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UK releases classified documents on 1981 martial law in Poland

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 30.12.2012 10:20
Documents on martial law in Poland have been made public by the British state archives, with President Reagan describing the crackdown as “a watershed in the political history of mankind.”

Troops near Poniatowski Bridge in Warsaw. December 13, 1981 as martial law begins: photo - PAP Wojciech Frelek (arch)

Many of the documents show that while President Ronald Reagan thought that sanctions should be brought against the regime in Moscow and not just Warsaw, Britain was less keen to widen the conflict.

In a note to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a week after martial law began on 13 December 1981, Reagan, signing his note with an informal “Ron”, writes: “[M]easures must be addressed to the Soviet Union as well as to the Polish regime. There can be no doubt about the ultimate responsibility for the plight in which the Polish people find themselves.”

Reagan adds that the democratic struggle by the Solidarity trade union and the resulting communist crackdown “may well be a watershed in the political history of mankind.”

Another document shows a transcript of a conversation between Thatcher and her foreign secretary at the time, Lord Peter Carrington.

Thatcher describes Reagan's note as “vague” and “not worth reading when it came in about half eleven [at night].”

“He says that he's sending someone over to talk about what we can do between the two of us to tackle the situation. But it's simply an internal situation,” Prime Minister Thatcher adds.

The diplomatic reports released by the British this week had been classified as secret for over a thirty year period and released along with documents relating to the reaction of the government led by Margaret Thatcher to the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

The files include personal evaluations of the main characters responsible for the clampdown on Solidarity and pro-democratic forces.

British diplomatic notes from Moscow suggest that though martial law had been actually imposed by the Polish communist regime, it was thought that the Kremlin had been pushing for such force solution already in early autumn of that year.

A Moscow-based diplomat under the pseudonym of “Keeble” reported that Warsaw Pact communications systems had been used for planning the operation.

Another report sent from Warsaw 10 days after the imposition of martial law and signed by someone going under the name of “James” includes character sketches of communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski and his closest associates.

Jaruzelski is described as “an idealistic communist, who had severed all ties with family members that still remembered his father’s death during their exile to Siberia.”

General Florian Siwicki is portrayed as “a staunch Soviet admirer who joined the Red Army at the age of seventeen and has family ties with Russia,” while another communist leader, General Wlodzimierz Oliwa is “Moscow’s man with whom even Jaruzelski must reckon.”

In successive reports from Warsaw “James” anticipates that after tanks are withdrawn from public places, Poland awaits a long “period of normalization” in the rendition of the Security Service and erstwhile police forces which, apart from the professional party apparatchiks, had been the only groups not to have been infiltrated by revolutionary Solidarity ideals. (pg/ss)

See documents here (pdf)

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