Poland marks 41st anniversary of martial law

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended the main memorial ceremony at the Museum of Cursed Soldiers and Political Prisoners in Warsaw. Mateusz Marek/PAP

Ceremonies took place in Poland on Tuesday to mark the 41st anniversary of the imposition of martial law by the country's then communist government.

Thousands of people were arrested and interned after General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the head of state, imposed martial law on December 13, 1981, in an attempt to crack down on Solidarity, the free trade union that had become a direct challenge to the one-party state.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who attended the main memorial ceremony at the Museum of Cursed Soldiers and Political Prisoners in Warsaw, once a jail where anti-communist independence underground soldiers and political prisoners were held by the communist state after WWII, said that during martial law "tens of thousands were arrested, interned, beaten, humiliated... over 100 people murdered... many more died at the hands of the so-called unknown perpetrators, who have never been found."

"The memory of the victims of martial law, the memory of martial law, is very important not only for our history, but also for our present day," Morawiecki said.

Later in the day, acting on behalf of the president, National Remembrance Institute head Karol Nawrocki presented the Crosses of Freedom and Solidarity to the former activists of the 1956-1989 anti-communist opposition.

In a letter to the gathering, President Andrzej Duda paid homage to the memory of "the victims of the communist regime which had declared war on its own nation in order to quell the peaceful revolution started by the Solidarity trade union and the pursuit of freedom by Poles."

The president added that martial law had resulted in a huge wave of crime and repression as thousands of people had been arrested and interned, and strikes and protests had been brutally liquidated."

In the aftermath of martial law, and after several years marked by a deteriorating economic situation and increasing social discontent, the communists agreed to hold talks with the opposition, known as the Round Table Talks, in early 1989.

The first partially-free election in June of that year resulted in a huge victory for the democratic opposition.

The election marked the onset of the fall of communism across Central and Eastern Europe.