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Thursday, 13 December 2001

The address by the President of the Republic of Poland at the National Memorial Institute on the 20th anniversary of...

This address is very important to me. It is also a very difficult one. I happen to be a politician who always maintained that we ought to orient ourselves towards the future, that we should direct our thoughts towards tomorrow. My political experience though - the six years of my presidency and in that especially the experience of the year just ending - has taught me that one cannot escape from the past. Sooner or later the past will catch up with you. There are lessons to be learnt from history. History that we have to fathom in a very discerning and a keenly perceptive way. These - very personal - words I offer to politicians in active service here and now. There are gathered in this room, twenty years after the December 13th, people who in the days of old stood at the opposing sides of the barricade; victims of martial law, people who were sentenced and interned, those of underground resistance and those for whom martial law was the lesser evil. Also those who were not directly involved in the conflict belonging neither to `Solidarity` nor to the ruling authorities` camp. We do remember the enthusiasm and hopes sparked by August 1980. Liberty, freedom of speech, fraternal solidarity, the awakened civil society awareness. We also remember that towards the end of 1981, those active in public life were becoming ever more divided. In the attitude to the authorities, to freedom and civil rights, to social justice. We also differed in the way we conceived sovereignty of the state, where we saw our friends and foes. Possibly, the only agreement between us was that life was becoming ever more difficult, that the economy was nearing a breaking point, that the state was crumbling. This all led to a state of rising tensions, of confrontation, one that perhaps more emphatically should be called psychological civil war. We had the sense that both, the state authorities as well as Solidarity, were loosing their grip on events. We were very apprehensive about how it was all going to end. It was in such circumstances that martial law was imposed in the night from the 12th to the 13th of December. I was 27 at the time. For a month I had been the editor-in-chief of "ITD", a students` weekly. A weekly that was first suspended and then dissolved. We won a prolonged fight to reinstate the publication but the editorial staff remained deeply divided. The vetting of journalists exacerbated the divisions. I do not consider myself a veteran, nor do feel responsible for martial law. I recall the memories only to underscore that I am here today not only as the president, but also as one who like many others was an actor and witness of history. I am pleased to see that among our midst today there people from different walks of life. Gathered here are people of diverse historical experience. But such is the truth about the time we want to debate today - the time of martial law. And this truth is a particularly multifarious one. This truth is the sum total of individual experiences. It is that kind of an episode in the life of a country, in the life of a nation, where an internal conflict, a confrontation of Poles against Poles, is spawned by a subjective perception of what serves the good of the country, of what constitutes patriotism. That is why arguments and justifications of the many sides ought to be given a hearing. It will pay to make the effort to understand the different points of view. I am grateful to the President of the National Memorial Institute, Prof. Leon Kieres, for organizing today`s session and for inviting me to take part. Ladies and Gentlemen, No person of sound judgment has any doubts today - martial law was evil. This is even admitted by those whose decision it was to impose it. It was evil because it was directed against the resurging freedom. Evil - because it quashed hopes of life in dignity, of civic rights, of democracy. Last but not least, it was evil because it pitched millions of Poles against each other, aggravated internal divisions and animosities and daunted the enthusiasm for building a civic society. This enthusiasm, this energy never again resurged with such potency as evidenced by, among others, our subsequent problems with low election turnouts. Martial law deepened isolation of our country on the international scene and led to the imposition of economic sanctions. Martial law spells: internment of thousands of Solidarity activists, pacification of plants, hundreds of political trials, searches, wiretapping of telephones, detentions, persecutions, people fired from jobs, harassment of dissidents of the underground movement. To think how many talented, hard-working and honest people were forced to emigrate. The wrongs then committed cannot be redressed. Neither can we recoup the losses Poland then incurred. Martial law meant the death of "Wujek" pit miners, the most tragic event of those days. Let`s recall the names of those young people who confronting history paid the highest price for their ardent resolve. Józef Czekalski Krzysztof Giza Ryszard Gzik Bogusław Kopczak Andrzej Pełka Zbigniew Wilk Zenon Zając Joachin Gnida Jan Stawisiński Today, the oldest of them would be 68, the youngest 39! Martial law was also the time of warping people`s characters. Many people felt