Poland faces communist past with extended vetting law

Lech Kaczynski, photo: CTK

Parliament has abolished the institution of the Vetting Court and Public Interest Ombudsman passing supervison over the vetting process to the Institute of National Remembrance. The new vetting law is to embrace wider groups of persons engaged in public life. Also greater access to the files of communist secret services is to be granted.

Lech Kaczynski,  photo: CTK
President Lech Kaczynski, the PM's twin brother, had given his firm support for the new vetting law well in advance, stating he fully approved the general directions which it represented.

"I have always been a proponent of vetting aimed at revealing all communist agents and collaborators. It's obvious that everyone should have the right to defend himself, but whether special vetting courts should be maintained or the cases reviewed by public courts remains an open question. This law is crucially important. I'm convinced it will enable a successful conclusion of the vetting process."

But declarations of ridding society from the remnants of communism continue to evoke mixed feelings among most Poles.

"It can still purify our public life. The whole atmosphere of that has been created after the latest elections. I believe people want to know the truth about who was the bad one and who was good."

"Too little and too late."

"I think it should be done fifteen or sixteen years ago. Now, there's little hope to make the situation clear. But it has to be done, even if it's too late. There's a big mess in these archives. Everyone who wanted to take their papers from the National Remembrance Institute, already did so."

Poland's neighbors, the Czechs and former East Germans have managed, although with varying success, to complete their communist vetting. Andrzej Potocki, former politician of the Freedom Union, one of the most influential parties in Poland's reborn democracy after the fall of communism, points to important differences in the respective countries' internal situations of the time.

"I wouldn't recall the East German case, because East Germany was simply swallowed by its western counterpart. It was much easier to control documents and the communist past. In the case of Poland, history is always a very sensitive subject of politics and many interests are involved. We have to remember that the great fall of communism in Poland was strictly connected with the Round Table Agreement of 1989. So the deal was made and part of it had been the communist party. Some interests were protected and parts of history were not disclosed soon after 1989. Now, they are rather part of a political fight."

Independent political commentator Andrzej Krajewski points to loopholes in the amended vetting law in obtaining a so-called 'status of a persecuted person'. Right now, the Institute of National Remembrance will be flooded with applications for review. Legal obstructions might paradoxically force people to prove their innocence of being a former communist collaborator.

"If it's voted by the Senate as the Sejm (the House) did, there will be another problem. There will be no 'persecuted person status' and the files of thousands of people would be made available in the Internet. And public opinion, meaning their neighbors or journalists, will judge these persons deciding whether they were collaborators, cowards or heroes. And if a person will not agree with the material gathered by the communist secret police, it will be up to him to go to court and prove that the archives are wrong."

One of the latest moves of the ruling coalition aimed at dismantling remnants of the old order of hidden power has been the disbanding of the Military Intelligence Service (WSI). PM Kaczynski entrusted a well tested anti-communist activist of the 19' Seventies and 'Eighties with the task. He claims Antoni Macierewicz, who also served shortly as Interior Minister in a right wing cabinet, has the best qualifications for the job. Whether Macierewicz will display equal talent in creating new structures of Polish military intelligence is another issue. However, both the PM and President agree some continuity must be retained not to jeopardize Poland's security and interests at any stage.