MOSCOW. (International commentator Yelena Shesternina for RIA Novosti) - A Polish court, which is reviewing a case against former President Wojciech Jaruzelski, is to hear the testimonies of key politicians of the Cold War era.
A list of those who may be summoned as witnesses includes former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the political scientist and Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Alexander Haig, who was US Secretary of State in the early 1980s. None of them, however, have yet received a subpoena from the Polish court.
Jaruzelski's trial has been going on for two years now. It was initiated in 2006 by the Institute of National Memory (INM), which accused the general of "violating the Constitution" and "heading a criminal group." The group in question consists of 22 members of the National Salvation Military Council, which introduced martial law on the night of December 12-13, 1981, when the strikes of the Solidarity trade union movement reached their peak. The troops, tanks, and armored personnel carriers emerged into the streets of Warsaw; all television channels were shut down except for the two federal ones; the majority of newspapers were closed; a curfew was imposed, and massive arrests were launched. About 90 people were killed in the crackdown and thousands were arrested, including future President Lech Walesa, and another Solidarity activist, current President Lech Kaczynski.
Of the 22 people who made the decision to introduce martial law that night, only nine are still alive. They have found themselves on the dock together with Jaruzelski, and face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
The court's decision to summon key Cold War era politicians is a small victory for Jaruzelski. The judge has ruled that the prosecution has not provided enough incriminating evidence to pass a verdict. The testimonies of Cold War figures are required to provide additional information.
Moreover, the judge required a more detailed analysis of the context in which the decision to impose martial law was made. Jaruzelski's main argument is that he chose the lesser of two evils - if the Polish government had not resorted to extreme measures, Soviet tanks would have appeared in Warsaw, as they did in Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1968.
"I still believe that martial law saved Poland. If we had not imposed it, Soviet troops would have invaded the country because the unstable situation in Poland was a threat for the entire Soviet bloc," he explained.
Many historians share this view. They refer to archives declassified in the 1990s, according to which the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee was ready to send its troops and tanks to Warsaw "for the sake of preserving the fraternal Poland." It was only Jaruzelski's assurances that "the Polish leadership is capable of dealing with the situation on its own," that prevented a foreign invasion.
But there also exists a contrary version, which is set forth in 60 volumes of documents collected by the INM. Its gist is as follows - the Kremlin had no time for Poland - in 1981, the "operation of a limited Soviet troop contingent" in Afghanistan was in full swing, and nobody was going to send troops to Poland.
The INM will now have to make quite an effort to prove that the general was guilty. Even Lech Walesa supports him. He thinks it is at least indecent to put on trial a man who "fought for a free Poland during the war, and who would have been considered a great man under different circumstances."
Gorbachev is also ready to defend Jaruzelski. He has written several letters to the Sejm, Poland's lower house of parliament, in support of the valiant general, a war hero. The former Soviet leader believes that "he is being accused by those forces which are looking for another pretext to set Russia and Poland at loggerheads." Having learnt from media reports about the court's decision on witnesses, Gorbachev approached Lech Kaczynski (both attended the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel in Jerusalem) and said: "Can't you deal with the problem? He is an old and sick man, a general who has done very much for Poland." He did not say what answer he received.
It is obvious that the proceedings against the general were started two years ago - after the Kaczynski brothers came to power. During the election campaigns both Jaroslaw (former Polish prime minister) and Lech promised to "restore historical justice," and investigate the crimes of the "socialist government." To some extent, they fulfilled their promises - the presidential office drafted a decree on depriving Jaruzelski of his general's rank and all awards. The first Polish cosmonaut, Miroslaw Hermaszewski, suffered the same lot - he also happened to be in the group of 22 (as he explained - "against his will and solely for propaganda purposes").
No matter what the outcome will be, this will clearly not be the last attempt to "restore historical justice" in court. But each time, this restoration of justice turns out to be bizarre. There are proposals to hold a posthumous trial of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was shot in a rush, because "the tribunal's verdict was not based on democratic principles." The trial of Saddam Hussein, a man who definitely deserved to be punished, turned into a farce. When the verdict was passed, he could not even be hanged properly - the rope broke. Carla Del Ponte, who announced Slobodan Milosevic her "number one enemy," could not even bring the case to the verdict - he died in prison under mysterious circumstances. It was only after his death and her retirement from the prosecutor's position that "Iron Carla" made all those revelations, and wrote memoirs, which could have saved his life.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.