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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 9, 2008
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Row Over Wałęsa's Past
July 9, 2008   
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A row over claims that former Solidarity leader and ex-president Lech Wałęsa collaborated with the communist security services and then covered up his links with the secret police has divided politicians and the public.

The controversy was ignited by allegations in a book published just a day before the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Wałęsa.

Wałęsa said June 27 that he would most likely sue the authors of the book, entitled SB a Lech Wałęsa. Przyczynek do biografii (The Security Services and Lech Wałęsa. A Contribution to a Biography). It was written by Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, historians from the state-run National Remembrance Institute (IPN). Wałęsa said he would also sue Janusz Kurtyka, the president of the institute, for "completely undermining his authority," and added he was waiting for advice from lawyers.

Wałęsa complained that Polish law allows "historians and journalists [to go] unpunished and publish lies." He said he would no longer answer questions about allegations that he collaborated with the communist security services, nor would he account for his past.

Wałęsa also declined a proposal from Andrzej Urbański, the head of the TVP public broadcaster, who offered him eight minutes during prime time television to give his version of events. TVP had earlier broadcast a documentary on Wałęsa's alleged collaboration.

The book on Wałęsa was published June 23, amid huge public interest. The first print run of 4,000 copies sold out instantly. A second print run of 40,000 copies came out in July. Online auction websites are selling the book at seven to eight times the cover price of zl.55. Cenckiewicz and Gontarczyk say their book is not a biography of Wałęsa but an "academic attempt to clarify the complex issue of Wałęsa's relations with the security services." The authors said they wanted to "let the documents speak for themselves," which is why the larger part of the book consists of source materials.

The book contains 86 documents of various kinds, from security services records from the 1970s and 1980s, through excerpts from memoirs written by people who took part in political events of the time, to files from the 1990s concerning vetting procedures and files from the State Protection Office (UOP) and the public prosecutor's office. The most recent document is a judgment from the Vetting Court in 2000 stating that Wałęsa submitted a true vetting declaration when he said that he had never been an agent for the security services.

The book' s authors claim that in the early 1970s Wałęsa was a security services agent with the codename "Bolek." The book alleges that in the 1990s, by which time Wałęsa had been elected president, he used his powers as head of state to obtain security service files that incriminated him and did not return them. As a result, the Vetting Court-which as a matter of course examined Wałęsa's vetting declaration when he ran for president-wrongly assessed the evidence regarding Wałęsa's past because it had access to incomplete information, according to the book.

The documents in the book include a copy of "Bolek's" identification card that was removed from security services' operational records June 19, 1976, because of his "reluctance to cooperate" any longer. The identification number 12535 on the card corresponds to the number in the registration journal of the security services in Gdańsk, where "Bolek" had been registered as a secret collaborator Dec. 29, 1970.

On June 21, 1978, a security services officer named Marek Aftyka wrote the following in a memo after a review of Wałęsa's files: "The aforementioned [individual] was recruited for cooperation with the security authorities Dec. 29, 1970, as a voluntary secret collaborator codenamed Bolek."

Another source in the book is "an internee identification sheet," in which the security services in Gdańsk wrote in November 1980 that Wałęsa had been recruited for collaboration with the security services. According to this document, in 1970-72 Wałęsa provided his security service employers with information about the activities of Gdańsk Shipyard workers. Security service files indicate that "Bolek" was paid for the information-in total, he received zl.13,100 in the currency of the time.

The new book also delves into vetting procedures introduced in 1992 to examine the past of all state officials, and the controversy surrounding the vetting procedures that led to the dismissal of the then right-wing government of Jan Olszewski, after a motion submitted by Wałęsa. That year, Wałęsa was put on the so-called Macierewicz List of secret collaborators of the communist security services who had held or were holding important offices in parliament, government and other state bodies. In an effort to enforce the vetting law passed by the lower house of the parliament, the then Interior Minister Antoni Macierewicz had collected documents on "Bolek" from the State Protection Office, including around 20 reports "Bolek" had written in 1971-1974. According to Cenckiewicz and Gontarczyk, the authenticity of the documents was unquestionable and they could not have been fabricated subsequently.

