On December 13, 1981, communist-era strongman Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law to stifle rising opposition, headed by the Solidarity movement.
It was the start of a dark chapter in modern Polish history that saw thousands of opposition activists jailed and dozens killed.
'Attempt to enslave Polish people': president
President Andrzej Duda on Friday handed out state decorations to former anti-communist opposition activists during a ceremony in Warsaw.
Former prominent Solidarity activist Seweryn Jaworski (right) receives a state award from the Polish president in Warsaw on Friday. Photo: PAP/Piotr Nowak
Speaking at the event in the early afternoon, he said that the 1981 crackdown was when the communist regime led by Jaruzelski “declared a war on the rest of Polish society.”
President Andrzej Duda speaks at a ceremony marking the 38th anniversary of the imposition of martial law by Poland's former communist authorities. Photo: PAP/Piotr Nowak
Duda also said that martial law “was an attempt to ultimately enslave the Polish people, throw our nation off its path toward freedom.”
He described the crackdown as “an attempt to tighten the noose around people’s necks, tighten the chains that had bound us all this time since 1945 despite the often bloody attempts to break free.”
Duda told those at the ceremony that martial law was an example of the tragic turns Polish history sometimes took during the decades-long communist era after World War II.
Tributes to victims of communist oppression
Earlier in the day, officials placed flowers at the grave of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, a Catholic priest who was killed by communist-era secret police.
Flowers are placed at the grave of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, a Catholic priest killed by communist-era secret police, as Poland marks the anniversary of the 1981 declaration of martial law. Photo: PAP/Andrzej Lange
A separate ceremony honoured Ryszard Kukliński, a high-ranking Polish army officer who worked for the CIA during the Cold War era.
Officials visit Warsaw’s Powązki Military Cemetery to place flowers at the grave of Ryszard Kukliński, a high-ranking Polish army officer who passed top-secret Warsaw Pact documents to the CIA during the Cold War era. Photo: PAP/Andrzej Lange
Later on Friday, a religious service was due to be held at the former Rakowiecka Prison in the Polish capital to honour the victims of the communist-era crackdown.
'Light of Freedom'
In another tribute, Poles have been encouraged to light candles in the windows of their homes in a symbolic gesture to commemorate the victims of communist oppression.
The nationwide "Light of Freedom" tribute was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.
On the eve of the anniversary, officials lit candles at a plaque in Warsaw commemorating Grzegorz Przemyk, a high school student who was beaten to death by Poland's communist-era police.
Candles are lit at a plaque in Warsaw commemorating Grzegorz Przemyk, a high school student beaten to death by Poland's communist-era police. Photo: PAP/Wojciech Olkuśnik
According to a parliamentary report compiled at the start of the 1990s, more than 90 people were killed during martial law, which lasted formally until July 22, 1983.
On the night of December 13, 1981, more than 6,500 opposition activists were arrested and interned.
During martial law Poland’s communist regime suspended political and workers’ organisations and introduced a curfew.