Martial Law was imposed in Poland by the communist regime on Dec. 13, 1981, in order to suppress “Solidarity,” the anti-communist grassroots movement of Polish people.
Solidarity—the first trade union in the eastern communist block independent of the regime—was born in Poland in August 1980. The movement, which advocated workers’ rights and started demanding some reforms of the communist system, quickly grew in popularity and was joined by about 10 million Poles.
The Communists agreed to legalize Solidarity only because they were forced to do so by the circumstances, said Piotr Brzeziński, Ph.D., a historian at the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in Poland.
“The strikes [leading to the birth of Solidarity] in August 1980 were so big that the communist authorities of Poland realized they were not able to suppress them and the 16 months of Solidarity’s legal operation began,” Brzeziński told The Epoch Times in an interview.
After signing the agreement with Solidarity which allowed it to operate legally, “the communist government started devising a contingency plan [to be used] in case political means to subdue Solidarity, such as persuasion, would fail,” Brzeziński explained.
“The lists of people intended to be arrested had been prepared many months in advance,” said the historian at IPN, a state institute whose mission is to research and popularize the modern history of Poland, and to investigate communist crimes.
The plan was to arrest more than 4,000 Solidarity activists while the most well-known and active Solidarity activists were going to be detained during the first night of martial law, Brzeziński said.
“Figuratively speaking, the communist authorities wanted to behead Solidarity.”
In actuality, there were 5,000 activists arrested in December, Brzeziński said adding that in total during the entire martial law about 10,000 activists, as well as a considerable number of people were arrested.
Then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev called the Solidarity movement a counterrevolution and demanded then Polish communist leader Stanisław Kania to introduce martial law in Poland, the historian said.
“The Soviets were afraid that the example of Solidarity would influence the Russians, the people of the Baltic countries, Belarusians and Ukrainians.”
“And indeed, when reading the memoirs of Soviet dissidents from those years, one can see that Solidarity made a very big impression on them. They even tried to model their activity after Solidarity,” he added.
The Baltic countries—Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia—as well as Belarus and Ukraine, used to be a part of the Soviet Union at that time while Eastern and Central European countries including Poland belonged to the eastern communist bloc heavily influenced by the Soviet Union.
Kania did not want to introduce martial law in Poland and “stalled for time” hoping to tear down Solidarity from the inside out, Brzeziński said adding that one-third of Polish Communist Party members (one million) joined Solidarity. The regime hoped that Party members would influence Solidarity’s policies but they left the Communist Party after the imposition of martial law as the number of Communist Party members dropped by about one million after that, he noted.
Secret security forces also tried to recruit Solidarity activists as their agents with a goal to influence trade union’s leaders, Brzeziński said.