the system at the time and not in the interests of Poles," said Ewa Koj, a prosecutor from the Katowice branch of the Institute for National Remembrance.

She noted, for example, that Soviet troops in 1981 were bogged down in a war in Afghanistan and that Soviet documents indicate the Kremlin "was not interested in an intervention [in Poland] in 1981."

Koj said the investigation is "in its final stages," and that prosecutors plan to submit a formal indictment in court against Jaruzelski by the end of March.

Left-leaning politicians assume a more cautious stance.

"No historian has presented proof that a Soviet intervention was impossible," said Jerzy Smajdzinski, parliamentary leader of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance.

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