President marks martial law anniversary

Piotr Nowak/PAP

President Andrzej Duda awarded state distinctions in Warsaw on Friday in connection with the 38th anniversary of the December 13, 1981, imposition of martial law in Poland by the country's communist regime.

Recalling the circumstances that led to the introduction of martial law, Duda said the decision had been an attempt by the communists to ultimately enslave Poles and stifle their freedom ambitions. Duda stressed that the move "cast a shadow" over the entire following decade, seriously impaired the country's growth, triggered a "Polish-Jaruzelski" war between Poles and the country's communist strongman Wojciech Jaruzelski, and prevented the regime-opposing Solidarity Union from continuing the changes it had been carrying through in Poland.

"Today is a special day, the 38th anniversary of the imposition of martial law on December 13, 1981. As people have said since, and still often say today, (this is - PAP) the 38th anniversary of the outbreak of the Polish-Jaruzelski war, proclaimed by Wojciech Jaruzelski and the communist regime against (...) the whole remainder of Polish society.

"(We are celebrating the memory of an event - PAP) which cast a long shadow over the entire 1980s and set our country back in its development. (...) If Solidarity could have been victorious then and had continued changing the country, many historical moments which proved difficult for us would probably never have occurred. (...) Generally, there is no doubt that (the imposition of - PAP) martial law was an attempt to ultimately enslave Poles and bring our people away from the path to freedom," Duda said.

At the anniversary ceremony, Duda handed out distinctions to participants in a November 1981 strike at a Warsaw fire service cadet school, whose students opposed the school's militarisation and their possible employment to quell social protests.

On Friday, Duda also met with the mother of the youngest-known victim of the martial-law era, a 16-year-old Warsaw schoolboy and anti-communist activist involved in a February 1982 spray attack on a communist monument in Warsaw, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in June 1982 and whose body was found several days later. His killers have never been found.

On Friday evening in Warsaw Duda lit one of the votive candles forming a symbolic cross commemorating martial law victims under a so-called papal cross put up in memory of Polish-born Pope John Paul II's first pilgrimage to Poland in 1979.

Martial law was imposed in Poland by the country's communist authorities on December 13, 1981, in a bid to quench the rising Solidarity Union. According to estimates, the martial law years cost at least several dozen fatalities, with thousands of people arrested and further thousands persecuted and forced to emigrate.