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11 c h a p t e r o n e A Watershed in the Political History of Mankind The Reaction to Martial Law, December 1981 to January 1982 At 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night, December 12, 1981, elite units of the Polish People’s Militia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MSW), backed by the Polish Army, took to the streets to round up and imprison the leadership of the Solidarność trade union. They cordoned off regional Solidarność headquarters , captured union leaders meeting in Gdańsk, set up roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the country, and cut all lines of communication. At 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 13, General Wojciech Jaruzelski addressed the nation on the radio, announcing that martial law had been imposed: “Our homeland was on the edge of a precipice . . . , we found ourselves facing a difficult test. We must show ourselves equal to this test, we must show that ‘We are worthy of Poland.’*” Word from the American embassy in Warsaw about irregular military movements first reached Secretary of State Alexander Haig at 3:00 a.m. in Brussels, where he had spent the evening dining with Western diplomats in preparation for a NATO meeting. On the other side of the Atlantic, President Ronald Reagan was away from the White House at Camp David. Haig spoke with Vice President George H. W. Bush instead, and the two decided not to whisk Reagan back to Washington. The vice president reassured Haig that there was no hurry to get back, saying, “Nothing will happen in Washington for now, Al.”1 Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was over the Atlantic in a plane headed to London. The National Security Council (NSC) staff lacked a permanent national security adviser. President Reagan was not briefed on the news until the next morning. In Haig’s words, the Reagan administration found itself in a “surprised state” without a clear plan for how to react.2 The United States initially responded with caution, but anger in the White House soon produced punitive measures. A week after the declaration of 12 a watershed martial law, the Reagan administration declared economic sanctions against Poland and extended similar punishment to the Soviet Union. Washington also actively advocated for multilateral sanctions within the NATO framework and eventually succeeded in getting a tough rhetorical response from European allies, though little immediate multilateral action. In Poland, martial law successfully eviscerated the opposition, much to the relief of the Soviets and of Poland’s neighbors. Warsaw, however, had not expected a forceful Western response. The American pattern of surprise followed by anger was thus replayed within the Polish government, which responded with surprise and then anger of its own at Western sanctions. In the first month after the declaration of martial law, both sides took unexpected steps, opening a deep wound in U.S.-Polish relations that would leave lasting scars. The Polish Crisis December 1981 was the final act of what was known outside of Poland as the “Polish Crisis,” which began in August 1980 with workers’ strikes along the Baltic coast, most notably at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk. As with earlier crises in 1956, 1970, and 1976, workers were responding to food price increases.3 Unlike during previous strikes, this time the workers demanded expressly political as well as economic accommodations in their strike announcement . They also elected as their head negotiator Lech Wałęsa, an electrician active in the free trade union movement who had been fired for political activity in 1976.4 Joining with other strikers along the Baltic coast in an Inter-Factory Strike Committee, the Gdańsk workers laid out a list of twenty-one demands to end their occupation strike, addressing social , economic, and political concerns. Deciding against the use of force, the PZPR politburo sent negotiators to Gdańsk and Szczecin (also on the Baltic coast). With Bronisław Geremek, Andrzej Gwiazda, Bogdan Lis, and Tadeusz Mazowiecki at his side, Wałęsa successfully negotiated and signed the Gdańsk Accords with the government on August 31, 1980, allowing unprecedented political concessions, including: independent trade unions, the right to strike without reprisals, the right to “freedom of expression,” pay increases, improved working conditions, Saturdays off, and Sunday Masses broadcast over loudspeakers. The leaders of the Szczecin and Gdańsk strikes soon met with other workers’ representatives, including leaders like Zbigniew Bujak from Warsaw and Władysław Frasyniuk from Wrocław, to expand into a loosely coordinated...


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MARC Record
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