Stalinism in Poland - End of Communist Rule (1980–1990) - Imposition of Martial Law

Imposition of Martial Law

On 13 December 1981, claiming that the country was on the verge of economic and civil breakdown, and alleging a danger of Soviet intervention (whether this danger was real, at that particular moment, is disputed by historians, see Soviet reaction to the Polish Crisis of 1980-1981), Wojciech Jaruzelski, who had become the Party's national secretary and prime minister that year, began a crack-down on Solidarity; declaring martial law, suspending the Union, and temporarily imprisoning most of its leaders. Polish state Militia (Milicja Obywatelska) and paramilitary riot police (Zmotoryzowane Odwody Milicji Obywatelskiej; ZOMO) suppressed the strike action and demonstrations in a series of violent attacks such as the massacre of striking miners in the Wujek Coal Mine (9 killed). The government banned Solidarity officially on 8 October 1982, after a series of street demonstrations against military rule, which reached its climax on August 31, 1982. Martial law was formally lifted in July 1983, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place throughout the mid-to-late 1980s.

During the chaotic Solidarity years and the imposition of martial law, Poland entered a decade of economic crisis, officially acknowledged as such even by the regime. Work on most of the major investment projects that had begun in the 1970s was stopped, resulting in landmarks such as the Szkieletor skyscraper in Kraków. Rationing and queuing became a way of life, with ration cards (Kartki) necessary to buy even such basic consumer staples as milk and sugar. Access to Western luxury goods became even more restricted, as Western governments applied economic sanctions to express their dissatisfaction with the government repression of the opposition, while at the same time the government had to use most of the foreign currency it could obtain to pay the crushing rates on its foreign debt which reached US$23 billion by 1980. In response to this situation, the government, which controlled all official foreign trade, continued to maintain a highly artificial exchange rate with Western currencies. The exchange rate worsened distortions in the economy at all levels, resulting in a growing black market and the development of a shortage economy.

The Communist government unsuccessfully tried various expedients to improve the performance of the economy. To gather foreign currency, the government established a chain of state-run Pewex stores in all Polish cities where goods could only be bought with Western currency, as well as issued its own ersatz U.S. currency (bony). During the era hundreds of thousands of Poles emigrated looking for jobs and prosperity abroad. The government was increasingly forced to carry out small-scale reforms, allowing more small-scale private enterprises to function and departing further and further from the 'socialist' model of economy.

Read more about this topic:  Stalinism In Poland, End of Communist Rule (1980–1990)

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