WARSAW: xHundreds of protesters jeered Friday at the Warsaw burial of Poland’s last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, in a sign the controversial figure continues to polarise Poles even in death.
Police stepped in to keep order as demonstrators chanted “out with Communism” and “go to Moscow” as the urn with Jaruzelski’s ashes was interred in the military wing of the historic Powazki cemetery during a ceremony aired live on national television. Some protesters held up pictures of victims of the brutal 1981 martial law crackdown imposed by Jaruzelski, who died Sunday at age 90, with captions that said “disgraceful”.The general was laid to rest with full military honours following a funeral paid for by the state, but there was no national mourning and the event lacked the usual pomp afforded to a late head of state. Stricken with cancer, Jaruzelski died just days ahead of ceremonies marking a quarter century since the June 4 semi-free elections in Poland that heralded the demise of communism, the very system that nurtured him.
Three of Poland’s post-1989 democratically-elected presidents — including anti-communist icon Lech Walesa, who led the freedom fighting Solidarity trade union — attended his Catholic funeral mass at Warsaw’s military cathedral Friday. President Bronislaw Komorowski and former head of state Aleksander Kwasniewski also attended the church services, during which several dozen protesters brandished placards accusing Jaruzelski of being a “traitor”. Poles remain divided over his attempt to strangle Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s first and only free trade union.
Jaruzelski had insisted the move saved Poland from a potentially bloody Soviet invasion, but critics have argued that it only bolstered his regime. But he was credited with agreeing to the first partially free elections in 1989, which incredibly brought an end to communism in Poland without any bloodshed. “We are bidding farewell to a politician who took responsibility for the state at a time of crisis and chose the lesser evil in good faith, protecting us from foreign intervention or a civil war,” Kwasniewski, a fellow ex-communist, told mourners at the cemetery.
Jaruzelski was born into a Roman Catholic family of minor nobility on July 6, 1923 in Kurow, eastern Poland but adhered to atheism after joining the communist party later in life. But days before his death in hospital, he asked for a priest to undergo the Catholic sacraments of confession and last rights, Father Robert Mokrzycki said in a statement ahead of the ceremonies. His only daughter, Monika Jaruzelska, told local press that her “father saw himself as a soldier and always wanted to be buried alongside his comrades in arms”.
Left-wing politicians requested a day of national mourning but Komorowski has refrained from declaring one, arguing that Jaruzelski remains too divisive a figure. “A day of national mourning would be inopportune, due to the fact that it should express the sentiments of the entire nation,” presidential spokeswoman Joanna Trzaska-Wieczorek said. Jaruzelski’s critics staunchly condemn his devotion to the communist regime that the Soviet Union imposed on Poland following World War II. But others credit him for sitting down with Solidarity at the 1989 Round Table talks to hammer out a bloodless end to communism in the country.
“I lost many battles against him, but I won the war for a free Poland. I do not know all his motivations, so I will leave the judgement to God,” Nobel Peace laureate and former president Walesa told AFP. Jaruzelski himself had told AFP he was happy with the course Poland charted after 1989. “It perhaps sounds paradoxical coming from me, but I am very happy to see Poland in NATO — because it guarantees our security — and in the European Union, which offers enormous opportunities for development,” he said in a 2005 interview, a year after Warsaw’s EU entry
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