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“The generals are criminals,” headlines Polska The Times the day after a court in Warsaw found the instigators of martial law in Poland from 1981 to 1983 martial law guilty of a “communist crime” and ruled their action illegal.

The verdict is mainly symbolic: of the four defendants only General Czesław Kiszczak received a two year jail sentence – suspended on account of his advanced age – 86. His superior, General Wojciech Jaruzelski and former defence minister General Florian Siwicki were excluded from the proceedings on health grounds. Meanwhile, Siwicki’s deputy General Tadeusz Tuczapski died during the trial.

Thirty years were needed for “historical justice to be done”, commentsPolska The Times, noting that the court rejected General Jaruzelski’s argument that martial law prevented an “inevitable” intervention by Warsaw Pact forces.

The legacy of martial law, which cost a dozen lives and led to the internment of 10,000 people in prison camps, has long been a bone of contention between Polish political parties. An “effective tool in political struggles of the last two decades”, notes Gazeta Wyborcza:

Nobody wanted to look at it with the cold eye of a researcher. ... [The law] was used to kindle political hysteria rather than to understand history...

Meanwhile conservative daily Rzeczpospolita has hailed the verdict as crucial for “all history lessons future generations will take”.