Martial law caused long-term damage to Poland

“Martial law is one of the few cases when Poles took up arms against other Poles, and it seemed that the civil war was a step away,” says Dr Maciej Wojtyński, a historian at the University of Warsaw.

Rzeczpospolita: Wednesday marks the anniversary of the outbreak of martial law. Is it still worth commemorating these events?

Maciej Wojtyński: It is vital to do so. Martial law is one of the few cases when Poles took up arms against other Poles and it seemed that a civil war was but a step away. History is a good teacher of life, but it has very unwise students. Let us hope that it will nevertheless teach us something.

Does the December 13 anniversary still carry some sort of meaning for people born in the 1980s or later?

I hope they know what happened then. The memory of martial law should act as a warning. May it never happen again. It would be good if we would talk about our achievements more often – not only in the military sphere, but also with regard to culture, the economy – rather than about what was bad. Nevertheless, martial law must be remembered and at the same time one needs to identify those who are responsible for what happened. They are, not were, responsible – after all, they are still alive today.

You are not a supporter of the so-called thick line?

To cite the Bible: ‘Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' There is no reason to hide the fact, also from our descendants, who led to the war between Poland and Jaruzelski and for what reason, although I do not know if Jaruzelski bought into Soviet propaganda as deeply as some of my colleagues from the Institute of National Remembrance claim. I know that in communism, which limited our knowledge very often, one had to be guided by intuition, I do not want to relativize, I do not miss Jaruzelski and I do not want to justify his actions because he did a lot of evil. Martial law caused long-term damage to Poland. But I also remember the behaviour of colleagues, ordinary people on the street...

And what do you mean by this?  

I saw hope in them, a will to survive, although at times I saw the complete opposite, simply cowardice. On the one hand, praise be to those who had enough strength of character to say that someone who associates with the Soviets is a vagrant and one should stay away from them. On the other hand, a huge part of society, including the 10 million-strong Solidarity movement was made up of people who simply wanted to live a normal life, which is nowadays forgotten. This is not something that is easy to explain.

We often make generalisations and state that several people at the top of the government are responsible for martial law. And what about the rest? Those who were really normal went underground, with no doubt that they had to oppose what was happening. But these people were few and far between.  Meanwhile, there was not a shortage of people trying to survive: opportunists or cowards. I myself was also not in the underground opposition movement, I was a coward, although I sniffed enough chloropicrin in my time and did my share of crying. I am not proud of my attitude, but I have the courage to talk about it.

How should youth be told about martial law? Through reconstructions, films?

The form is a tertiary issue. The most important thing is to tell the truth and call things by their name.

Source: Rzeczpospolita