It took three decades, but Poland has finally ruled that the imposition of martial law was a crime, said Agaton Kozinski. The generals who declared a “state of war” and sent tanks into the streets in 1981 have now been held accountable for perpetrating a national trauma. Overnight, communist Poland changed from a dynamic country, where Lech Walesa was leading the Solidarity union in strikes and calling for democracy, to a grim prison state. The borders were closed, phone lines were cut, mail was censored, and universities were shut. Thousands of activists were summarily jailed, and the rest of us were subject to a curfew.
Of course, last week’s verdict was largely symbolic. Only one of the four generals, former Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak, was convicted, and his two-year sentence was suspended because of his advanced age, 86. His superior, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and former Defense Minister Florian Siwicki were ruled too ill to stand trial, while Siwicki’s deputy, Gen. Tadeusz Tuczapski, died during the trial. But a symbol was all we needed. The argument Jaruzelski has always given, that his action saved the country from a Warsaw Pact invasion, has been decisively rejected. “Historical justice has been done.”