The Polish government announcement, read in a somber voice by a television broadcaster dressed in Army uniform, was stark and couched in official language:
The day before--on Wednesday, Dec. 16--"representatives of the Polish Army and the prosecutor's office" had arrived at Wujek coal mine in the southern industrial city of Katowice to warn miners about the consequences of continuing a strike in protest against the imposition of martial law. The warning was ignored and miners had attacked the law enforcement forces when they attempted to intervene. Acting in self-defense, the police had then used firearms.
Tightening his lips, the broadcaster added: "Seven persons were killed and 39 civilians wounded while attacking the police who were carrying out their duties."
What would the other side say about events at Wujek?
A detailed eyewitness account prepared and distributed by activists of Solidarity, the suspended independent trade union federation, has now reached Warsaw providing that organization's description of the pitched battle that, it says, raged at the mine for more than three hours.
On one side were miners and their families, the aristocracy of the Polish working class and at one time the bedrock of support for the Communist government. On the other were riot police and Army units, the guardians of "socialist order" and the "workers' state."
The battle took place on the 11th anniversary of bloody clashes between shipyard workers and security forces along the Baltic Coast. A year before--on Dec. 16, 1980--leaders of the Communist Party, Solidarity and the Roman Catholic Church had gathered beneath a soaring "monument to the fallen" in Gdansk to swear that never again would they allow such a tragedy to occur.
The following is a reconstruction of the events last month, based on the account distributed by Solidarity:
Sunday, Dec. 13. Martial law is declared. Like other mines, Wujek does not work on Sunday. Only maintenance activities are being carried out. Among the thousands of Solidarity activists arrested are leaders of the union's branch at the mine. There are scuffles between riot police (Zomo) and miners informed about the arrests by telephone. Local telephones are cut off at nightfall. Several dozen miners declare an occupation strike.
Monday. The first and second shifts join the strike. The mine director tries to talk the miners into starting work but his appeals are useless. News of other strikes in Silesia reach Wujek.
In the afternoon, the strikers hear about attempts by security forces to "pacify" the nearby Wieczorek and Lenin mines. The reports speak of brutality and violence. The miners at Wujek decide to prepare to defend themselves.
The blacksmith's shop at the mine starts producing weapons. Steel pikes are hammered out and long metal chains are attached to ax handles. A thick wire cable is cut into segments to make clubs.
In the evening, strikers from a mining institute across the street are dismissed. Some of them join the Wujek strikers together with some miners from other pits already overpowered by Zomo and troops. There are now believed to be around 3,000 strikers. Discipline is strict, and guards are posted around the walls of the mine. The baths and showers become strike headquarters.
The local population supports the strikers and informs them of events elsewhere. The miners are supplied with food and cigarettes. Families press up against the fences to hear news. The night passes peacefully.
Tuesday. Another attempt at mediation ends in a fiasco. At 1 p.m., there is a false alarm. Miners sing the national anthem-- "Poland has not perished as long as we live"--as they rush out of the steambaths and other buildings. But there is no sign of the Zomo.
In the evening, a priest arrives to say mass in the bathhouse. He hears the oaths of the strikers to remain united "in the struggle" and administers the blessing traditionally given on the eve of battle. He also hears confessions.
Meanwhile, several dozen heavy T54 tanks approach the mine along with armored cars and light tanks. The miners hear news about a "bloody showdown" in the Staszic mine. Another freezing night in the bathhouse.
Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. The tanks move in, encircling the mine. The entire suburb is cordoned off to traffic and a local railway station closed.
9:55. Miners receive an ultimatum to vacate the premises within one hour. A crowd of local inhabitants, including women and children, gathers outside the main gates on Pol Street. They sing religious anthems. Many are crying. Several young people force their way through the gates of the mine to join the strikers amid huge applause.
10:55. The tank column, led by a light tank, advances slowly. Women attempt to block the street. Some lie down in front of the leading tank. It stops but then starts moving again. The women are swept away by a powerful blast of water fired from a water cannon mounted on an armored car. Some women hang their rosaries on the barrels of tanks. Zomo trucks carrying about 2,000 police follow the tanks.
The strikers sing the national anthem as a water cannon opens up in the direction of sympathizers gathered on the opposite side of Pola street. The crowd, numbering several hundred, runs away chanting, "Gestapo." They regroup behind the mine's community center, but are scattered again by a barrage of tear gas.
Amid the confusion, Zomo units launch a frontal attack against the mine. First they fire a barrage of tear gas. Then tanks demolish the second gate opposite the boiler house. Another tank smashes through a fence down the street, battering down the wall of a supply depot. Hordes of police rush in through the gaps in the fence. Wearing helmets and carrying shields, they lash out with their clubs and fire tear gas.
The tanks fire blank rounds. The rattle of a machine gun is heard along with single shots. The first ambulances arrive.
On the other side of the street, the sympathizers have overcome their initial shock. They start throwing stones at the Zomo. Women seem particularly determined and fearless. They pick up tear-gas grenades and throw them back at the police, who are forced to fight on two fronts. The second front, mostly young adults and school children, succeeds in harrying the rear of the police.
A group of sympathizers succeeds in blocking the street to the mine, preventing the movement of tanks. A mobile home is pushed across the street and turned on its side. The police mount another assault on the sympathizers. The crowd runs away, followed by more tear gas.
12:55 p.m. The battle has been going on two hours. The Zomo still cannot take the mine. News of many injuries is spreading in Katowice. Some Zomo are seen to remove injured miners from ambulances, loading their own instead. Some ambulance drivers are beaten. News spreads that Zomo used firearms and the miners took hostages.
(Officials later said that the security forces at one point were encircled by enraged miners. Many Zomo were injured and, on the ground, were attacked with axes, chains, and red-hot iron rods. It was at this point, according to the official account, that shooting began.)
A report says miners succeed in disabling a tank by breaking its tread with pneumatic drills. There is hand-to-hand combat in the courtyard outside the bathhouse.
1:30. A green rocket flare is fired into the air. The Zomo start pulling back. The area is covered with the empty tear-gas canisters. A choking stench is in the air. Ambulances drive in and out of the mine like bees at a hive. Stories of police beating wounded miners circulate among the onlookers. The police look frantically for the strike leaders, some of whom are also wounded.
The injured are taken to the Interior Ministry hospital. The dead are taken to the office of the mine rescue service. There are six of them--a seventh dies on the way to the hospital (and an eighth just after Christmas). Onlookers believe there are deaths among the Zomo as well.
Mediation continues with the miners, who earlier threatened to kill their hostages if fired upon. The miners demand withdrawal of Zomo forces, promising to go home afterward. The security-forces commander agrees, granting a 24-hour amnesty.
6:30. Miners leave. The hostages are released without bloodshed. The Army stays on the premises. And in the city, arrests begin despite the commander's word.
Thursday. At 8:30 a.m., the fence around the mine has been destroyed. Bulldozers clear the area. A cross is erected opposite the boiler house. Seven miners' oil lamps hang from its arms. The first flowers and candles are being laid beneath it. The air is still thick with tear gas, but the crowd grows around the cross.
Men bare their heads and women say prayers on their rosaries. The most repeated phrase: "Oh Lord, don't forgive them this." The dead miners are mainly between 24 and 26 years of age. All are said to have left families behind.
The miners return to work, but production is minimal. Grief and depression reign. A sole crumpled flag lies by the bathhouse. "Solidarity" is emblazoned on it.