What Happend on 12 December 1981 at Wojciech Jaruzelski’s Office? New Evidence on Martial Law from East German Stasi Archive

by Przemysław Gasztold

The 13 of December 1981 marks the intrinsic watershed in activity of the Independent Self-governing Trade Union „Solidarity”, a mass social and political movement born in August 1980 after tremendously huge protests and strikes which spread across the whole country and challenged the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP) authority. The turmoil was caused by several factors, among others systematically weakening living conditions, raising prices, ubiquitous corruption and malfeasance. The ruling Party was surprised by large-scale of unrests and discontent supported even by PUWP members and by the fact that many important factories, state enterprises and facilities joined the strikes bringing the country at the brink of bankruptcy and inevitable collapse. Bearing in mind that the use of force in order to smash the protests could ended in hugely bloody and destructive civil war, authorities needed to recalibrate their approach and agreed to the establishement of „Solidarity” with Lech Wałęsa as its unquestionable leader. Moreover, after a raucous debate authorities officially acquiesced to union’s genuine independence from Party organs. However, not only did the workers prove their dissatisfaction of the current situation and the chaos rapidly emerged even within the PUWP internal structure where the quest for scapegoats began. The high ranking Party officials put blame for economic crisis on the PUWP leader Edward Gierek thus he was replaced by Stanisław Kania.

The Communists however were aware that the sovereign union could not be permanentny implemented into the post-totalitarian political system and thought of it as highly detrimental to Marxist-Leninist precepts and national security. That is why they adopted a double-track strategy which aimed at internal disruption of the „Solidarity” by using tools provided by the security apparatus (secret informants, blackmail, prompting internal squabbles) while at the same time they started to prepare for the final battle. The union managed to operate freely for 16 months and mustered mass social support (around 10 million members) but constant tension with the state authorities and temporal crisis constituting the tests of strength for both adversaries. This led to significant decrease of confidence in „Solidarity” in second half of 1981, as public-opinion polls indicate. In October 1981 Jaruzelski replaced Stanisław Kania as the 1st Secretary of the CC PUWP. The latter was perceived as being too soft and inefficient by the bulk of Communist hawks and low level Party hacks backed by dogmatists from USRR, GDR and Czechoslovakia. He was averse to coercive measures and didn’t want to do what had to be done. Soon it turned out that Jaruzelski and his inner circle fund themselves in the same quandary, being under rising pressure aiming at forcing them to strike against the „Solidarity”. Plans of military operations and dragnets were arranged and ready for implementation. The army as well as security apparatus just waited for an order to move from barracks and take the Polish streets.

Finally, on 12 December 1981 Jaruzelski decided to put Martial Law into action. The next day around 100 thousand soldiers and state security officers accompagnied by several thousand tanks and armoured vehicles appeared in all Polish cities bringing the end of „Solidarity”. The union was soon banned, around 10 thousand people were arrested and placed in detention centers. Those who managed to hide went underground and started to build or renew the foundations of clandestine oppositions networks.

While the background, policy-making process and technical factors regarding the implementation of the Martial Law are rather familiar to pundits, the newly discovered document from Stasi archives scheds new light into the behind the scenes circumstances which led to the final decision taken by Jaruzelski.

According to interviews and memoirs, the decision was made on Saturday, 12 December 1981, around 9 AM in the Office of the Council of Ministers. Jaruzelski convened a meeting and was visited by close aides – gen. Michał Janiszewski, gen. Florian Siwicki and gen. Czesław Kiszczak – the Minister of Internal Affairs. The latter, right-handman and trustem bedfellow, presented the secret memorandum on the Solidarity Commission’s members meeting in Gdańsk, which left no other options than striking with military force. Thereby the generals concluded that this day Martial Law will begin. It was around 10 AM when their meeting was over, and Kiszczak was the last one who left the office. Apparently when leaving, he reminded Jaruzelski that if Martial Law was to be introduced the same day, only four hours were required to issue the relevant orders, because the Ministry of the Interior needed eight hours to execute the order. Kiszczak left the Office of the Council of Ministers and waited impatiently for the final order from Jaruzelski. Time was running out but PUWP leader did not react, nor did he call. Around 2 PM Kiszczak took the initiative and decided to call his superior. Jaruzelski answered the phone but was still not fully convinced about the decision and asked his minister about the situation in Gdańsk. Kiszczak briefed him that „Solidarity” unreletingly conducted hostile policy and even made further demands. Such reasoning induced certain ramifications on Jaruzelski and after a short deadlock He finalny launched the Martial Law[1].

