On 13 December 1981, Poland’s last communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law in a crackdown on rising opposition, headed by the Solidarity movement. Thousands of opposition activists were jailed and dozens were killed.
In a major rally on Tuesday, an anti-government march called “Stop the Destruction of Poland”, was expected to draw a crowd of 30,000 in the Polish capital, according to the organizers, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD).
Simultaneous KOD marches against education reform, changes to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, and for women’s rights, among other issues, were to take place in more than 50 Polish towns and cities and in nearly 30 locations abroad, KOD’s leader earlier said.
KOD has selected the anniversary of the imposition of martial law as the date for the marches, drawing parallels between the communist crackdown of 1981 and the record of the Law and Justice (PiS) government, which swept to power a year ago.
Law and Justice denies accusations that its reforms have eroded democracy in Poland. Its supporters say it is inappropriate for protests to be held on the date the communists cracked down on the Solidarity pro-democracy movement, the start of a dark chapter in modern Polish history.
KOD said on its website: “On this day 35 years ago, totalitarian rule decided to end its adventure with the developing civic society.
“After so many years, again there is a need to fight for freedom and democracy. Let this be a clear signal to the beginner autocrats that their time is coming to an end,” it added.
However, Andrzej Gwiazda, a co-founder of the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union, said the very existence of KOD is evidence that PiS respects democracy.
He said the committee’s only purpose is “to overthrow the democratically elected government.”
On Tuesday, a further 25,000 are expected to turn out for a separate gathering, organized by the PiS government, marking the martial-law anniversary.
The party’s leader Jarosław Kaczyński said that the country is “commemorating this significant day, on which it turned out that communist rule needed to use force on a nation-wide, state-wide scale in order to survive.”
In an interview with Polish Radio on Monday, Kaczyński said that KOD “claim the military, police, justice system, and therefore the state […] should rebel against authorities”.
“It is an anti-state summons and in effect we are dealing with criminal activity,” he added.
In total, 17 gatherings have been planned in Warsaw to mark the martial law anniversary.
Authorities have also organized events, such as a “live history lesson” on board a bus touring significant locations in the Polish capital associated with martial law, to commemorate the day. (vb/rg)
Source: PAP, IAR