40 years ago, on the holidays of May 1 and 3, there were demonstrations against the martial law regime

Counter-demonstration in Warsaw. May 1, 1982. Photo PAP / CAF / Archives

40 years ago, on May 1 and 3, 1982, demonstrations against the martial law regime took place in many Polish cities. On May 3, Constitution Day, not recognized by the communist authorities, violent clashes resulted in the death of two people.

After the introduction of martial law, the slogan enjoyed great popularity in the ranks of the underground “Solidarity” “Your winter, our spring.” It was believed that general public opposition to Wojciech Jaruzelski’s junta would lead to rapid relief from the rigors of martial law. Quite different hopes were expressed by Polish Communists and their Kremlin comrades. They were convinced that after the restoration of order in Poland, the Jaruzelski regime would begin to strengthen its position and finally deal with the “counter-revolution”. During a visit to the Kremlin in March 1982, Leonid Brezhnev, concerned about the position of his clients in Warsaw, warned Jaruzelski that the “counter-revolutionaries” were preparing to counter-attack. “Events will not surprise us,” replied the leader of the Polish United Workers’ Party.

The authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland have understood that for “Solidarity”, the next Labor Day, crucial for communist propaganda, and May 3, Constitution Day not recognized by them, would be an opportunity to oppose to martial law. The form of manifestation of resistance to the junta was unknown. Some of the hidden activists decided that organizing May Day against revenue was too risky. They called, among other things, to attend religious services because it was assumed that the churches would not be attacked by the militia and the ZOMO. According to information collected by the SB On May 1, 92 masses are held throughout Poland in honor of the homeland or in honor of Saint Joseph, patron saint of workers.

The authorities have adopted a strategy of intimidating residents

Activists from the Polish National Resistance Committee supported the organization of mass protests. The Temporary Coordinating Commission of the NSZZ “Solidarity” was favorable to the organization of a demonstration the month of the establishment of martial law on May 13, 1982. These divisions within the anti-communist opposition led to a situation where, on May 1, 1982, demonstrations took place only in certain cities.

The authorities have adopted a strategy of intimidating residents of the largest industrial centers who might disturb the atmosphere of a joyful celebration. Already on April 30, columns of militia cars moved through the streets of Warsaw, and helicopters flew over the city. Propaganda played a major role in intimidating the public. The dictator of the People’s Republic of Poland called for “the fight against evil” and “the activities of the enemy which destroy the social order”. “The interest of the fatherland, the workers and the Polish working class was and still is one – socialism. We will build it, we will defend it,” Jaruzelski said in his speech at the central May Day parade. of his remarks left no doubt that the authorities had no intention of negotiating with the illegal immigrants “Solidarity”. During one of the meetings before May Day, the head of the SB convinced his subordinates that the actions of the underground “S” could be embarrassing for the regime. “We can be sure that every firecracker that goes off that day will turn into a propaganda bomb for our adversaries. Every successful provocation will increase the sense of strength and impunity of opponents of socialism in our country,” said General Władysław Ciastoń.

Warsaw found itself in the center of attention of the regime forces

In Warsaw, the official May Day procession marched past the symbol of Soviet domination – the Palace of Culture and Science. Supporters of underground “Solidarity” gathered in Zwycięstwa Square, the site of John Paul II’s mass in June 1979. There a cross of flowers was placed to commemorate the spot where the papal altar stood nearly three years earlier. Nearby, the militia identified those who laid flowers and took photographic plates documenting these events. Around 10 across the street from nearby St. Jean-Baptiste gathered a crowd of over 10,000 people. of the faithful attending Mass. The militia gathered around St. Anna Street Church was blocked by Krakowskie Przedmieście. ZOMO also cut around the Barbican. The Podzamcze rally was the highlight of the protest. There, representatives of the Workers’ Intercompany Solidarity Committee announced that the next demonstration would take place on May 3 on the Place du Château. At the end, Mazurka Dąbrowski was sung.

Also in other cities, people gathered in places symbolizing the values ​​embodied by “Solidarity”, incl. on the graves of workers who died in Szczecin in 1970 or in the Church of the Lord’s Ark in Nowa Huta. In Gdańsk, tens of thousands of people gathered at the foot of the Shipyard War Memorial. Most of them then arrived in front of the apartment block in the Gdańsk Zaspa housing estate, where Lech Wałęsa’s family lived. On this day, the biggest clashes took place in Toruń. 200 people were arrested. Many of them have followed health courses in MO police stations. Much larger riots broke out two days later.

Warsaw found itself at the center of attention of the regime forces. As part of the “Tour” operation, about 6,000 people gathered in the capital. zomowców supported by students of militia schools, soldiers of Vistula military units and internal military service. At approximately 4 p.m., the crowd in Zamkowy Square was attacked by ZOMO forces backed by water cannons. At the same time, the militia attacks the Barbican. The medieval building passed from hand to hand several times, and the flag of “Solidarity” floated on one of its towers. According to many reports, the fighting was commanded by veterans of the Warsaw Uprising who oversaw the construction of the barricades. Red flags, treated as symbols of the Soviet regime and occupation, were removed with extreme care in Warsaw and other cities.

Later, the fighting moved to the New Town Square area and to the Śląsko-Dąbrowski Bridge. Militia vehicles on Wisłostrada were also attacked. Several hundred demonstrators reached the Seym. There were rumors among the demonstrators about panic among the authorities, the evacuation of Wojciech Jaruzelski and fighting in many parts of the city. “There was still a sweet, acrid gas in the air. It thickens as you approach Krakowskie Przedmieście. Here the eyes began to water. Sidewalks and roadways were littered with cardboard firecrackers, plastic bags of unknown destination, burnt rags and shards of glass. The Old Town Square was the image of a real battlefield,” recalls writer Jan Józef Szczepański, who arrived in the Old Town a few hours after the riots. Several hundred people were arrested. One of the protesters died after police were slow to call an ambulance when he passed out.

Fights with the militia and ZOMO also took place in Szczecin. The water cannon attacks were met with cobblestones and gasoline bottles. Barricades were erected in the main streets of the city. Dozens of people were injured. The police station at ul. Potulička. The owner of one of the apartments died in Szczecin and he began to suffocate due to police gassing. Clashes continued on May 4. Violent riots also broke out in Toruń. In the oldest part of the city, the militia chased down the hidden protesters. She also planned an attack on the residences, which were centers of resistance. The intervention was stopped by university authorities, including Alicja Grześkowiak, a law professor, who later became the President of the Senate of the Republic of Poland.

Phrases about “riot leaders”

The sentences pronounced by the communist courts against the arrested “riot leaders” amounted to four years’ imprisonment. The brutal suppression of the protests showed the determination of the martial law regime and its unwillingness to compromise. The massive participation in the demonstrations proved that the underground “Solidarity” is still alive. It also revealed many divisions and animated the discussion on ways to resist. The events of May 1-3, 1982 were one of the impetus for the creation of the most radical underground organization – “Fighting Solidarity” (PAP).

Author: Michal Szukala

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