Tag Archive | "martial law"

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Jerzy Urban

Posted on 09 October 2009 by admin

Brash journalist-turned-regime mouthpiece-turned-brash journalist, 1933-

urbanA few years after the fall of the communist regime, many Poles were enraged by a photograph of Jerzy Urban relaxing poolside at his villa in a posh Warsaw suburb. How could this hated Communist, the face of martial law, be living in such opulence?

Urban himself would say many times that in the new era he might very well have ended up hated, marginalized, and poor. That he was now hated, marginalized, and rich didn’t bother him.

Urban earned an infamous place in Poland’s collective memory when he took the job of government spokesman in August 1981, only months before Wojciech Jaruzelski – whom Urban professes to admire greatly – imposed martial law to quash Solidarity. Serving until April 1989, he became the despised face of power, laying bare the authorities’ cynicism in regularly televised press conferences.(Commenting on the Reagan administration’s economic sanctions on Poland, Urban said the people would suffer but “the government will somehow manage to feed itself.”)

Few at the time had any inkling why Urban, a renowned journalist and longtime critic of the regime (his writing was banned for a time in the 1960s) would take such a job. Later, in the 1990s, Urban would say he was irked by Solidarity’s populism, clericalism, and nationalistic bent, an attitude he has held to this day regarding the post-Solidarity political parties left, right, and center.

On the brink of personal and professional failure come 1989, Urban rescued himself with Urban’s Alphabet, a collection of short, cheeky, sometimes malicious sketches of politicians, artists, and journalists. The book became a bestseller and helped fund the creation of a weekly magazine, Nie, fullof profanity, porn, and scathing attacks on the new political elites. Its circulation soon climbed to 600,000 – a clear demonstration that other threads were running through post-communist Poland than the Catholic Church, the new politics, and economic liberalism.

Ninety-four percent of adult Poles knew who Urban was. Enough people were interested in what that scumbag was up to to buy out the entire print run,” Urban recalled in Nie in 2004.

Still published and edited by Urban and now selling about 75,000 copies an issue, Nie in recent years has become more serious, at least compared to its early days. Urban even became something of a journalistic cause celebre when he was criminally charged in 2002 for publishing a mocking attack on Pope John Paul II. (In January 2005 he was convicted and fined 20,000 zlotys, about $6,400 at the time). The bald, elfin media mogul is a frequent talk-show guest, and his pungent remarks on Polish politicians continue to entertain or enrage millions of his fellow citizens.

Wojciech Kosc


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Wojciech Jaruzelski

Posted on 05 October 2009 by admin

Poland’s last Communist leader, 1923-

A central question remains about General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the leader of Poland throughout much of the 1980s: was he a traitor or a patriot? When he imposed martial law in 1981, was he acting to forestall a Soviet invasion or to strangle the new independent trade union Solidarity?

When martial law was declared, Solidarity went underground. But by decade’s end, amid Gorbachev’s liberalization in the Soviet Union and renewed social unrest in Poland, it re-emerged to wrest democratic changes from the Communist leadership, culminating in the partly free elections of June 1989 – a seminal event that eased the way toward peaceful political change in other Central European socialist states.

Thousands of Poles were arrested without charge during the 18 months of martial law, and perhaps 100 were killed. Since September 2008 Jaruzelski has been on trial for that decision; he has also been in court on and off over the years on charges stemming from the massacre of 44 workers in Gdynia in 1970, an assault that, as then-minister of defense, he may or may not have tried to stop.

Although a 1996 parliamentary inquiry declared that the imposition of martial law had met the legal conditions of “higher necessity” valid in 1981, he was accused a decade later by the Institute of National Remembrance of directing a criminal organization – the military council that imposed and ran the martial law – leading to the current trial. Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza characterized the claim as an odd legal device under which “the generals are being treated like gangsters.” The judicial actions have dragged on, in large part due to Jaruzelski’s poor health.

Jaruzelski’s best-known feature, his dark glasses, harken back to the snow blindness he developed during World War II, when his family was deported to the Soviet Union. He joined the Polish army under Soviet command and reached the rank of general while still in his 30s. In 2005 Vladimir Putin presented Jaruzelski with a medal commemorating the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany; the following year the Polish government gave him the Siberian Exiles Cross, than publicly withdrew the award.

Since his retirement in 1991, Jaruzelski has said communism failed and apologized for Poland’s role in the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. But he has staunchly defended the decision for which he is most remembered. “I constantly state that martial law saved Poland from looming catastrophe,” he said on the witness stand a year ago. “Martial law was evil, but it was a far lesser evil than what would have happened without it.”

Daniela Ivanova

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