Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Witch Hunt Polarizes Polish Politics

Right-wingers accuse former Solidarity leaders of collaboration and of neo-communism

THE grueling process of forming Poland's fourth post-Communist government in three years is being overshadowed by fallout from an anti-communist witch hunt that has reached the highest levels. Right-wing supporters of ousted Prime Minister Jan Olszewski claim President Lech Walesa and other senior officials are part of a neo-communist conspiracy endangering the country.

Waldemar Pawlak, the leader of the Polish Peasants Party, was named by President Lech Walesa June 5 to replace Mr. Olszewski as Prime Minister, but he has not yet been able to put together a governing coalition.

About these ads

But public debate on street corners, in newspapers, in farmhouse kitchens, and in political circles around the country has centered less on Pawlak's chances than on intense speculation over uncorroborated suspicions, charges, and counter-charges launched by Olszewski's supporters that top officials from Walesa on down may have been secret police informers under the old Communist regime.

"The atmosphere is poisonous," says a Western observer. "...Olszewski believes in de-communization. But I don't think he realizes what he let loose."

The "de-communization" issue boiled over on June 4, when Olszewski's Interior Minister, Antoni Macierewicz presented parliament with a confidential list of 62 current officials alleged to have been secret police collaborators under the former Communist regime. Walesa branded the move as an attempt by Olszewski to use political blackmail to stay in power, and it was the immediate trigger that prompted parliament's dismissal of the Olszewski government that night.

On Saturday, Poland's Roman Catholic Church called for dismissal from public posts of anyone who had "harmed others" or worked "to the detriment of the public good" during Communist rule. The church also emphasized that the search for justice "must not be swayed by hatred, vengeance or slander." Accused rebut

The list of names has not officially been made public, though several people whose names were on it - including both Walesa and Parliament Speaker Wieslaw Chrzanowski - stepped forward to proclaim their innocence, citing inaccuracies in the documentation and stressing the dubious nature of the accusations.

For weeks, though, political debate has been dominated by unsubstantiated insinuations of "red-baiting" and accusations that the opponents of Olszewski and Mr. Macierewicz are trying to bring back communist rule.

"These events revealed we have two political blocs in Poland: one [around Olszewski] that is for independence and patriotism, and one ... aims to halt democratic reforms and consolidate the neo-communist system," said Parliament deputy Andrezej Anusz, a supporter of Olszewski.

About these ads

Olszewski himself told the right-wing newspaper Nowy Swiat that "it seems like the communists are returning to power." `Witch hunt' charged

Olszewski's opponents in turn charge that the current "de-communization" has turned into a witch hunt with the political aim of splitting the country and discrediting the Solidarity leaders who negotiated a peaceful power transfer with the Communists, allowing Poland's first post-Communist government in 1989.

"What [the rightists] are trying to do is to divide the country into the `patriots' and `traitors'," said a Polish intellectual close to the anti-Olszewski camp - a man who throughout the 1980s was one of Poland's most dedicated, outspoken human rights lawyers.

"What happened to Olszewski the human rights lawyer?" asks a Western observer. "What happened to his perception of due process?"

There was also concern among observers that uncorroborated allegations of collaboration may alone be enough to sow distrust in the minds of ordinary people.

"They say Walesa was a secret police agent," said a farmer in a village near Krakow, who admitted he was dubious about the president's past even after Walesa denied the allegations.

Walesa's choice of Pawlak as prime minister-designate has also fueled rightist attacks. Unlike all other non-communist parties - both pro-and anti-Olszewski - Pawlak's Peasant's Party did not spring from the Solidarity movement. Instead, it is the direct heir of the official Peasant's Party that operated in collaboration with the Communists. In choosing Pawlak, rightists say, Walesa has betrayed Solidarity.

Other commentators go further. They say that the current political crisis, with the intense charges and counter charges hurled among politicians who once worked together as part of Solidarity to defeat Communism, spells the death of Solidarity. Common enemy lacking

"Communism was the enemy," said an architect who worked closely with Solidarity. "Once that is gone everyone starts looking for new enemies," wrote editorialist Slawomir Majmon in the English language weekly, the Warsaw Voice. "The post-Solidarity camp has compromised itself thoroughly through constant quarrels and retribution, and that's why a new-generation politician who had nothing in common with Solidarity had to become the new prime minister.

"... Ordinary people are faced with sad questions: Why has blindness befallen people who used to fight together for a common cause? Why does something that began in exultation end with the triumph of mediocrity? And why do freedom fighters relinquish responsibility so easily, convinced that a triumph over Communism bestowed them for centuries to come with the power of decreeing the truth?"

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.