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above: Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski in a TV studio before reading a speech announcing the introduction of martial law, Warsaw, Dec. 13, 1981 (Wikimedia Commons)

Correspondence

Was Poland's Notorious Communist Dictator Actually a Conservative?

Calling a dictator and military officer of a Communist regime, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, “conservative” will come as a surprise to many a Western reader.

After all, can such an icon of loyalty to his Soviet overlords be truly considered conservative in any sense other than a nefarious dedication to conserving a highly destructive political order?

History is written by the victors, goes the old saying. This is all the more true in Poland, where a new historical awakening, coupled with grandiose patriotic rhetoric, has taken place over the last 20 years. This awakening has basically relegated the entire period from 1945 to 1989 to the ash heap of history as an awkward and sad moment in the Polish story, one in which moral decisions were always clear: us or them. They, the oppressors of the Polish people, were not only the Soviets, but also the successive governments and rulers of the Polish People’s Republic.

This new, negative attitude toward Poland’s history is aimed first and foremost at the late Gen. Jaruzelski and focuses mainly on his decision to introduce martial law in December 1981, a decision of truly historic consequences.

In a way, Jaruzelski’s status in mainstream Polish social and political life can be compared in the obverse to the saintly status of America’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Insofar as one heaps praise on the slain civil rights leader as one of the precursors of modern...

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