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Poland's former leader on trial

"Poland's former leader on trial
By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

General Wojciech Jaruzelski. File photo
Gen Jaruzelski remains a highly controversial figure in Poland

Poland's last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, has gone on trial accused of committing a crime by imposing martial law in 1981.

Eight other former officials will also be tried for the clampdown against the opposition Solidarity movement, during which dozens of people were killed.

Gen Jaruzelski, who is now 85 and in poor health, says he had to act to prevent a Soviet invasion of Poland.

If found guilty he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Although there is little public clamour in Poland to send Mr Jaruzelski to prison, a crowd of journalists and members of the public packed the courtroom as the trial began.

Gen Jaruzelski and three of his co-defendants were identified before a panel of judges.

Four of the eight accused men were absent, citing poor health.

'Lesser evil'

Reading the charges, the prosecutor said the men had violated their own communist constitution when they created what he called a "criminal military organisation" to implement martial law in December 1981.

The trial, in Warsaw, marks the first time Poland has held its former communist leaders criminally responsible for imposing martial law.

Immediately after the fall of communism in 1989, the new Solidarity government rejected calls for political retribution.

But in recent years moves to bring the senior communist party leaders to account for martial law have hastened.

Gen Jaruzelski has always maintained he chose the lesser evil when he ordered tanks onto the snowbound city streets on that night in 1981.

If he had not acted against Solidarity, he says, Soviet troops would have.

According to surveys, many Poles believe him. "

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

A ridiculous waste of public money.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial


Re: Poland's former leader on trial

There are several criteria or “tests” which must be applied with regards to this matter and to all matters relating to the rule of law.

Was a law broken? Did people act outside of the law? Was the function of a lawful government usurped?

All these may be considered academic questions but for the answers to the next series of “tests”.

Were people harmed? Were there victims? Has there been redress?

In consideration of the above the matter is properly before a court. The rule of law and the provision of justice must not be, and cannot be, put aside for reasons of convenience, awkwardness, or even for claims of anachronism.

Jaruzelski’s argument of the “lesser-of-two-evils” is not the basis for not appearing before a lawful tribunal but rather a pleading of “necessity”. Most precepts of law recognize the plea and doctrine of necessity and Jaruzelski is welcome to make his argument in front of the court.

It is clear that the actions of Jaruzelski were those of treason to his government and violation of the civil rights of the citizenry. He should spend the ten years incarcerated.

Oddly, I could suggest a viable legal defense but the disgraced general has not asked for my advice.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

Isn't this at least the fourth time the General has been put on trial? Before coming to Poland in '96, I was given a book titled "The Haunted Land." It was about the struggles of Central European countries post communism, and it had a significant chapter about a trial against the General.

Funny isn't it? Ryszard Kuklinski was a Polish army officer who spied for the U.S. for ten years, gave classified national defense documents to the U.S. (an enemy at the time), and then defected to the U.S. For all of this he was buried with military honors in Poland.

Now I was in the army (American, of course) and by any definition in just about any army, what Ryszard Kuklinski did would be considered traitorous. Yet many consider him a national hero. Why no trials for treason for him?

Historical relativism.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

This one goes on ad nauseam. Every year he turns up at court, TV cameras and all, every year the case is adjourned and he goes home again. The Poles do not like the idea of prosecuting their former president, about whom there are very mixed feelings and in any case, he wasn't a Ceaucescu or a Honeker.

It would be convenient all round if they can keep on adjourning the case until it is no longer an issue. Kania and the rest of them are also old now.

I live very near him and can confirm that he does indeed look ill. He seemed to take a turn for the worse late last year and has been in hospital a lot. Even Pani J hasn't been at home much lately, though the car is still parked there.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

“Why no trials for treason for him?”

Kuklinski was tried by a military tribunal and sentenced to death.

