In Rec­on­cil­ing Its Past, Poland Is Di­vided Anew

The Washington Post Sunday - - Front Page - By Craig Whit­lock

GDANSK, Poland — Al­most two decades have passed since dic­ta­tor­ship gave way to democ­racy in Poland, but af­ter years of bury­ing mem­o­ries and avoid­ing the sub­ject, this coun­try is fi­nally grap­pling with its com­mu­nist past.

On March 15, a con­tro­ver­sial law went into ef­fect re­quir­ing an es­ti­mated 700,000 civil ser­vants, teach­ers and jour­nal­ists to sign an oath declar­ing whether they col­lab­o­rated with the com­mu­nist se­cret po­lice be­fore the fall of the Iron Cur­tain in 1989. Any­one caught ly­ing, or who re­fuses to sign, is to be fired.

In Jan­uary, the new arch­bishop of War­saw quit af­ter ad­mit­ting he had been an in­former. Since then, dozens of priests in this de­vout Catholic na­tion have like­wise been outed as col­lab­o­ra­tors, shak­ing pub­lic faith in an in­sti­tu­tion that was long seen as the only re­li­able refuge from to­tal­i­tar­ian rule.

Mean­while, prose­cu­tors are ex­pected this spring to put on trial an 83- year- old man whose un­smil­ing vis­age and dark eye­glasses still sym­bol­ize the coun­try’s tribu­la­tions un­der com­mu­nism. Gen. Wo­j­ciech Jaruzel­ski, Poland’s for­mer mil­i­tary ruler, faces charges that he il­le­gally de­clared mar­tial law in 1981 to sup­press the Sol­i­dar­ity la­bor move­ment that arose in Gdansk’s ship­yards.

The ac­cu­sa­tions and re­crim­i­na­tions about who did what dur-

ing the com­mu­nist era have split Pol­ish so­ci­ety. Pro­po­nents of the cur­rent purges say that they are long over­due and com­plain that ex- com­mu­nists un­fairly prof­ited dur­ing the coun­try’s tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism. Crit­ics, in­clud­ing many for­mer foes of the com­mu­nists, de­scribe the cam­paign as a mod­ern- day Red Scare that is driven more by po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions than an hon­est de­sire to hold peo­ple ac­count­able.

Few peo­ple have gone un­scathed, in­clud­ing Lech Walesa, the Gdansk elec­tri­cian who led Sol­i­dar­ity and won a No­bel Peace Prize in 1983 for con­fronting the com­mu­nists. Walesa has had to go to court twice to clear him­self of al­le­ga­tions that he served as an in­former.

“ Some peo­ple will never be­lieve that I man­aged to ac­com­plish as much as I did with­out the help of the se­cret po­lice,” Walesa, 63, said in an in­ter­view in his of­fice in Gdansk, where he has led a pro- democ­racy foun­da­tion since he served as Poland’s pres­i­dent from 1990 to 1995.

Walesa re­sisted open­ing Poland’s com­mu­nist- era intelligence archives dur­ing his pres­i­dency, say­ing the new repub­lic was too frag­ile to en­dure a di­rect reck­on­ing with its past. To­day, how­ever, he sup­ports open­ing them and said the purges are painful but nec­es­sary.

“ Only cow­ards and those who didn’t fight didn’t have any files,” he said. “ But we need to get it over with as quickly as pos­si­ble and do it once and for all. We need to make this is­sue dis­ap­pear for­ever.”

Un­like in some of its revo­lu­tion- minded neigh­bors in East­ern Europe, Poland’s tran­si­tion from com­mu­nism to mul­ti­party democ­racy was a care­fully ne­go­ti­ated one.

In Fe­bru­ary 1989, the coun­try’s com­mu­nist rulers opened talks with a del­e­ga­tion of Sol­i­dar­ity lead­ers and other ac­tivists in War­saw. Af­ter two months, they reached an agree­ment that led to the first par­tially free elec­tions in the Soviet bloc. Al­though the com­mu­nists soon lost their grip on power, for the most part they avoided pros­e­cu­tion; many, in fact, joined new po­lit­i­cal par­ties and restyled them­selves as democrats.

Some for­mer Sol­i­dar­ity ac­tivists and other com­mu­nist foes seethed at what they saw as a lack of ac­count­abil­ity. Af­ter years of op­er­at­ing on the po­lit­i­cal fringe, they swept into power in late 2005, led by iden­ti­cal twins Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczyn­ski.

The Kaczyn­skis — Lech is pres­i­dent, while Jaroslaw serves as prime min­is­ter — have called for a “ moral re­newal” in Poland. “ The prob­lem of con­fronting the com­mu­nist past in Poland was al­ways ad­dressed in a weak and in­ef­fi­cient way,” said Lud­wik Dorn, a deputy prime min­is­ter and a close ally of the Kaczyn­ski brothers. “ If prob­lems are left un­re­solved, it’s quite nor­mal for them to resur­face.”

In an in­ter­view, Dorn said the new gov­ern­ment had al­ready had a cleans­ing ef­fect: About 1,200 lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers who had worked for the com­mu­nists have re­signed in the past 18 months.

The Kaczyn­ski gov­ern­ment is also tar­get­ing the coun­try’s mil­i­tary intelligence agen­cies, he said, prompted in part by Pol­ish vot­ers who came of age af­ter 1989 and are de­mand­ing to know why the purges didn’t hap­pen ear­lier.

“ They are the judges,” Dorn said. “ They were 4year- olds dur­ing mar­tial law, and they’re ask­ing their fa­thers and grand­fa­thers: ‘ Who are you? Who were you?’ ”

The back­bone of the de- com­mu­niza­tion cam­paign is the new law that re­quires civil ser­vants, jour­nal­ists and aca­demics to de­clare whether they ever col­lab­o­rated.

