Wojciech Jaruzelski

Wojciech Jaruzelski : Poland

Wojciech Jaruzelski was born in Poland on 6th July 1923. During the Second World War he joined the Polish Home Army. In 1943 he went to the Soviet Union and the following year accompanied the Red Army when it began its campaign to liberate Poland from Germany.

In 1945 Joseph Stalin established a communist dominated coalition in Poland. Jaruzelski joined the Communist Party (later renamed the Polish United Workers' Party). He remained in the Polish Army and attended the Polish Higher Infantry School and the General Staff Academy. In 1964 he became a member of the Polish United Workers' Party Central Committee later that year was appointed as Poland's minister of defence.

In 1980 Poland suffered from severe food shortages. Lech Walesa, along with some of his friends, founded Solidarnosc (Solidarity). It was not long before the organization had 10 million members and Walesa was its undisputed leader. In August 1980 Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country. The Gdansk Agreement, signed on 31st August, 1980, gave Polish workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.

In 1981 General Jaruzelski replaced Edward Gierek as leader of the Communist Party in Poland. In December 1981, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and Solidarnosc was declared an illegal organization. Soon afterwards Walesa and other trade union leaders were arrested and imprisoned.

In November 1982 Lech Walesa was released and allowed to work in the Gdansk shipyards. Martial law was lifted in July 1983, but there were still considerable restrictions on individual freedom. In 1985 Jaruzelski resigned as prime minister to become the country's president.

Reformers in Poland were helped by the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had gained power in the Soviet Union. In 1986 Gorbachev made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe. Jaruzelski was now forced to negotiate with Walesa and the trade union movement. This resulted in parliamentary elections and a noncommunist government and in 1989 Solidarnosc became a legal organization.

Jaruzelski remained president until being succeeded by Lech Walesa in December 1990.

© , September 1997 - April 2014