Poland's President wants demotion for former martial law leader

Lech Kaczynski

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski wants the martial law leader Wojciech Jaruzelski to be degraded from general to private. A bill, now being drafted in the President's Office focuses on the authors of the 1981 martial law which crushed Solidarity, the first free trade union in the then communist bloc, and claimed the lives of dozens if not hundreds of Poles.

The law, to be ready for presentation in the Parliament by the end of March, aims at stripping martial law leaders of what many regard as unjustly enjoyed privileges. Aleksander Szczyglo, the president's chief of staff, now taking over as Poland's defense minister, explains the move.

"If someone was a communist-era army general he should not be allowed to derive satisfaction from that and be a role model for soldiers. The Polish army does not need ex-Soviet representatives who realized Soviet orders."

The plan has been welcomed by war veteran organizations. Jerzy Bukowski, a spokesman for the Alliance of War Veteran and Independence Organizations, who has long fought for general Jaruzelski's degradation, is grateful to President Lech Kaczynski for his initiative.

Wojciech Jaruzelski
"It would be better if he is stripped of the general's rank and his medals rather than being deprived of material privileges. People who are symbols, and he is a symbol of evil, should suffer from symbolic actions. Being deprived of honors at the end of his life would be more painful than losing pension rights."

The opposition left views the degradation project as an act of revenge. Jerzy Szmajdzinski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance grouping in the Parliament.

" If this is carried out, it means we have to do with a show of hatred, complexes, a political revenge."

Historian and MEP Wojciech Roszkowski says simply that those who masterminded martial law must be brought to responsibility.

"Martial law was introduced with violation of the law and those who established the Military Council of National Salvation should bear responsibility for their action, if not legal than at least symbolic - by losing their military rank - and be deprived of some of material privileges."

Oskar Chomicki of the Poland in Europe Foundation believes that the matter should be placed in the hands of courts rather than parliamentarians.

"It may be regarded as a revenge on those responsible for the introduction of martial law in 1981. It might also set a serious precedent which might have very bad effects on the morale of the higher ranks in the army."

Wojciech Roszkowski does not share this view.

"The military should not get involved in politics and that's what the Military Council of National Salvation did in 1981. We are dealing here with political responsibility for political actions by the military."

The downslide from general to private would affect - apart from former communist president Wojciech Jaruzelski - also former interior minister Czeslaw Kiszczak, defense minister Florian Siwicki and Poland's first cosmonaut general Miroslaw Hermaszewski.