Poland, patriotism, remembrance - 13 December 1981
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
13 December 1981 is a tragic date for Poland. The imposition of the marshal law brought about many family dramas, it stopped the development of economy and paralyzed ordinary lives of people. Let us recollect the situation when telephones were suddenly switched off, the curfew was imposed and General Wojciech Jaruzelski appeared on television, addressing the nation in an ominous way...We were deprived of freedom, the newspapers stopped appearing, out thinking were to be controlled. Everything was fairly precisely planned. Thousands of those who were not humble - innocent people - were sent to prison. Many Polish riot policemen, the ZOMO, took people out of their houses, breaking down during the night. Armed patrols appeared in the streets and roads and in order to cross the district people needed special passes. I remember I did not receive such a pass when I wanted to go home for the Christmas of 1981. The militia in Czestochowa refused to give me that pass. I also remember the day when Primate Josef Glemp came to Jasna Gora. We were all shocked what was done with us. Members of 'Solidarity' had to hide, they were arrested, courts pronounced severe sentences. After several months of freedom and real enthusiasm the doors were slammed in our faces and we were shown we were not allowed to go that way.
At the same time new 'Solidarity' was awakening. I remember women organizing help for the internees. It required much courage. They gathered in the bishops' residences, churches, forming committees to help others. Those committees were coordinated by the Primate Committee to Help the Detained and Their Families. Many bishops also visited prisons to celebrate the Eucharist for the detained. Precious help from the West came, too. Thanks to it, we could deliver food to many families, especially the families whose members were arrested. That was an extremely hard time. We could not edit newspapers, so we wondered what we should do. But we were not inactive. Many of us, members of the editorial board or of the Catholic Intelligentsia Clubs, became involved in helping people. That was not easy. The volunteers of the help centres were asked the concrete question: 'are you ready to be arrested?' And after having realized the danger and having considered the possibility of being arrested one could become involved in helping the internees and their families, establishing secret contacts with them. Visits to the prisons, especially the priests' visits, brought great hope to the detained. Sometimes there were possibilities to explain the detained what was going on in the country.
My reflections are only to remind us of the time of the marshal law from the perspective of human experiences and to emphasize that we are obliged to remember history. The marshal law was suspended after one year and abolished in July 1983, but the repressions continued. The marshal law had an enormous influence on later events in our country, including our economy and culture. But first of all, it deprived Poles of believing other people who got entangled in various wicked proposals, and it deprived them of hope that they could gain freedom at all. One should not forget many years of Poles' wandering. Many internees were suggested to leave Poland so that they would not take up the 'hostile' activities again. They received one-way passports. Thus many valuable people left the country. They would have done much for their homeland but instead they were forced to look for bread and home in foreign countries. If we add the tragedies of the 'Wujec' coal mine, sacrifices like Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko's and the victims of the Security Service and the ZOMO, our imagination can easily conclude that our nation was as if broken in half and we have been experiencing the effects until now.
Therefore, we are obliged to remember this sad period of our history, speak the truth about those days and show the damages for Poland. In this light we should see the historical mission of the Holy Father John Paul II, Polish Pope, the only person who cared and spoke for us and on our behalf, and who stood up for his fellow citizens and for his homeland whenever he could. The Holy Father contributed to the fact that Poland's injustice and hurts of Polish people were heard in the world; that the feeling of freedom awakened in other afflicted countries and the walls of slavery began falling without much bloodshed.
For the first time we are experiencing the anniversary of the marshal law (the 24th anniversary) without John Paul II. Let us pray that this greatest Pole of our times - today the Servant of God - remember about our Homeland in the Father's House, and that we, remembering that hard time, give up political games and do our best for the good of our nation.