overawed, forced to transgress, morally abused. Those people did things against their best convictions, things that offended their inner sense of propriety. This was the experience of people on both sides of the barricade, of people from very different walks of life. The Solidarity activists, the champions of change, but also young soldiers, public employees of great many institutions suffered anguish and mental distress. We have no doubts today. History has proven right those who refused to accept martial law as a way administering the state. Those who took up the fight, those who resisted. But also those that unjustly are deemed opportunists, who in many spheres of life were trying to protect something from loss, that were `doing their own thing` defying the logic of confrontation and hate. To all those people, who fought and suffered, that incurred painful loses, to the families of those who were killed and persecuted - we owe today, on the 20th anniversary of martial law imposition, words of compassion, and above all words of gratitude from the democratic state of Poland. As the President of the Republic of Poland, I wish to convey words of profound respect for the stand they took and of recognition for all they had done for Poland. If Poles are now proud of their homeland, they should remember how much they owe to them, to You. On the anniversary of martial law, we owe gratitude to the Catholic Church of Poland. Without doubt, the attitude of the Primate, the bishops, lay priests allied with the Church, served to lessen social tensions, hold down emotions, restrain violent reactions. The Church also rendered assistance to those in need, provided support and refuge, provided a mission of good service mediating between the authorities and the opposition. We do remember the accomplishments of Primate Stefan Wyszyński, meritorious attainments of Primate Józef Glemp, Cardinals Henryk Gulbinowicz and Franciszek Macharski, Bishops Bronisław Dąbrowski, Jerzy Dąbrowski, Alojzy Orszulik and Stanisław Dembowski. The attitude of the Church at the time was of great import in mitigating the progress of martial law and in framing the political formula for its termination. We owe words of appreciation for the show of solidarity with the Polish nation in the days of martial law to many states, Polish expatriate community, international organizations, charity organizations, the unnamed organizers of aid action, who in different places of the globe did not spare their time or money to assist people of Poland in those difficult moments of adversity. Ladies and Gentlemen, The people behind the decision to impose martial law call it "the lesser evil". They argue that the internal situation in Poland towards the end of 1981 was slipping out of control, that it was set on a course leading inevitably towards outbreaks of social strife and economic collapse. That no effective accommodation was possible between the authorities and the" Solidarity" social movement. They adduce to then prevailing international situation, in particular to the threat of an invasion by Warsaw Pact armies. From this perspective, they see their decision on imposition of martial law as a desperate, forced by historical circumstances, attempt aimed at preserving the rudimental structures of the state and defending its sovereignty. There are historians and politicians, also other than Polish, who question these justifications maintaining that it was all done in defense of the authorities then in power. This division of opinion as regards the assessment of the root causes and the vindication of martial law continues into the present day and, as Professor Kires said, will continue into future. This is because assessment extends not only facts but also to the psychological climate, social tensions and political realities. We must remember that one of the shortcomings of communism, of every totalitarian or authoritarian system, is the all-pervading distrust, the lack of confidence infusing all realms of public life. At the time the public did not trust the authorities and the reverse was also true. "Solidarity" did not trust the party that in turn did not trust "Solidarity". There were no instruments for openly gauging, testing the intentions of the actors of public life. There was no freedom of speech and of critical opinion, transparency of decisions, and pluralism of assessment. Neither was there a place for an honest, open, candid debate. And this lack of trust was one of the antecedent causes of such an event as martial law. But this was also true of relations between the so-called allies. Behind the high-sounding words about friendship and brotherhood, there often lurked hypocrisy and deceit. On July 29th 1968, in Czerna on Cisa, Leonod Breznhev was kissing, in front of TV crews from all over the world, Antoni Dubczek, and three weeks later tanks of the Warsaw Pact armies rolled into Czechoslovakia. The same climate permeated relations between Poland and the Soviet Union. The Polish authorities had every right not to trust our eastern neighbor, to expect the worst notwithstanding all the declarations and words conveyed. Wojciech Jaruzelski must have remembered his stay in Siberia. People still had fresh in memory the fate of Polish patriots killed in Stalinist camps of mass extermination. Those younger than the General knew about and remembered the Budapest bloodshed and the quashing of the "Prague Spring". Bearing all this in