The book also describes an incident from the mid-1990s when, following a decision by the then Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski, the State Protection Office lent President Wałęsa documents regarding him that the security services had collected. The file was returned to the State Protection Office several months later, but it was incomplete, the authors say. The public prosecutor's office initially pressed charges against Milczanowski and State Protection Office heads Jerzy Konieczny and Gromosław Czempiński, accusing them of losing classified files, but in 1999 it discontinued the investigation, deciding no offense had been committed.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, has said he saw original reports by an agent codenamed Bolek, shown to him by Milczanowski in the early 1990s. Milczanowski, however, has firmly denied ever doing so, while Czempiński says he knows nothing about any "Bolek files," the originals of which were supposedly kept at the State Protection Office. Still, Andrzej Kapkowski, who headed the State Protection Office in 1996-97, has said he asked Wałęsa in 1996 to return the "Bolek" files the president's office had borrowed. The documents, however, never made it back to the State Protection Office.

Zbigniew Siemi±tkowski, the interior minister during the government headed by the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) 1993-97, wrote a memo to then President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski in September 1996, saying that "notes and reports from Lech Wałęsa," "his registration documents" and "Lech Wałęsa's receipts for pay for spying operations" had failed to return to the State Protection Office.

Antoni Dudek, a historian and adviser to the president of the National Remembrance Institute, said a few days after the new book was published that in the first half of the 1990s, Wałęsa failed to return a total of 2,500 photos of classified documents concerning him and other politicians, including current President Lech Kaczyński and Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz. Dudek, who has not taken a stance on the allegations that Wałęsa collaborated with the security services, says it is "beyond doubt" that important documents had disappeared. He describes the "evidence" in the book as circumstantial and not hard evidence that Wałęsa collaborated with the security services.

Many Polish politicians, especially those from the senior ruling party, the Civic Platform (PO), and the opposition left wing, say the new book is the latest move in a political war waged by PiS against Wałęsa.

The two Kaczyński brothers have made no secret of their strong dislike of Wałęsa ever since he fired them from his presidential office in 1992. It thus came as no surprise that still before the book was published, President Lech Kaczyński publicly accused Wałęsa of having been an agent, while PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński quickly backed the accusations contained in the book.

National Remembrance Institute head Kurtyka has dismissed accusations that the new book is politically motivated. The book's claims regarding what Wałęsa did in the early 1970s "changes nothing in the assessment of Lech Wałęsa's [later] Solidarity leadership," Kurtyka said, adding that "in its research, the National Remembrance Institute is primarily guided by the gravity of the subject, seeking to make sure this particular historical problem gets discussed and shown from different angles. The current state of the political debate is of secondary importance to the institute, although we realize nothing happens in a public void."

At the same time, PiS denies that its criticism of Wałęsa is linked to earlier declarations by Law and Justice leaders, who have maintained that political life during the first two decades after the collapse of communism was manipulated by the former, but still influential, communist-era security services.

A few days from the publication of the book, reports emerged that the coalition government comprising the PO and the Polish People's Party (PSL) was planning to change the law regulating the work of the National Remembrance Institute. Reports said the government had struck an agreement with the opposition SLD to have a better chance of overturning the president's expected veto of the law change. "We want to tighten up the regulations to prevent any further publications intended as a form of public lynching," Stanisław Żelichowski, the head of the PSL caucus, said June 24.

The proposals to alter the guidelines according to which the National Remembrance Institute carries out research were fiercely attacked by PiS politicians, who described them as "a disgrace" and said they would battle to prevent changes in the way the Institute works. But PO caucus head Zbigniew Chlebowski defused tension by saying that no work was under way to change the legal status of the National Remembrance Institute, and that PO had no intention of launching such changes.

The public is also split over the Wałęsa controversy. According to an SMG/KRC agency poll, 43 percent of Polish citizens believe the former president never collaborated with the security services in the 1970s, while 26 percent of respondents believed he had. A total of 31 percent replied they did not know or that it was hard to say what the truth was. Meanwhile, 38 percent of respondents believed Wałęsa erased traces of his past when he was president. Another 38 percent disagreed, while "I don't know" and "hard to say" accounted for 24 percent of answers. Fifty percent of respondents are not planning to read the controversial book on Wałęsa, while 46 percent say they will read it.

W.Ż.

"This changes nothing in the assessment of Lech Wałęsa's Solidarity leadership."
National Remembrance Institute head Janusz Kurtyka
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