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Former Communists - new defenders of Democracy in Poland

Some news as reported by the International Herald Tribune ...

Opposition to Poland's twin leaders pushes former Solidarity and ex-communists together

Eighteen years after the collapse of Polish communism, two of their own are perched at the pinnacle of power: Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, identical twins who once advised Solidarity founder Lech Walesa.

But instead of relishing their rise, many of the movement's leading activists — including Walesa himself — have turned against the Kaczynskis and joined forces with their old enemies, the former communists.

They aim to create "a coalition in defense of democracy in Poland," said Bronislaw Geremek, an adviser to the Solidarity movement who was foreign minister in the 1997-2000 Solidarity-led government.

Such an alliance would have been unthinkable in December 1981, when the Moscow-backed government declared martial law and threw most of Solidarity's leaders in jail for organizing labor strikes and other forms of protest against communist rule.

But in today's Poland, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and President Lech Kaczynski are seen by many as a threat to the very democracy they helped build. They have alienated Solidarity veterans with their authoritarian style and their drive to purge public life of former communists, a campaign more than one critic has likened to a Polish version of McCarthyism.

The former communists, meanwhile, have reshaped themselves as social democrats and are winning praise as defenders of democracy.

"I feel disappointment and a kind of bitterness," Geremek said, "that 18 years after the historic change in Poland we see such a collapse of public support for democracy and Solidarity's heritage."

Geremek shared his views at a party in a Warsaw beer garden celebrating the 18th anniversary of Poland's first free elections, on June 4, 1989, which gave a landslide victory to Solidarity candidates in both houses of parliament, effectively ending communist rule. Walesa won the presidency a year and a half later.

On the guest list were several key members of the former communist party. The Kaczynskis were not there.

During speeches that by turns decried and mocked political life under the Kaczynskis, Geremek sat sandwiched between Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist and Poland's president from 1995-2005, and the party's new young leader, Wojciech Olejniczak, 33.

It was unclear what the informal alliance would bring. But the coming together of the two groups shows the Kaczynskis face growing opposition from Warsaw intellectuals, though the brothers still enjoy support among conservative, rural voters.

The issue that has drawn the most opposition recently has been the Kaczynskis' drive to purge from public life all those who collaborated with the hated secret police of the communist era, a process dubbed "lustration" throughout ex-communist Eastern Europe, from a Latin term referring to ritual purification.

The attempted purge came in the form of a law — since struck down by the Constitutional Tribunal — requiring many people with a public role, including teachers, company owners and journalists, to declare whether or not they cooperated with the secret police to keep their jobs.

A key factor behind the thaw between the Solidarity activists and former communists is the failure of Poland's main opposition party, the pro-market Civic Platform, to take on the Kaczynskis and their socially conservative Law and Justice party.

It was the Democratic Left Alliance — the former communists — who successfully led the court challenge to the lustration law.

Geremek has strongly spoken out against the law, saying it would have violated civil liberties, including freedom of speech, with a threat to ban journalists and researchers from their professions for 10 years.

"I see a danger in the present state of public life for the future of democracy in Poland," Geremek, 75, said. "And this lustration law was one example of that. I am very happy that the constitutional court invalidated the law."

Critics of the law also warn of the danger of passing judgment based on the existing secret police files, which are incomplete and sometimes contain falsehoods. The police, for instance, were known to register people as collaborators who never agreed to any contact, but whose phones were tapped.

The Kaczynskis counter that Poles have a right to know if people in positions of influence compromised themselves by collaborating with the secret police, and say a reckoning is long overdue.

Poland's transition to democracy was negotiated peacefully in the so-called Round Table talks of 1989, which essentially allowed the former communists to evade any retribution in exchange for ceding some power.

The Kaczynskis say that allowed the ex-communists to retain power and economic assets. The Kaczynskis fear that former communists are still secretly pulling the strings in society — and that an exposure of those who collaborated is needed to renew the country morally.

Other critics echo Geremek's relief that the law was struck down, but concern persists that the Kaczynskis and their Law and Justice party will seek out other ways to purge former collaborators.

"I think that many of us feel that this lustration is a Polish version of McCarthyism," said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a spokesman for Solidarity in the 1980s and a defense minister twice in the 1990s.

Another former Solidarity activist, Malgorzata Niezabitowska, who was recently cleared by a court of allegations she collaborated with the communist secret police, said she is troubled at what she said is a spirit of aggression taking root in Poland as allegations of collaboration surface almost weekly about respected figures.

"The Kaczynski brothers fought for a democratic Poland under our banners," said Niezabitowska, who was a reporter for the Solidarity Weekly newspaper in the 1980s and later the spokeswoman for Poland's first democratic government.

"Now their tendency is to plant aggression, to plant envy, to destroy people who have moral authority," she said.

Re: Former Communists - new defenders of Democracy in Poland

Yep. This is one of the greatest ironies in post-commie Poland.

The fact that the two groups have come together undermines Kaczynski’s conspiracy theories and witch hunts.

Down with PiS