A completely different account of the same day was presented by General Mirosław Milewski, one of the most important representatives of so called “healthy forces” and top Party official with clandestine ties to Soviet secret services. In his story, Jaruzelski’s decision-making process lasted longer and the order was issued only under the pressure of top brass from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of the Interior. Milewski’s version of events can be found in the Stasi report describing the meeting between Rudolf Maroń and general Józef Kierat – head of civilian security apparatus in Rzeszów from 1979 to 1990. It seems that Milewski valued him very much, trusted him, thus the two frequently discussed the political situation. Maroń also regarded Kierat as a true communist and was to already meet him in December 1981 but plans were thwarted by the Martial Law. Maroń finally managed to talk with Kierat during the spring of 1982, and the Stasi operatives in an uncanny way obtained the report from that meeting. It must be remembered that abovementioned memo is a third-party information and its content could be slightly distorted by subsequent recipients. Nor can it be treated literally, because Kierat, presenting Milewski’s account, indicates 13 December 1981, as the day of making the decision on Martial Law, while it is known that the action was then in progress. It seems that Milewski describes the events of 12  December 1981, which is also indicated by the fact that his story to some point overlaps with Jaruzelski’s and Kiszczak’s statements.

According to Milewski, since Jaruzelski became the 1st Secretary of the CC PUWP he was still reluctant to take serious actions against the “Solidarity”. Even in December 1981 he hesitated as before and did not want to push the army to the streets. Many army and state security officers feared he would not be able to handle the situation and perceived his policy as inept and impotent. Jaruzelski changed his mind only on 12 December, 1981. According to Milewski, around 1 PM the PUWP leader was visited by Kiszczak who strenuously persuaded him to take the decision but failed to convince his boss. This meeting is also described in other accounts. What happened later however is still unknown. According to Milewski, when Kiszczak did not manage to convince the 1st Secretary, several top generals took the initiative and unexpectedly arrived at his office. Bogusław Stachura, Eugeniusz Molczyk and Milewski among them shared the bellicose belief that Jaruzelski’s only available move was to immediately strike at “Solidarity” and order Martial Law. They wanted to extort this decision by threatening that they would not leave his office until he will confirmed to quell the trade union. Jaruzelski still refused to take action but after dramatic discussion finally leaned toward the implementation of Martial Law. He reportedly changed his opinion after listening to a tape secretly recorded during the one of the “Solidarity” meetings where somebody threatened to kill him. Additionally, the Stasi report indicates that between 3 and 10 PM Milewski, Stachura and Molczyk remained at Jaruzelski’s office to check on him, fearing that he will change his decision. They did not trust him and were afraid of his behavior in case of potential outbreak.

Milewski’s statement paints the image of Jaruzelski as an undecided politician, torn by internal contradictions. He constantly postponed Martial Law as he was not mentally prepared for military struggle against his own nation. It can be seen that Jaruzelski was not entirely convinced to the necessity of introducing Martial Law and only the brutal pressure from top brass threating him to stay at his office forced him to give an order. In such narrative, the introduction of the Martial Law is apparently conducted by Milewski, Stachura, Molczyk and probably also Kiszczak. The 1st Secretary made the decision under great pressure, being aware he could not wait any longer, because his indecision might act as bad example to his subordinates. Abstaining from questioning the truthfulness of events delivered by Milewski, it is worth paying attention to their significant role in the internal party games. Rumors about Jaruzelski’s tear, his disorientation and confusion undermined his position and authority. Hearsay about him as a dove shaped the image of a shaky politician who in times of high tension had serious problems with making a strong decision. Moreover, it is worth a proper consideration how many people among the high echelons of PUWP engaged in spreading the rumors about Jaruzelski’s decision-making process, because it can be assumed that Milewski and Kierat were not the only ones who used to propel such accusations[2].

[1] Człowiek honoru? Czesław Kiszczak w rozmowie z Jerzym Diatłowickim, Warszawa 2016, s. 168-169

[2] BStU/MfS HA XVIII, 6454, Information von Genosse Maroń, 21.4.82, p. 73.