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The Journal Gazette

  • Opponents of Poland's last communist leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski attend an annual rally in front of his house in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 to mark the anniversary of the martial law he imposed on Poland 31 years ago, a repressive crackdown against Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement in an attempt to crush the proponents of democracy. Several hours earlier Jaruzelski, 89, was hospitalized with a heavy nosebleed. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Thursday, December 13, 2012 3:20 pm

Poles march to remember martial law in 1981

By VANESSA GERAAssociated Press

Thousands of Poles marched Thursday in subfreezing temperatures to commemorate the 31st anniversary of a communist crackdown and to express grievances with the current democratic system.

The protest in downtown Warsaw was organized by the country's main opposition party, Law and Justice, a nationalistic and conservative group led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Kaczynski is the twin of President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash in Russia in 2010. That tragedy increased the anti-Russian sentiment of the party's traditional base, something apparent in the slogans and placards at the march.

It came after a day of other observances, including one led by President Bronislaw Komorowski, an anniversary that still evokes deep emotions in the nation. On Dec. 13, 1981, a Moscow-backed government imposed martial law in an attempt to crush Lech Walesa's pro-democracy Solidarity movement. Martial law brought tanks to the streets, harsh limitations on freedom of expression, the imprisonments of Walesa and thousands of other democracy fighters, and the death of about 100 people.

Thursday's protest began with a reading of the names of many of those killed during martial law as people huddled in -9 C (16 F) temperatures.

Demonstrators also voiced anger at the pro-market government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Their grievances are wide-ranging, and include accusations that Tusk is selling out the country to traditional foreign foes like Russia and Germany.

Some complained that the former communists continue to have too much influence in Poland today following the transition to democracy in 1989. The transition then was peaceful and included no purge of former communists, allowing many to remake their lives as politicians or business people in democratic times. However, most of the country's leadership today - including Tusk and Komorowski - were anti-communist dissidents.

"Poland is still dependent on Russia," said Jerzy Sosinski, 59, who huddled in the cold with two friends.

"There was no real de-communization," added a friend, Waldemar Wroblewski, a 59-year-old electrician. "It's not a healthy state."