Weeding out the spies - Poland's struggle with the past

The Polish Parliament has examined amendments submitted by the country's President to the vetting law of 1996, which is meant to weed out former communist police spies from public posts. In the focus is the institution of vetting courts, which will serve to clear the names of people who object to the findings of the National Remembrance Institute, the institution that looks into the former communist security police files to establish a person's status.

Coming to terms with the past continues to be high on the agenda of Poland's rulers, President Lech Kaczynski and his brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. They said a long time ago that after the collapse of the East Bloc in 1989-90 and the successes of joining the European Union, Poland must catch up on moral issues. The process seems to be also driven by a generation change as young people with no experience of living under communism want to find out the truth. It seems that nearly two decades after the fall of the Soviet bloc, hardly a week passes without media naming names concerning alleged collaborators and agents of the communist-led secret services.

A former Polish interior minister recently went on trial for allegedly revealing state secrets by accusing the prime minister at the time of spying for Russia. Andrzej Milczanowski, who ran the Interior Ministry from 1992-1995, said in a January 1995 speech to parliament that Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy had spied for Moscow for more than a decade. Oleksy, a former communist, resigned in early 1996 after less than a year in office following the opening of an investigation. His name has been finally cleared of allegation by the decision of the Supreme Court. The ruling party Law and Justice insists on speeding up the vetting process and hence amendment of the vetting law dating back to 1996 has been put for consideration. Marcin Libicki of the ruling Law and Justice Party says he is waiting for the opinion of the Upper House of the draft which is to come this week.

Marcin Libicki
"The idea of the new draft of law prepared by the Polish Sejm was to arrange everything referring to this problem quicker. Because the case of Mr. Oleksy proves that after 7 years this verdict was not quite clear and not acceptable for public opinion."

Meanwhile, many analysts say that it was often hard to draw a clear line between what was collaboration and what was a survival strategy. Critics also say agreement to collaborate was often obtained by blackmail. Marcin Libicki disagrees.

"The problem was that every accused person should prove that this person was not sure that it was collaboration. And now in this new draft all procedure will be quicker. And I think because we do not know the final shape of this law it will be the fact of collaboration which will prove that the person is guilty not their own conscience of it."

As for Jozef Oleksy, professor Wojciech Lukowski of Warsaw Univeristy claims that the decision of the Supreme Court, although in his favour, will not put him back into the spotlight too quickly.

"Such a decision of the Supreme Court gives him and other leftists politicians in Poland a chance to advance to the head of the part again and change their status from passive to active members of the Polish left. I don't think he'll become one of its leaders again but he will definitely be among its top advisors."

Others point to the fact that Poland has an especially acute moral dilemma because vetting in the country also focuses on activists of the Solidarity trade union, which was the East Bloc's only mass opposition movement.