Martial law in Poland
On December 13, 1981, claiming that the country was on the verge of economic and civil breakdown, and fearful of Soviet intervention, Wojciech Jaruzelski, who had become the Party's national secretary and prime minister that year, started a crack-down on Solidarity, declaring martial law, suspending the union, and temporarily imprisoning most of its leaders. Virtually all Solidarity leaders and many affiliated intellectuals were arrested or detained. Polish police and paramilitary riot police suppressed the demonstrators in a series of violent attacks (often murders) such as the massacre of striking miners in the Mine Wujek. Martial law was formally lifted in July 1983, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place throughout the mid-to-late 1980s.
During the chaotic Solidarity years and the imposition of martial law, Poland entered a decade of economic crisis, officially acknowledged as such even by the regime. Rationing and queuing became a way of life, with ration cards necessary to buy even such basic consumer staples as milk and sugar. Access to Western luxury goods became even more restricted, as Western governments applied economic sanctions to express their dissatisfaction with the government repression of the opposition, while at the same time the government had to use most of the foreign currency it could obtain to pay the crushing rates on its foreign debt. In response to this situation, the government, which controlled all official foreign trade, continued to maintain a highly artificial exchange rate with Western currencies. The exchange rate worsened distortions in the economy at all levels, resulting in a growing black market and the development of a shortage economy. The constant state of economic and societal crisis meant that, after the shock of martial law had faded, people on all levels again began to organize against the regime. "Solidarity" gained more support and power, though it never approached the levels of membership it enjoyed in the 1980–1981 period. At the same time, the dominance of the Communist Party further eroded as it lost many of its members, a number of whom had been revolted by the imposition of martial law. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, supported by the Church and by funding from the CIA. By the late 1980s, Solidarity was strong enough to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 were one of the factors that forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity. The Communist Party had decided to approach leaders of Solidarity for talks, which became known as the "Round Table Talks" and radically altered the structure of the Polish government and society. The talks resulted in an agreement to vest political power in a newly created bicameral legislature, and in a president who would be the chief executive. on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of a number of Solidarity deputies, elected General Jaruzelski as a president. In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized and allowed to participate in semi-free elections on June 4, 1989. This election was officially rigged to keep the Communists in power, since only one third of the seats in the key lower chamber of parliament would be open to Solidarity candidates. When the results were released, a political earthquake followed. The victory of Solidarity surpassed all predictions. Solidarity candidates captured all the seats they were allowed to compete for in the Sejm, while in the Senate they captured 99 out of the 100 available seats. With the election results, the Communists suffered a catastrophic blow to their legitimacy. And on September 12, Journalist and Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki became, for the first time in more than 40 years, non-communist Prime Minister. In December 1989, the Sejm approved the government's reform program to transform the Polish economy rapidly from centrally planned to free-market. In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In December, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.