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Wojciech Jaruzelski
Wojciech Jaruzelski in the 1980s
1st President of Poland

In office
19 July 1989 – 22 December 1990
Prime Minister Mieczysław Rakowski (1989)
Czesław Kiszczak (1989)
Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1989-90)
Preceded by Himself as Chairman of the Council of State
Succeeded by Lech Wałęsa
6th Chairman of the Council of State

In office
6 November 1985 – 19 July 1989
Prime Minister Zbigniew Messner
Mieczysław Rakowski
Preceded by Henryk Jabłoński
Succeeded by Himself as President
6th First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party

In office
18 October 1981 – 29 July 1989
President Henryk Jabłoński (Chairman of the Council of State)
Preceded by Stanisław Kania
Succeeded by Mieczysław Rakowski
Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Poland
8th Premier of Communist Poland

In office
11 February 1981 – 6 November 1985
President Henryk Jabłoński
Preceded by Józef Pińkowski
Succeeded by Zbigniew Messner
4th Minister of National Defence of the People's Republic of Poland

In office
Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz (1969–1970)
Piotr Jaroszewicz (1970–1980)
Edward Babiuch (1980)
Józef Pińkowski (1980–1981)
Himself (1981–1985)
Preceded by Marian Spychalski
Succeeded by Florian Siwicki
Personal details
Born Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski
6 July 1923(1923-07-06) (age 99)
Kurów, Poland
Political party Polish Workers' Party (1944–1948)
Polish United Workers' Party (1948–1990)
Spouse(s) Barbara Jaruzelska
Children Monica
Profession Military
Religion None (Atheism)
Military service
Allegiance Poland
Service/branch Polish People's Army
Years of service 1943–1989
Rank General of the Army
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Virtuti Militari, Polonia Restituta, Cross of Valor

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski (Polish: [ˈvɔi̯t͡ɕɛx jaruˈzɛlskʲi]; born 6 July 1923) is a retired Polish military officer and Communist politician. He was the last Communist leader of Poland from 1981 to 1989, Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985 and the country's head of state from 1985 to 1990. He was also the last commander-in-chief of the Polish People's Army (LWP). He resigned from power after the Polish Round Table Agreement in 1989 that led to democratic elections in Poland. Alongside the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev and East Germany's Egon Krenz, Jaruzelski is the oldest of the last surviving leaders of an Eastern Bloc nation as of 2013.

Early life and military career

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski was born on 6 July 1923 in Kurów,[1] into a family of gentry.[1][2] He was raised on the family estate near Wysokie (in the vicinity of Białystok). He was educated in a Catholic school during the 1930s.[1]

Jaruzelski (right, in uniform) with Fidel Castro (left) in Poland, May 1972

On 1 September 1939, the September Campaign started when Poland was invaded by Germany, with the latter country aided by another invasion begun sixteen days later by the Soviet Union. The invasions resulted in the defeat of Poland by the following month, and its partition between Soviet and German control. Jaruzelski and his family fled to Lithuania and stayed with some friends there. However, a few months later, after Lithuania and the other Baltic states were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, Jaruzelski and his family were captured by the army of the Soviet Union, and deported to Siberia.[1][3] In 1940 at the age of sixteen,[4] Jaruzelski was sent to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic,[1] where he performed forced labour in the Karaganda coal mines. During his labour work, having experienced snow blindness, he suffered permanent damage to his eyes and back.[2] The damage to his eyes forced him to wear dark sunglasses most of the time, which became his trademark.[3]

Jaruzelski's father died in 1942 from dysentery. His mother and sister survived the war (mother died in 1966). Jaruzelski was selected for enrollment into the Soviet Officer Training School by the Soviet authorities.[1] During his time in the Kazakh Republic, Jaruzelski wanted to join the non-Soviet controlled Polish exile army led by Władysław Anders,[4] but in 1943,[5] by which time the Soviet Union was fighting in Europe against Germany in the Eastern Front, he joined the Polish army units being formed under Soviet command.[2] He served in the Soviet-sponsored First Polish Army during the war.[1] He participated in the Soviet military takeover of Warsaw and the Battle of Berlin,[1] both of which occurred in 1945. By the time the war ended that year, he had gained the rank of lieutenant.[2] He "further credited himself in Soviet eyes"[1] by engaging in combat against the Polish Home Army, an anti-communist organization, from 1945 to 1947.[1]

Wojciech Jaruzelski in 1968.

