A PRISONER OF MARTIAL LAW: Poland: 1981-1982 by Jan Mur

A PRISONER OF MARTIAL LAW: Poland: 1981-1982

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This prison diary of a young activist from Gdansk--Jan Mur is a pseudonym--is pretty much what one would expect, but that doesn't mean that it's without interest. Interned on December 13, 1981, when martial law was declared and Solidarity crushed, Mur reflects in his experiences the curious nature of the suppression and its response. During the day of the 12th, the Solidarity leadership, meeting in Gdansk, was aware of threatening movements by the Polish security forces (ZOMO), yet nothing was done collectively. Mur, leaving the meeting, wondered whether or not to go home; in the end he did, and was arrested there. The highly organized and sophisticated Solidarity collapsed overnight. In prison, Mur's cell quickly filled with people he knew: union activists, a journalist, workers, an engineer, a teacher. The realization that they would not be soon released dawned slowly. We hear of the prison camp routines that filled their time: seeing how far they can go with their guards; picking and choosing issues over which to create a fuss; creating a prison postal system, complete with stamps. The internees worry about their families--one gets married in prison--and try to fight off depression, just as any prisoners would. What makes them different is the discussions they hold, a continuation of Solidarity's debates over tactics, only now with the edge of recrimination: how did we get here? what should we have done? who is to blame? A major division is over KOR (Committee to Defend the Workers), whose leaders--Jacek Kuron, Adam Michnik--were of an older generation, and provided important direction for Solidarity's early organizing; yet some younger Solidarity activists blamed KOR for impeding Solidarity's development as a trade union. (These younger members are more closely tied to the Church; they experience some disillusionment with the Polish Church's hierarchy during their internment, but attach ever greater importance to the Pope.) The other hero is Lech Walesa. While Walesa's leadership decisions come up for some criticism, his steadfast determination to put the collective interest above his own, and of those closest to him, makes him a truly beloved leader. He is always Lech here. It's this record of the debates, above all, that makes Mur's diaries a distinct contribution to the expanding literature on Solidarity.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich