This is my obituary in Tribune of General Jaruzelski
General Wojceich Jaruzelski, 6 July 1923 – 25 May 2014
Poland has never been lucky with its generals. One, the strongly anti-Soviet General Sikorski, died in mysterious circumstances off Gibraltar during the war when his plane crashed at a time when Kim Philby was in the vicinity. As Europe minister I laid a wreath on the waters of Gib on the 60th anniversary of Sikorski’s death in 2003. Another General Bor-Komoroswki initiated the disastrous Warsaw Uprising of 1944. He ended his days as a house-painter in London. Now the General who crushed the Solidarity trade union in December 1981 has died. Wojceich Jaruzelski was a political officer from the moment he first put on uniform to act as a loyal agent of Stalin in the Kremlin controlled army of Poles that fought on the eastern front 1944-1945.
He ended in the 1980s as general secretary of Poland’s communist party, prime minister and head of the armed services. I bumped into him in Warsaw on the Polish National Day celebrations in May 1981 when most of the marchers carried Solidarity banners and flags. Jaruzelski was there in his drab uniform and trademark dark glasses. A Polish friend pushed me forward to say hello and shake his hand. So disorganized was the Polish state by the challenge of Solidarity that I was allowed to mingle with the head of state like a Unite branch secretary chatting to David Cameron.
A year later in May 1982 Jaruzelski’s goons arrested me after I had taken some money to the underground Solidarity printing operation. It is never nice to be in prison but Poland by then had turned its back on the more vicious violence of the Soviet Union.
We still do not know who ordered the suppression of Solidaity in December 1981. But it turned into comunism’s last gasp. 25 years ago this summer Jaruzelski agreed to round-table talks with Solidarity. It led to the communist world’s first free elections and the tipped 20th century communism into the dustbin of history.
Poland buried communism months before the Berlin Wall came down.
The Poles like the South Africans after Mandela led them from apartheid to democracy did not turn in on themselves. There were no revenge trials. Jaruzelski lived out his last quarter of a century in comfort in Warsaw just as Robert Mugabe allowed Ian Smith a comfortable retirement in Zimbabwe. It is a more intelligent way of dealing with ex dictators then sending them to the ICC or killing them in a dusty gutter in Libya.
The real change after 1980 took place in Moscow as Stalinism morphed into the corruption of Breshnev and the KGB realized it was game over and started training their next generation to become oligarchs and servants of Putin. Poland just had to endure 8 years of Jarulzeksi and he had to wait before bowing to the inevitable in 1989. A time-server for sure but perhaps the man who had sufficient authority in the party and army in 1981 and thereafter to prevent an all-out bloodbath.
It is not clear if he was buried in uniform but at the least his party card should have been placed in the coffin. He was born six years after the Bolshevik revolution and died as the most corrupt and decadent capitalism reigns triumphantly in Russia.
Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister wrote the first book on Solidarity in English in 1981