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In Poland, Unlikely Orphans Of The Last Communist General

Protesters from the political far-right denounced the funeral honors bestowed on the last Polish communist dictator, General Jaruzelski. But with him gone, their cause may disappear too.

General Wojciech Jaruzelski in Warsaw in 1982
General Wojciech Jaruzelski in Warsaw in 1982
Wojciech Maziarski

WARSAW β€” Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last leader of communist Poland, was buried last Friday, five days after his May 25 death at age 90. Over the last quarter-century, after the first free elections in post-communist Poland began in 1989, both politicians and the media recognized Jaruzelski's role in the fall of the regime.

Nevertheless, to a large segment of society, he remained the last relic of a very unhappy era. So it's no wonder that the decision to bury him at the Powiazki Military Cemetery, regarded as a place of rest for Polish martyrs, was widely contested in right-wing circles. As several hundred people gathered around the burial site, some could be heard shouting, "Away with commies!" in an effort to halt the funeral.

The demonstrators apparently didn't realize the paradox of the situation: The last influential Polish communist was about to be buried forever, and they were actually trying to stop it.

The protests, nonetheless, are unsurprising. Jaruzelski's death deprives the right wing of a very important unifying symbol. Opposing him represented the core of their ideology. Every Dec. 13, thousands of radicals would gather around Jaruzelski's house to mark the anniversary of the 1981 martial law crackdown he ordered. Holding right-wing magazines with Jaruzelski's face on the front pages, they stayed up all night and chanted the same refrain, "Away with commies."

To those people, Jaruzelski was an ideological symbol who singularly represented everything that was bad for the country. Sometimes fear, enmity and hatred unify a community better than positive ideas or emotions.

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