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On Martial Law

I know, I know. What a dismal title for a blog post. But there's a reason behind it!

Photo credit:  Chris Niedenthal

On December 13, 1981, Poland woke up to the sounds and reality of martial law. The photo pictured here has become a representation of martial law. It was taken on that morning, by photographer Chris Niedenthal in Warsaw. Here you have a military tank in front of a the Moscow Cinema, which was playing Apocalypse Now at the time. The photographer took extensive photos of Poland under Communism, and this article here showcases a bunch of them.

Under the guise of trying to protect its citizens, the Solidarity movement was declared illegal, and political opposition leaders and members were rounded up and arrested; people protesting and striking was too much of a threat to the government. One of the things that struck me when I went to the European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk this summer was how far in advance the government was planning on imposing martial law; which is why these restrictions were able to be put in place so swiftly! In December 1981, any sense of normalcy was thrown out the window that morning: curfews, travel and road restrictions, closed borders, mail censorship, ration cards... and you know, tanks and troops everywhere! This ABC News clip from Peter Jennings (oh how I miss him!) gives you a quick rundown of what happened and how it was being reported in the West:

My parents had already met and were together in college in Wroclaw, and the night prior to the declaration, a friend of theirs had been over to help my dad print some documents. After he left, my parents noticed that the radio was no longer playing its regular programming; instead, it was playing just classical music. Ominous, no? They heard commotion across the street, but didn't really know what was going on..... Not until the morning, when other friends came and banged on the door, telling my parents about the declaration of martial law, and that they had to pack everything up and find a new place to stay, for fear of the authorities finding my dad. My parents put everything in the cellar of the apartment building (papers, printing materials, etc) later that night, but before, during the day, they went to the factories to see what was going on, to find out who was taken prisoner. My mom trudged through the snow that day to her aunt's, to tell her she was OK. My parents left the keys to their apartment with a friend (so that he could hide there if need be), and the two of them went to live with a different friend. Instead of musical chairs, they were playing musical apartments.

***Side note: the Solidarity movement was unique in that university students and factory workers actually worked closely together, since it was the students who helped print the materials the factory workers needed when striking and protesting, to help distribute to the general population. My dad pointed out, that even though there would be university strikes,the factory strikes were more important, because those were the ones that disrupted the regime.***

So why am I telling you all this? This happened thirty-six years ago, and in a way its still a part of contemporary history. When I tell some people about those years in Poland, they can't wrap their heads around the fact that this was happening in their time, and in reality, not so long ago! It's a part of history that can get lost sometimes, and for me, it's an important part of my own heritage and upbringing.

Inside the European Solidarity Centre

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