The cure for martial law, runs the current wisdom in Warsaw, is just to ignore it. That, in part, explains the phlegmatic response of the Poles to last week’s announcement by military leader Wojciech Jaruzelski that 1,227 martial-law detainees would be released. Jaruzelski also dangled the prospect of a complete lifting of military rule by the end of this year but dashed hopes of a visit by Pope John Paul II this August to celebrate the 600th anniversary of Poland’s holiest shrine, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.
A second reason for the popular apathy was that, to the average Pole, Jaruzelski had nothing new or especially significant to say. Poles have turned a cynical eye toward the military government’s promises ever since the last time internees were to be granted their freedom. Of more than 1,000 prisoners promised their release last May, only 271 actually saw the outside world, leaving between 4,000 and 6,000 comrades behind. There was justification for cynicism again this time: Jaruzelski’s pledge that all female detainees would be freed sounded good. But, in fact, most women had already been released.
Jaruzelski’s announcement came in a 44-minute speech (one of his briefest ever) to the Polish parliament on the eve of Polish National Day, a commemoration of the 1944 Communist takeover and the adoption of the Polish constitution in 1952. On Thursday, at the stroke of noon, the gates of several internment camps swung open and a trickle of prisoners fell to their knees and kissed the earth, repeating John Paul’s traditional
gesture on arriving in a new country. But Lech Walesa and other leaders of the independent trade union Solidarity were not among them, dashing many hopes.
Some of the resulting frustration was visible in Warsaw on National Day. About 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Victory Square to sing hymns and lay flowers on the spot where a memorial to the late Stefan Cardinal Wyszyñski has been proposed. Respects were paid to the Pope and Polish religious leaders and to nine miners killed in a police raid on the Wujac coal mine last year during the protests that followed imposition of martial law. Walesa, too, was remembered.
Otherwise there was little, except for official ceremonies, to set the day apart from any others. Poles remember last winter’s hardships and anticipate that next winter will be even harder. Small wonder, therefore, that many continue to vote with their feet. Since the imposition of martial law, 150,000 have fled or deemed it wiser not to return, including three ambassadors, several shiploads of sailors and an undetermined number of soccer “fans” who secured visas to cheer on their country during the World Cup but somehow never made it to Spain. Last week four people stole a government helicopter and flew to Austria. For those who remained, following Jaruzelski’s disappointing news nothing was left but to give the now characteristic shoulder shrug and acknowledge the fact that their ailing nation would have to suffer a while longer.
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