WARSAW (Reuters) - Czeslaw Kiszczak, who as interior minister in communist Poland in the 1980s helped oversee the imposition of martial law and the crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union, died on Thursday aged 90.
Earlier this year a Polish court handed Kiszczak a suspended two-year jail sentence for his involvement in introducing martial law, during which dozens were killed and hundreds jailed.
The court rejected his argument that martial law had helped avert a Soviet invasion of Poland that would have caused much greater bloodshed.
In the post-communist period, Kiszczak also faced charges of causing the deaths of nine miners in a 1981 strike that was suppressed by troops and police, but he was later acquitted.
“This is a man who destroyed my youth and that of others,” said Witold Waszczykowski, a candidate to become Poland’s next foreign minister following the victory of the fiercely anti-communist Law and Justice party (PiS) in last month’s parliamentary election.
“These are people who pushed Poland backwards by many decades,” Waszczykowski told TVN24 channel on Thursday, referring to the country’s former communist rulers.
But some Poles say Kiszczak and his boss, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, deserve credit for eventually opening a dialogue with Solidarity and its leader Lech Walesa in a process known as the Round Table talks that led to partially free elections in 1989 and the end of communism.
“One may say that Kiszczak’s merit is that when he lost this game of chess, he did not intervene with force, did not try to put the opposition into jail,” historian Piotr Oseka told state news agency PAP.
Kiszczak also served briefly as Poland’s prime minister in 1989. His close associate Jaruzelski, Poland’s military ruler in the 1980s and last communist head of state, died last year, also aged 90.
Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Gareth Jones