After the end of the war, Jaruzelski graduated from the Polish Higher Infantry School, an event which was followed by a graduation from the General Staff Academy.[5] He joined Poland's communist party, the Polish United Workers Party, in 1948[5] and started to denounce people for the Soviet supervised Main Directorate of Information of the Polish Army using the cover name Wolski.[6] In the first post-war years, he was among the military fighting the Polish anti-communist guerrillas ("cursed soldiers") in the Świętokrzyskie region. A BBC News profile of Jaruzelski says that his career "took off after the departure [from Poland] in 1956 of the Soviet Field Marshal, Konstantin Rokossovsky",[2] who had been Poland's Commander in Chief and Minister of Defence.[2] Jaruzelski became the chief political officer of the Polish armed forces in 1960, its chief of staff in 1964; and he became the Polish Minister of Defense in 1968,[2] four years after he was elected to be a member of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party.[5] He participated in an antisemitic campaign in the army, during which more than 1000 Jewish officers were demoted and expelled from the army. Even the non-Jewish minister of defence Marian Spychalski was persecuted[7] and Jaruzelski obtained his post.

In August 1968 General Jaruzelski as the minister of defense ordered the 2nd Army under General Florian Siwicki (of the "LWP" ) to invade Czechoslovakia, resulting in military occupation of northern Czechoslovakia until 11 November 1968 when under his orders and agreements with the Soviet Union his Polish troops were withdrawn and replaced by the Soviet Army. In 1970, he was involved in the successful plot against Władysław Gomułka, which led to the appointment of Edward Gierek as Communist Party General Secretary. There is some question whether he took part in organizing the brutal suppression of striking workers; or whether his orders to the communist military led to massacres in the coastal cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Elbląg and Szczecin. As Minister of Defense general Jaruzelski was ultimately responsible for 27,000 troops used against unarmed civilians.[8] He claims that he was circumvented, which is why he never apologized for his involvement, but he had an option of resigning open to him, especially after the resignation of foreign minister Adam Rapacki, and Jaruzelski didn't.[8] Jaruzelski became a candidate member for the Politburo of the Polish United Workers' Party, the chief executive body of the party, obtaining full membership the following year.[1]

Leader of the Polish military government

Photograph of Wojciech Jaruzelski taken in 1987.

On 11 February 1981, Jaruzelski was elected Prime Minister of Poland. After Stanisław Kania was ousted as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party, Jaruzelski was elected his successor on 18 October the same year. He was the only professional soldier to become leader of a ruling European Communist party.[3][5]

A fortnight after taking power, Jaruzelski met with Solidarity head Lech Wałęsa and Catholic primate Józef Glemp, and hinted that he wanted to bring the church and the union in a sort of coalition government. However, he intended all along to crush Solidarity. As early as September, while he was still merely prime minister, he met with his aides to find an excuse to impose martial law. On 13 December, citing recordings of Solidarity leaders planning a coup (which later turned out to be forgeries), Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law.[3] A Military Council of National Salvation was formed, with Jaruzelski as chairman. A BBC News profile of Jaruzelski contends that the establishment of martial law was "an attempt to suppress the Solidarity movement."[2]

According to Jaruzelski, martial law was necessary to avoid a Soviet invasion.[9] In a May 1992 interview with Der Spiegel, Jaruzelski said:

Given the strategic logic of the time, I probably would have acted the same way if I had been a Soviet general. At that time, Soviet political and strategic interests were threatened.[10]

However at a press conference in September 1997 Viktor Kulikov, former supreme commander of Warsaw Pact forces, denied that the Soviet Union had either threatened or intended to intervene.[11] According to Politburo minutes from 10 December 1981, Yuri Andropov stated "We do not intend to introduce troops into Poland. That is the proper position, and we must adhere to it until the end. I don't know how things will turn out in Poland, but even if Poland falls under the control of Solidarity, that's the way it will be."[12]

Jaruzelski also claimed in 1997 that Washington had given him a "green light", stating that he had sent Eugeniusz Molczyk to confer with then Vice President George H. W. Bush and Bush had agreed with Molczyk that martial law was the lesser of two evils.[13] Whether this meeting with the American vice president occurred is disputed. While it is erroneously cited, Harvard historian Mark Kramer has pointed out that no documents support Jaruzelski's claim.

