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The Polish boarder regime in the years 1945-1989

Bogusław Tomasz Czerwiński

Contrary to the situation in western European countries, the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Third Reich did not bring the freedom for Poles. On the basis of the agreement between the Allies – the US, Great Britain and the USRR, signed in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam, Poland remained in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. In order to avoid mass emigration from Poland and stop the influx of people and ideas from democratic countries, the communist government, practically from the beginning of their rule, decided to close the borders. It meant that they introduced a strict border regime. It involved severe restrictions on departures from and arrivals in Poland. Issuing of passports for Polish citizens, or Polish visas for foreigners was limited. It should be noted that these restrictions varied throughout the decades. When the communists tried to demonstrate the willingness to cooperate with Western Bloc and show their ‘democratic face’, the number of passports and visas issued increased. When internal or external conflicts escalated, this number decreased. Another form of border regime was organizing special military units for border protection. Just after the WWII the borders were guarded by the ordinary troops of the Polish Army. This situation did not last long because on September 13, 1945 based on the order No. 0245 issued by the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army, special military units designated for border protection were established. They were called Wojska Ochrony Pogranicza, WOP (Border Protection Troops). These units were organized according to the pattern of NKWD Soviet border troops. WOP had a special unit which was a kind of intelligence and counterintelligence service called Zwiad WOP (the Reconnaissance Border Defence Troops). The most important tasks of WOP were preventing illegal border crossing, ensuring safety and public order in the border zone, supervision of compliance with the provisions in force in the internal waters and the territorial sea, preventing the cross-border illegal sending of letters, dailies or brochures directed against the state and legitimate authorities, prosecution of all actions and intentions hostile towards political interests of the state, and military service on the boarder checkpoints. In the years 1945-1990 WOP was subordinate to either Ministry of National Defence or Ministry of Internal Affairs. The soldiers of WOP were professional officers of the Polish Army as well as the soldiers of basic military service. Technical measures used to protect the Polish borders were not as cruel and criminal as they were, for instance, on the Czechoslovak-Austrian border with its electric fence with high voltage power. Over the years the organizational structures of WOP did not change much. Its units had military organization. For example, at the end of its functioning WOP consisted of eleven brigades. On the basis of the act of October 12, 1990, which entered into force on May 16, 1991 WOP stopped its activities and its units were transformed into Straż Graniczna (Polish Border Guard) – the new institution of the democratic Polish State.