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Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader


Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader


Wojciech Jaruzelski was Poland’s last Communist leader. He is a controversial figure, because as Prime Minister he imposed martial law in 1981. He says he wanted to prevent the threat of a Soviet invasion and clampdown on civil unrest. But thousands of opposition members were jailed, tens of thousands went into exile and people were killed in clashes. 20 years after approving talks between the government and the Solidarity movement, Jaruzelski last year went on trial over the martial law. Euronews reporter Rudolf Herbert spoke to him.

Rudolf Herbert: Do you remember what you were doing on the 9th of November, 1989, when the Berlin wall came down? Jaruzelski: It’s difficult to remember exactly where I was. I was probably in my office and received the information even before it was officially made public. I have to admit it wasn’t a big surprise for me. I was in Berlin on the 6th and 7th of October. Gorbachev was also there, a big rally organised by Honecker for the 40th anniversary of the creation of the GDR. When people passed in front of the stage they cried: “Gorbi, Gorbi, help us!” So I went over to Gorbachev and told him: “It’s over. It’s the end.” He admitted it was the end. And of course we can say that the fall of the wall was then just a formality. Rudolf Herbert: What was the most difficult decision you took? Jaruzelski: Without a doubt it was the introduction of martial law. This decision was not just a moment, a precise situation, but it was preceded by a number of painful events. But having to think about martial law for months on end, weeks, hours, even the hours before martial law came in, because it wasn’t decided until the very last minute. I only took this decision on the 12th of December, 1981, at 2pm. These days were like a nightmare. I feared the worst. I took this decision but I didn’t want to. I knew it would be a drama, for me as well. I will carry the weight of this decision on my shoulders until the end of my days. Rudolph Herbert: During the mid 80s, could have you imagined the way history would run its course? Jaruzelski: In any case, in the mid 80s, I realised there would be deep reforms. It was the arrival of Gorbachev that gave us this chance. Us, the Polish, we were the ones who’d already gone down that road. Gorbachev had already sometimes called our Polish reforms, which were limited at that time of course, the substitutes of democracy and the free market. He called them the Perestroika laboratory. Rudolph Herbert: What do you think today about the communist era? Jaruzelski: Communism, the bible of communism was created not along the Volga but along the Rhine. And it was full of many attractive and noble ideas, in part utopic, but I feel they remain valid from a philosophical and moral point of view. But having said that, above all, the idea of communism was hijacked by Stalinism. Rudolph Herbert: What are the reasons behind the end of communism? The fall of communism is due to the lack of democracy, which is a natural need of societies, especially civil and modern societies. It’s also due to economic needs, the need for reform, which makes the economy effective and creative, which the old system didn’t guarantee, and which were possible to obtain after the system changed. It may seem incomprehensible that me, a man of the old regime, with all of my convictions, that I can say today that these changes were absolutely necessary and profitable for Poland and the whole of Europe. Rudolph Herbert: Was 1989 a miraculous year? Jaruzelski: Above all else it was the year of Poland’s big turning point, but also for the whole region. I can proudly say that I took part in this process. It was bit of a paradox. Me, the author of the martial law, and at the same time the co-author of the changes that took place in the 80s, which had a very important dimension, and not only for Poland. These events were the beginning of a chain of events – the velvet revolution, the fall of the Berlin wall – but we were the first. Rudolph Herbert: What have the last two decades brought Poland? Jaruzelski: I believe that when you look at our difficult history, Poland is now living one of its best moments. Our country, our land is a big cemetery. Foreign armies passed from east to west and from west to east, and for the first time we feel safe. As well, there are real development possibilities, especially in the context of Poland in the European Union, which gives us the chance to make our development more dynamic, to benefit from the experience of countries more economically and socially advanced than Poland. Rudolph Herbert: Is there anything you have regrets about? Jaruzelski: Maybe I’m not going to respond as you expect, but I do not consider the introduction of martial law as an error. It was decisive, a bitter act, dramatic, which I don’t regret, because I believe that it was what saved Poland. But I deplore, I deplore what I call the lesser of two evils, and the fact that after the introduction of martial law there were a lot of unjustified acts and operations by different state agencies, which I wasn’t aware of, which caused a lot of damage. I have publically said sorry on several occasions and I am sorry. I even said in the presence of the authorities that if there was an officer who hit someone, me, who held the highest office, would feel morally responsible.

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