Historical evidence released under Russian President Boris Yeltsin has been brought to light indicating that the Soviet Union did not plan to invade Poland. In fact, Jaruzelski actually tried to persuade the Soviets to invade Poland in order to support martial law, only to be sternly turned down. This left the Solidarity "problem" to be sorted out by the Polish government (see also Soviet reaction to the Polish crisis of 1980–1981). However, the exact plans of the Soviet Union at that time have never been determined. Jaruzelski, however, has justified cracking down by alleging that the threat of Soviet intervention was quite likely had he not dealt with Solidarity internally. This question, as well as many other facts about Poland in the years 1945–1989, are presently under the investigation of government historians at the Institute of National Remembrance (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, IPN), whose publications reveal facts from the Communist-era archives. Additionally, there are numerous confirmations from Czech army officers of the time speaking of Operation Krkonoše, plan of armed invasion of Poland, because of which many units of the Czechoslovak People's Army were stationed on highest alert, ready for deployment within hours.[14]

In 1982 he helped (rather ordered) reorganize the Front of National Unity, the organization the Communists used to manage their satellite parties, as the Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth.

In 1985, Jaruzelski resigned as prime minister and defence minister and became chairman of the Polish Council of State – a post equivalent to that of president of Poland. However, his power centered on and firmly entrenched in his coterie of "LWP" generals and lower ranks officers of the Polish Communist Army.


Jaruzelski with Nicolae Ceauşescu

The policies of Mikhail Gorbachev also stimulated political reform in Poland. By the close of the tenth plenary session in December 1988, the Communist Party was forced, after strikes, to approach leaders of Solidarity for talks.

From 6 February to 15 April 1989, negotiations were held between 13 working groups during 94 sessions of the roundtable talks.[1] These negotiations "radically altered the shape "of the Polish government and society",[1] and resulted in an agreement which stated that a great degree of political power would be given to a newly created bicameral legislature. It also created a new post of president to act as head of state and chief executive.[1] Solidarity was also declared a legal organization.[1] During the following Polish elections the Communists were allocated 65 percent of the seats in the Sejm, Solidarity won all the remaining elected seats, and 99 out of the 100 seats in the fully elected Senate were also won by Solidarity-backed candidates.[1] Jaruzelski won the presidential ballot by one vote on 19 July 1989.[1]

Jaruzelski was unsuccessful in convincing Wałęsa to include Solidarity in a "grand coalition"[1] with the Communists, and Jaruzelski resigned his position of general secretary of the Polish Communist Party on 29 July 1989.[1][15] Mieczyslaw Rakowski succeeded him as the general secretary of the party.[15]

The Communists' two allied parties broke their long-standing alliance, forcing Jaruzelski to appoint Solidarity's Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the country's first non-Communist prime minister since 1948. Jaruzelski resigned as Poland's leader in 1990.[1] He was succeeded by Wałęsa in December. Subsequently, Jaruzelski faced charges for a number of actions such as murder that he committed while he was Defense Minister during the Communist period.

On 31 January 1991, General Jaruzelski retired from the army service.

