Poland still suffering consequences of martial law says president

Tomasz Gzell/PAP

President Andrzej Duda has said “Poland is still suffering the consequences” of the imposition of martial law, which took place on December 13, 1981.

The president attended a ceremony to commemorate the victims of martial law in the early hours of Monday morning.

On December 13, 40 years ago, Poland's communist government, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, imposed martial law to crack down on Solidarity, the free trade union that had become a direct challenge to the one-party state. Thousands of the union’s members were arrested and interned while the whole of society came under tough restrictions.

The government only lifted the restrictions in 1983.

Duda, speaking at a former communist police station in Warsaw's Old Town, recalled the fate of Grzegorz Przemyk, a final grade high-school student who died after being severely beaten by the police in 1983.

"This place is important for all Varsovians and all Poles," Duda said of the site where Przemyk was beaten.

The president went on to recall other victims of martial law, including protesting miners from the Wujek coal mine who were shot dead by communist riot police on December 16, 1981, just three days after martial law was imposed.

"Poland is still suffering the consequences of those times and feeling the pain of the martial law victims," Duda said. "Many families have not recovered from that tragedy."

Quoting the opposition students' slogan 'Away with communists,' Duda spoke about the current government's overhaul of the judicial system. The president supports it despite it being criticised by Poland’s current opposition and the EU owing to fears it is undermining judicial independence.

"Yes, away with communists, also from the Supreme Court, because this problem was not solved after 1989," the president said. "I hope that a free and sovereign Poland will handle the problem."

The ruling party accuses some older Supreme Court judges, who served under communists, of collaborating with them.

In the aftermath of martial law, and after several years of a deteriorating economic situation and rising 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, with the Berlin Wall collapsing in November 1989.