An event that can be considered the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and its East European empire suddenly came back into the news this week.
In a Warsaw court the former president of Poland, General Wojiciech Jaruzelski, was put on trial for the murder of 44 shipyard workers in Gdansk in 1970.

At that time Jaruzelski was minister of defence in the government of the Communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka.
The protest of the Gdansk trade unionists was put down by the military; in addition to those killed more than two hundred were seriously injured, some of whom will be witnesses at Jaruzelski's trial.

News of the killings was suppressed but enough was known to provoke the widespread public anger and protest which caused Gomulka's downfall.
These events led slowly but surely to the eventual assumption of power by Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement in 1989; the man who presided over this peaceful transfer of power was Jaruzelski who had become Prime Minister in 1981 when he imposed martial law in order, as he claimed, to forestall an invasion by the Soviet Union. The general, now 78 and in poor health, has always been a controversial figure because of this claim that he prevented Soviet intervention in Poland and thus paved the way for eventual democracy.

This trial will not test that claim. Instead he will have to answer for the deaths caused by soldiers under his command in 1970; he has pleaded not guilty, saying that the order was given by Gomulka and he could do nothing to prevent it being carried out. The charge against the general carries a 25 year prison sentence.

Ray Fleming

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