mind, could an invasion of `friendly contingents` been precluded? And, of course, these would not have had to invade Poland since they were already in the country. I am telling you this a citizen of Białogard where some of the army units were deployed and I remember only too well the Soviet troops and tanks that in 1968 set off for Czechoslovakia. And thus the truth about martial law is not of bare facts but also of decisions, of documents, of those kisses of Breznhev, and of the climate molded by the imperial doctrine of the Soviet Union. I have read with great interest the latest book on martial law by Professor Andrzej Paczkowski. An analysis of a very extensive body of facts of the period brings him to the conclusion that in practical terms "Poland was doomed to martial law or some other form of crushing or subduing the independent trade union to the will of the authorities". Neither Warsaw nor Moscow would have then sanctioned the very fast change of the system and the redefining of alliances demanded by " Solidarity". "Solidarity" paid the price for being a forerunner. But was there any other way? The author answers: "in the end someone had to lose - "Solidarity", General Jaruzelski`s administration, the hard-liners or the Soviet Union..." So the trust was wanting but so was imagination. On both sides. Please, do not take it as an expression of reproach but of regret. Relating to what was but also to what is now. Politicians very seldom are able to foretell the future though in some measure they determine future course of events. Ever more reason why it does not make much sense to ruminate the ifs, how it all could have gone differently. But by way of an intellectual exercise, perhaps it is worthwhile to ponder how the country would have shaped if martial law had not been imposed. Ponder what and when would have come as a turning point? Would the "Round Table" been possible in 1982? Given the level of expectations and claimed entitlements at the time, would "Balcerowicz`s plan" been possible or would we have rather become entangled in some class-utopian variant of socialist economy? Would we have hastened Gorbachev`s assent to power or just the opposite? Could Poland be the Finland of Eastern Europe back in 1982? Could we have been safe and effective in the world that was ideologically and militarily divided? Just to remind, I am talking about 1982. And taking into consideration the momentum of developments we witnessed then, these would have been the very problems and challenges facing us. Of course, I know that these questions will have to go unanswered. Just like we shall never know for certain whether - to use the colloquial phrase -" the Russkie would have come, and if so, when"? Debating these after the lapse of 20 years, perhaps we should also try to envisage what was really possible and feasible in 1982, whether the year of 1989 could have happened much earlier without the bitter and tragic experience of martial law? Whether all the actors of the drama, all Poles, matured in outlook to reach agreement that entailed self-constraint, patience and opening to dialogue, as well as - as I have already mentioned - a minimal quota of trust and the greatest possible of imagination? I do not feel I it is my role to be General Wojciech Jaruzelski`s advocate. I want to stress, nevertheless, that I do understand the dramatic circumstances in which he had to make this difficult decision. And I believe, I am confident, that he made the decision for the good of the country, impelled by patriotic motives. Today, I accept with regard his words when he says: "I feel responsible for everything that happened in the country, even if I did not know about something or it was outside my influence. In the implementation of martial law, great many mistakes, or even misdeeds, were committed, which I describe as the lesser evil. But evil always is evil"- these are W. Jaruzelski`s words. Unfortunately, that which for some was a patriotic gesture, a choice laden with drama, for others was an opportunity for over-the-dead-bodies self- advancement, for evildoing and humiliation of the helpless. People who would not abide by it can also consider themselves patriots. And this is the embodiment of the grandeur and the trauma of the historical experience, of the complexity of our predicament. Ladies and Gentlemen, In the history of our nation, there is a tragic, recurring theme. I have here in mind wars, partitions, insurrections, occupations, and internal conflicts. With an unexplained as yet force, there recur circumstances, crises of which the downfalls of Poland are born. Martial law of 1981 unfortunately fits into the pattern formed by the train of such tragic events. But in the history of our nation there is also another returning theme - the capacity to revive, rebuild and blossom. This was the source of our strength - then and today. The history of our state goes back in history over a thousand years. We have our common home, our Motherland, and our Nation proud of its past. We were able to find - as Norwid wrote - at the bottom of the ashes of destruction "the sparkling diamond of eternal victory dawning". Undoubtedly, the diamond after the night of martial was the "Round Table". In those circumstances - cumbered with resentments and divisions, rancor and hate - we found the way towards reconciliation. We proved to the world and ourselves that we ar
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