Exposés seem to come thick and fast these days, not least when communist collaboration is on the agenda. For better or worse, Poles from all walks of life – artists, workers, aristocrats, men of the cloth – have all been unmasked as informants in recent years.
Lech Walesa, the hero of Solidarity, has had mud thrown at him before. In fact, he was cleared in court of any allegations of collaboration some eight years ago. So why the debate now? Well, the release of a new book has raised the ghost of Walesa’s alleged communist past. Given that the publisher of that book is the Institute of National Remembrance – effectively an official voice of the state – the allegations have whipped up a whirlwind of controversy. The central premise is that in the early 70s – several years prior to the Solidarity surge – Walesa, codenamed Bolek, informed on fellow dissidents and that he later covered this up to protect his new-found status as a hero of Polish independence. If this is true, was Walesa a fatally compromised man from the outset of Solidarity? Or was his a St. Paul type conversion, that of a man who made mistakes, yet who still emerged as a true – world-changing indeed – champion of freedom? Or, more simply, is Walesa just an innocent victim of political mud-slinging?
AGAINST: Two Poles have achieved worldwide acclaim in modern history: Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa. Whether the latter deserves this venerable position alongside His Holiness has been a matter of growing controversy in Poland over the years. People in the West seem to know a certain image of Walesa: the short, outspoken electrician from Gdansk shipyard, the leader of the Solidarity movement who personally overthrew communist rule, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the ex-President of Poland with his trademark droopy walrus moustache. Is that all? Well, no. Here we all know another side of our national hero.
Every Pole knows of the serious accusations that Walesa was an informer for the communist secret police, the notorious SB, under the codename “Bolek,” and that he became one as early as 1970. As a paid agent, he allegedly wrote reports on his fellow oppositionists, as a result of which men were harassed and persecuted. Two historians have finally written a credible account of this. Many might find this hard to believe, so let?s take a closer look at Walesa’s actions in the last 20 years. As we shall see, he was a compromised liability from the word go.
In 1988 Walesa held secret meetings with notorious Minister of Internal Affairs general Czeslaw Kiszczak. The result of that conspiracy was the Polish Round Table Agreement of 1989. It was an event viewed by many patriotic and politically aware Poles as an act of treason, comparable only to the Targowica Confederation, which precipitated the Second Partition of Poland in 1792. In the aftermath of the Round Table the communists seemingly gave power to the democratic opposition. In fact, they established themselves in business and financial circles, continuing to influence political life here to the present day. Communist crimes were swept under the carpet. Would the architects of martial law have had such an easy ride had Walesa not had a skeleton in his closet?
Next comes Walesa’s presidency: a disaster. Now the self-made icon settles himself in the Presidential Palace (which, by funny coincidence, was a seat of the Russian Viceroy of occupied Poland in the 19th century). Members of the U.S. Congress stood in awe listening to his memorable speech (written and translated by someone else), but the Poles were blushing listening to his daily routine of wisecracks and dumb jokes in crooked Polish. While this working-class wag stayed at Windsor Castle, he made public comments that the bed was so big, he couldn’t find his wife. Well, if he’d been just a clown of a president, no matter. The United States also had presidents like Gerald Ford, who, according to his own friends, “was a nice fella, but played too much football with no helmet on.” Walesa was a dangerous clown though. He declared “war at the top” on his fellow Solidarity members. He overthrew Jan Olszewski’s government in 1992, which had attempted to put communist collaborators on trial. He placed former high-ranking SB officers in top positions in the newly-founded secret services. His closest adviser was his former chauffeur, himself an ex-SB sleuth. In the meantime, Walesa was borrowing his own secret police file from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and returning it with pages missing.
Today, the 65-year old still travels giving lectures worldwide, receiving standing ovations and six-figure paychecks. This son of peasant farmers resides in a millionaire’s mansion, while his former colleagues from the shipyard – who always claimed that he was a police informer – live on beggarly pensions. And he still denies any double-dealing.
General knowledge of communism and Soviet misdeeds in Eastern Europe is rather poor in the Western World. The Moscow propaganda was so efficient, that many Western intellectuals were lured by communist ideas. Some, although not communists themselves, became avid supporters of the sinister regime, including another Noble Prize winner, eminent but not too bright playwright George Bernard Shaw.
Thanks to bold historians, who continue to dig into our nation’s troubled and obscure past – despite fierce attacks from newspapers and private TV networks that are sponsored by the ex-communist establishment – we may finally deliver the Holy Father from his troublesome companion in history. We may present to the general public the true image of Lech Walesa a.k.a. “Bolek”: an electrician turned erratic politician with a red chain around his neck.
FOR: The appalling accusation does not disgrace our friend Walesa, but rather those who have the audacity to point the finger.
Walesa and the Security Services is out in bookstores and flying off of the shelves – nothing like a dirty scandal on a leading figure to grab the attention of Poles. The authors of the controversial publication, two respected historians of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), are linked to the conservative party led by President Lech Kaczynski and his brother. The head of the IPN was summoned to the Presidential Palace after Walesa announced he would search for ways to impeach President Kaczynski.
Containing convincing evidence, the book claims that the anti-communist icon was an informer between 1970 and 1976 and that during his presidency, he borrowed his police file and returned it with pages missing. However, Walesa maintains that the documents do not prove the allegations as they had been fabricated by the SB security service, and he denies having destroyed any official papers about his past.
The SB had its motives. According to Roger Boyes, author of the Walesa biography titled The Naked President, “the short, fast-talking electrician was a profound embarrassment for the regime in the 1980s, largely because he embodied the romantic idea in the West that the Soviet empire could be brought to its knees by a simple worker.”
This is not the first time that Walesa has faced charges of working with the communist special services. The former head of state has successfully contested that he was Bolek and was already cleared of spy charges in 2000, after a Polish court found that the SB forged documents in his file in an effort to prevent him receiving the Nobel Prize in 1983 and to harm his close relationship with Pope John Paul II.
Old allegations have been refashioned into a new, more publicised and even more disturbing version. In no way can this slanderous attack be deemed as a step forward for Poland. More worryingly, it suggests that the leading politicians and historians of Poland have nothing better to do than conjure up ways to defame a national hero.
It is also not the first time that the Kaczynski brothers have used accusations of Communist collaboration to distract from matters of real importance.
Surely any wrongful actions that Walesa may have taken over thirty years ago are irrelevant, considering how much good he has achieved since. Lech Walesa, with no further education beyond elementary school, led a revolution that defeated communism. To this day, he symbolises the strength and courage of Poland in its fight against communist rule. Poles should treat him with respect and gratitude by totally rejecting such ill-judged allegations.
It?s always easier to dig up dirt on someone, and sadly, the whole affair creates disbelief that Polish Solidarity ever took place. It’s time to give the name-calling a rest and start showing consideration for someone who was prepared to risk his life for the cause of freedom.