I alluded to a viable legal defense for Jaruzelski. Ironically that argument is related to the foundation for Kuklinski’s sentence being commuted and his citizenship restored. Simply stated, the organs of government of the PRL were not a lawful sovereign government of Poland but a proxy colonial administration acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Kuklinski may have been traitorous to the Soviets but only in the same way as Traugutt was traitorous to the Tsar.

The PRL is the twentieth century equivalent of the nineteenth century’s Congress Kingdom. No serious historian posits that the “Kongresówka” represented anything more than an administrative adjunct of the Russian Empire.

It is worth noting that Kuklinski never received a grosz from the United States during the ten years that he sent information on the Soviet Union’s invasion plans of NATO. Those plans were to stage its operations and logistics on Polish soil and to draw the West’s tactical nuclear response onto Poland.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

I wasn't aware that there had been a trial and sentence. I am assuming it was in absentia, yes? And after the change in government, he was exonerated? I am also curious as to why his payment (or lack thereof) should somehow mitigate the treason he committed. Is it more noble?

I guess this is where ethicists and lawyers get involved. Was Kuklinski's oath to the Polish government or the Polish people/nation? Depending on how you answer that determines in large part his guilt or innocence. Try the same question for the General. Did his actions save Polish lives even if said actions were illegal, immoral, etc.?

It is very hard to judge another in such circumstances.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

Yes, in absentia in 1984. The payment issue speaks to the specific nature of his actions. He always insisted that his did not spy “for” the United States but rather that his actions were for Poland.

I too am curious as to the specific nature of the sworn oath. At one point the oath was to the communist party but that may have ended in 1956. But on some level that is immaterial as there are recognized higher responsibilities than oath or service. This is illustrated by the rejection of the “Nuremburg Defense” wherein Nazi officers pleaded that they were “following orders”. The Nuremburg Tribunals established that one is not absolved from personal responsibility by reason of oath or service.

Kuklinski’s case is clear in that he came to consider that the government and actions of the PRL were not legitimate; a stance upheld in large part by the current government.

Jaruzelski’s case contradicts itself. He was both claiming to save the government of the PRL and at the same time violating its own legal structures. One cannot both assert the legitimacy of a government and assert the legitimacy of ones actions while ignoring the precepts of that government. He is either guilty of crimes against the government he claimed to serve or he was guilty of assuming power without the consent of the governed. Traditionally one can be hung for both.

The importance of Kuklinski will become more evident over time. By being tied to the implementation teams charged with assuring PRL compliance to Soviet strategy he understood that every war game scenario required that NATO respond to the Soviet SS20 nuclear missile and logistical deployment on Polish soil with nuclear strikes on Poland. The role of the Polish Army in such a Soviet war on the west was not the defense of Poland or even to aid in the consequences of nuclear attack but their assignment was to take part in the invasions of Belgium and Denmark.

A good synopsis can be found at:
Missing from that narrative is that Kuklinski’s two sons died suspicious deaths which parallel the KGB’s doctrine of revenge.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

"Simply stated, the organs of government of the PRL were not a lawful sovereign government of Poland but a proxy colonial administration acting on behalf of the Soviet Union"

Just a thought, but have/did any convicted criminals (convicted in the PRL era) try such a defense to escape their sentences? Couldn't such a decision set a precarious precedent for others to try and manipulate? Could a thief, for example, claim that the he was unfairly tried by a proxy colonial government?

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

Even proxy colonial governments would be expected to maintain civil order. Pickpockets and rapists would and should be expected to be punished. That, however, is distinct from crimes against the state. In practice, subsequent governments issue pardons, amnesties and commutations in cases of crimes against the previous state.

Examples of sustaining civil and criminal law precedent from dissolved governments are found throughout the Southern United States. The U.S. courts sustained contracts, criminal convictions and legal precedent issued by the courts of the states that had seceded from the Union and were in rebellion despite considering the government of the Confederacy to be illegitimate.

To do otherwise would be for courts to presume that there are times or places without law. Courts do not recognize such a possibility.

Re: Poland's former leader on trial

As someone stated earlier, this is the biggest waste of time and public resources. It will accomplish absolutely nothing.