After retirement

In an interview conducted in 2001, Jaruzelski said that he believes communism failed, that he is a social democrat, and that he backed Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who at that time was the President of Poland, as well as Leszek Miller, who would later become the Prime Minister of Poland.[4]

Wojciech Jaruzelski in 2006

In May 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded a medal commemorating the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany to Jaruzelski. Other former leaders awarded the medal include former Romanian King Michael I.[16] Czech President Václav Klaus criticized this step, claiming that Jaruzelski is a symbol of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Jaruzelski said that he had apologized and that the decision on the August 1968 invasion had been a great "political and moral mistake".[17]

On 28 March 2006, Jaruzelski was awarded a Siberian Exiles Cross by Polish President Lech Kaczyński. However, after making this fact public Kaczyński claimed that this was a mistake and blamed the bureaucracy for giving him a document containing 1293 names without notifying him of Jaruzelski's presence within it. After this statement Jaruzelski returned the cross.

On 31 March 2006, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) charged him with committing communist crimes, mainly the creation of a criminal military organization with the aim of conducting crimes (mostly concerned with the illegal imprisonment of people). The second charge involves the incitement of state ministers to commit acts beyond their competence[citation needed]. Jaruzelski has avoided most court appearances citing poor health. In December 2010, Jaruzelski suffered from severe pneumonia, and in March 2011, he was diagnosed with lymphoma.


Jaruzelski is a controversial person in Poland. Some people, many of them a part of the "Solidarity generation", have a highly negative opinion of him, believing that Jaruzelski "is little short of a traitor",[2] even comparing his philosophy of "a strong Poland within a Soviet dominated bloc" to Vidkun Quisling's philosophy of a similar status for Norway within the Nazi controlled hemisphere. Opinion polls, as of 15 May 2001, suggest that a majority of the Polish people are open to agreeing with his explanation that martial law was implemented to prevent a Soviet invasion. Documents available tell another story; namely, that Jaruzelski openly lobbied for Soviet intervention. In interviews in Russian Media (Rosiiska gazieta for example) he has been presented as the harbinger of Poland's democracy.[2][8]

Written works

Jaruzelski, Wojciech (1999). Różnić się mądrze (English translation: To Differ Wisely).[5]

Jaruzelski, Wojciech (2008). "Być może to ostatnie słowo (wyjaśnienia złożone przed Sądem)" (English translation:"It may be my last word (explanations given in the Court)").

Honours and awards



  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 "Profile: Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski". Cable Network News (CNN). Archived from the original on 13 June 2008. Retrieved 24 November 2008. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Repa, Jan (16 May 2001). "Profile: Poland's last communist leader". British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) News. Retrieved 26 November 2008. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Green, Peter S. (27 May 2001). "An Aging Ex-Dictator Who Refuses To Recant". The New York Times. pp. 2. Retrieved 29 November 2008. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 "Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 24 November 2008. 
  6. WPR Article | The Jaruzelski Case: The Ascent of Agent 'Wolski'
  7. The Struggle in the Polish Leadership and the Revolt of the Apparat
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Szporer, Michael. "General Wojciech Jaruzelski". Global Museum on Communism. 
  9. How the Soviet Union disappeared: an ... – Google Books
  10. Das war psychische Folter Der Spiegel, 11 May 1992.
  11. Malcolm Byrne, "New Evidence on the Polish Crisis 1980–1981", Cold War International History Project Bulletin 11 (Winter 1998), p. 4
  12. Minutes of CPSU CC Politburo, 10 Dec 1981, Document No. 21, p. 165.
  13. Jane Perlez, "Warsaw Journal: Old Cold War Enemies Exhume One Battlefield", The New York Times, 11 November 1997, p. 14.
  14. Petr Klan » Když disident ujede
  15. 15.0 15.1 Butturini, Paula (30 July 1989). "Solidarity Foe Is New Polish Party Chief". Warsaw. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  16. Putin gives medal to Poland's communist-era strongman
  17.[dead link]
  18. "Jaruzelski gets highest Soviet prize". Moscow. 5 July 1983.,2660494&dq=martin+dzur&hl=en. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Józef Pińkowski
Prime Minister of Poland
Succeeded by
Zbigniew Messner
Preceded by
Henryk Jabłoński
Chairman of the Council of State
Succeeded by
as President of Poland
Preceded by
as Chairman of the Council of State
President of Poland
Succeeded by
Lech Wałęsa
Party political offices
Preceded by
Stanisław Kania
General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
Succeeded by
Mieczysław Rakowski

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