Crit­ics said the law could be eas­ily abused. Jacek Zakowski, a television com­men­ta­tor and colum­nist for Poli­tyka mag­a­zine, said the statute was poorly worded, defin­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tor as any­one who was in “ a po­si­tion of trust” with the com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties.

“ I was in the un­der­ground in the 1980s, but even I don’t know if I could be la­beled a ‘ per­son of trust’ or not,” he said. “ This is a way to black­mail peo­ple, be­cause any­body who says, ‘ No, I did not col­lab­o­rate,’ could be in trou­ble.”

Jacek Kuchar­czyk, deputy di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Af­fairs in War­saw, said the vet­ting law is likely to be over­turned or mod­i­fied by the courts. Re­gard­less of its le­gal­ity, he said, the mea­sure re­flects a broader so­cial di­vide over the 1989 revo­lu­tion.

“ You have a coali­tion of peo­ple who dis­liked the new di­vi­sion of author­ity and power that evolved in Poland,” he said. “ There are peo­ple who gen­uinely think it was a moral scan­dal and that it should be rec­ti­fied in some way. But there are also those who see this as a con­ve­nient way to re­move the older gen­er­a­tion and to take their place.”

Mil­lions of pages of se­cu­rity archives have been placed in the cus­tody of the In­sti­tute of Na­tional Re­mem­brance, an agency with author­ity to pros­e­cute crimes com­mit­ted against Poles dur­ing the years of Nazi and com­mu­nist rule.

Un­der the new anti- com­mu­nist vet­ting law, the in­sti­tute will be re­quired to pub­lish a com­pre­hen­sive list of col­lab­o­ra­tors this year. Some re­searchers at the in­sti­tute ques­tioned how re­li­able it would be.

“ A lot of peo­ple just con­sider it as black or white — ei­ther you were a col­lab­o­ra­tor or you were not,” said An­toni Dudek, a his­to­rian at the in­sti­tute. “ But a lot of times, when you look at the files, it’s much more com­pli­cated.”

Dudek es­ti­mated that as many as 1 mil­lion Poles could have served as in­form­ers dur­ing the com­mu­nist era. But only about 100,000 peo­ple had case files that clearly iden­ti­fied them as col­lab­o­ra­tors, he said.

The re­main­der, he said, must be re­con­structed from a variety of doc­u­ments that of­ten con­tain fleet­ing ref­er­ences to in­di­vid­u­als or peo­ple op­er­at­ing un­der aliases. Some­times, peo­ple were falsely iden­ti­fied as in­form­ers by intelligence agents try­ing to im­press their su­pe­ri­ors.

In dis­puted cases, peo­ple tagged as col­lab­o­ra­tors can ap­peal to a spe­cial com­mis­sion to ask that their names be cleared. But it can take years for cases to be heard.

Mean­while, prose­cu­tors from the In­sti­tute of Na­tional Re­mem­brance are pre­par­ing to try Jaruzel­ski. Af­ter beat­ing sim­i­lar le­gal ac­tion in the ’ 90s, he was in­dicted again in March 2006 on charges of “ com­mu­nist crimes,” stem­ming from his de­ci­sion to de­clare mar­tial law. Dozens of peo­ple were killed in clashes that re­sulted in 1981, and thou­sands of un­der­ground ac­tivists were ar­rested.

Jaruzel­ski has main­tained his in­no­cence and por­trays him­self as a Pol­ish pa­triot, ar­gu­ing that he did what was nec­es­sary to sta­bi­lize the coun­try and pre­vent an in­va­sion by Soviet troops. The el­derly gen­eral spends his days in the in­sti­tute’s read­ing rooms comb­ing through his­tor­i­cal archives to gather ev­i­dence for his de­fense.

Al­though Jaruzel­ski was a re­viled fig­ure dur­ing his rule, sur­veys show that many Poles to­day view him more sym­pa­thet­i­cally.

Mieczys­law Rakowski, one of Poland’s last com­mu­nist prime min­is­ters and a for­mer deputy to Jaruzel­ski, said there was no doubt that the Sovi­ets would have in­ter­vened in 1981. He said the gen­eral avoided a blood­bath by declar­ing mar­tial law and also by agree­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Sol­i­dar­ity in 1989.

“ My gen­er­a­tion saw Bu­dapest on fire in 1956,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Soviet sup­pres­sion of a re­bel­lion in Hun­gary. “ I saw the Prague Spring up­ris­ing and how [ Cze­choslo­vak leader Alexan­der] Dubcek and his peo­ple were taken on a plane to Moscow with their heads in a sack. I also wit­nessed the next Rus­sian in­va­sion, of Afghanistan, in 1979. Why do you think it would have been any dif­fer­ent for us?”

Among the gen­eral’s de­fend­ers to­day is his old foe Walesa. “ He be­lieved, and the com­mu­nists be­lieved, that there was no other choice, that the Rus­sians had di­rected mis­siles at ev­ery Pol­ish city,” Walesa said. “ I do not pun­ish peo­ple for faith, and they be­lieved in that. I’m leav­ing the judg­ments to God.”


Lech Walesa re­sisted open­ing Poland’s com­mu­nist-era intelligence archives when he was pres­i­dent, say­ing it was too soon, but now finds the purges nec­es­sary.


Gen. Wo­j­ciech Jaruzel­ski, shown in 1997, faces charges that as Poland’s mil­i­tary ruler, he il­le­gally de­clared mar­tial law in 1981 to sup­press the Sol­i­dar­ity move­ment.

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