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From the BBC
Walesa scorns collaboration claim
In Poland Lech Walesa is a national hero. He is the man who, in the 1980s, led the Solidarity movement, whose defiance of the country's then Communist government started a mass movement which eventually led to its overthrow
So it is not surprising that a new book published on Monday, accusing the former Nobel peace prize winner of being a communist secret agent in the 1970s, has caused huge controversy here.
The former president strenuously denies the claims.
The book, Lech Walesa and the Secret Services, was written by two historians from the Institute of National Memory, a state institution created to investigate Nazi and communist-era crimes.
Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk gathered material from the institute's archive, which contains some 86km (54 miles) of communist secret service files.
"In the first half of the 1970s Lech Walesa was treated by the communist secret services as an agent with the codename Bolek," Mr Cenckiewicz told me.
"The documents say he wrote reports and informed on more than 20 people and some of them were persecuted by the communist police. He identified people and eavesdropped on his colleagues at work while they were listening to Radio Free Europe for example."
Similar accusations first surfaced 16 years ago, but this is the first time a state institution has published a comprehensive investigation of Lech Walesa's contacts with the communist secret services.
The authors allege that, as president in the 1990s, Lech Walesa, tried to cover up his past by removing incriminating pages from his secret police file.
The accusations have sharply divided Polish society. Poland's current president, Lech Kaczynski, who fell out with Mr Walesa when he worked as one of his advisers in the early 1990s, said in a national TV interview he was convinced Mr Walesa was an agent.
But Prime Minister Donald Tusk says the accusations are politically motivated.
When I put the book's claims to Mr Walesa himself, he told me it was full of lies.
"Nothing like that happened. I had no influence over what the secret police did and wrote. You will not find any signature of mine agreeing to collaborate anywhere. This is all insinuation and part of the communist secret service campaign against me," he said.
Mr Walesa said a court had cleared him of any suggestion of collaboration when he ran for a second term as president in 2000. He believes the communist authorities falsified his file after he became leader of the Solidarity movement in 1980, to discredit him in the eyes of the world.
"They have created this little fairy tale that Lech Walesa was a brave fighter but in his youth he had a moment of weakness and worked for the secret police. They had to turn up something about me, so they went into ancient history, making it difficult to prove one way or the other," he said.
Many eminent Poles have also come to Mr Walesa's defence. They fear the book could even damage Poland's reputation because Lech Walesa, whose trademark walrus moustache still makes him instantly recognisable, is the one living Pole most foreigners know of.
The book's co-author, Piotr Gontarczyk, argues he had a duty to reveal what he believes is the whole truth about him.
"No serious person denies the importance of Lech Walesa in Polish history. He will remain forever the legendary Solidarity leader. Nobody in their right mind can take that away from him. We have just filled in the unknown gaps in his biography from the 1970s," he told me.
On the streets of Warsaw, the people I asked said the scandal had not influenced their opinion of the great man.
"No, I didn't change the way of thinking about President Walesa," a 49-year-old worker for a non-governmental organisation said.
"In my opinion he deserves much more respect than condemnation actually and it's maybe true that as a young worker he surrendered to the temptation of the secret service, but then with all his work he showed that this was a mistake."
"He was the face of the whole change and for me it really doesn't matter. I think that some people now would like to destroy him, but I think he already has his place in our history," one young mother said.
This scandal has dominated the front pages and television news in the past few weeks.
But it seems to have done little damage to Lech Walesa's reputation.
According to a recent survey, 60% of Poles say even if he did collaborate with the communist police in his youth, he remains a living legend for what he achieved afterwards in helping to bring down the communist regime.
The biggest shame is the lost opportunity. After completing his first year as President, Walesa should have volunteered himself as the first subject of lustracja. There would have been awkwardness, apology, forgiveness and; eventually; a cleansing of the accumulated resentment of forty years of debased governance as others would be given the option of contrition instead of lies.
The resentment cannot be overestimated as it affects both those that succumbed to the pressures of collaboration and those that were victimized by the process. Unfortunately we are now doomed to have it fester until the eventual demise of the two generations that are tainted and wounded by the dysfunctions of the era.
The whole concept of “Lustracja” is idiotic.
Seriously – the Stalinist version of communism in Poland ended in the 60’s, and besides, there were very few hardcore commies in Poland after that anyway. Government began losing control in 1968.
Investigating old crusty men doesn’t make any sense. If they spent as much time and effort debating real, present day issues the country would be in much better shape.
The truth is that “Lustracja” has not produced any tangible results other than giving jackasses like Kaczynskis a platform to run on and get elected.
In a country of 40 million impartial “lustracja” is not possible without turning into a witch hunt.
Leave it alone and move on already.
“Unfortunately we are now doomed to have it fester until the eventual demise of the two generations that are tainted and wounded by the dysfunctions of the era.”
Slepo, do you know how extensive UB was in Poland? Some guy, say, was cheating on his wife and was forced by the government agents to report on his co-workers (blackmail). That’s just one example of how those assholes worked. Okay. Now what? What is he supposed to do 30 years later? Apologize? Get fired from his job? Lose his pension?
The real criminals are either dead, left the country, or older than dirt. Prosecuting those people would only force the current government to revert to the very tactics the real Solidarity from the 80’s fought against.
And honestly – UB was nothing compared to STASI in East Germany. If the Germans can get over it, Poles can too.
It is the biggest non-issue that takes up way too much time. Not to mention is became nothing more than a political campaign tool. It has nothing to do with delivering justice at this point.
Certainly the Stalinist era and the ideological communist era passed, but each left its progeny and the most recent was the corrupted mafia-esque opportunists from the Moczar and Jaruzelski camps. The corrosive effect was one of distrust and that distrust is the basis for most governance failings to this day.
That would have been set aside in large measure if Walesa had stepped up and subjected himself to lustracja. There would not have been a need to subject the entire nation to review any more than the Nuremburg trials did not subject every Nazi to prosecution. At some point the pragmatic resolution of such issues is accomplished by forgiveness. But forgiveness follows contrition and apology. Therein is the lost opportunity; instead of a prompt and concentrated process of revelation we are well into the second decade of suspicion and unresolved harm.
One can well choose many routes for addressing the wrongs of those times. One must remember that there were victims and those victims were denied justice.