Better Late Than Never: Retarded De-communization in Poland

“In a land of shadows where the state has all the power and all the secrets and its citizens have neither, simple survival can require at least a dialogue, if not a deal, with the devil. The lines separating prudence from cowardice, silence from acquiescence and compromise from collaboration can easily become blurred. When lies are the currency of statesmen, half-truths seem almost virtuous.” 
“The Gazette”, Montreal, Canada, January 9, 2007

  Stanislaw Wielgus 

A fragment of the editorial from a Canadian paper, entitled “The Moral Bankruptcy of Totalitarian regimes”, commenting the fall of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus in Poland, a proven secret informant and agent of the former communist political police and intelligence, clearly points to the core of the problem: what is the ultimate limit of a “dialogue” with a totalitarian state and how far a man can go in the “intercourse” with the secret services of such a state? Archbishop Wielgus, a prominent theologian and historian of the Catholic Church to be promoted by the pope to the office of archbishop metropolitan of Warsaw, overstepped the limit of compromise. His fault was to deny an involvement with the then communist special services almost to the last moment before his official inauguration on Sunday, January 7, 2007. A massive media criticism of archbishop’s behavior led to an unprecedented last-minute decision of Benedict XVI to “ask” the prelate to step down. The dramatic scenes from the metropolitan St. John’s Cathedral and the adjacent streets of the Old Town in Warsaw filled with protesting faithful circulated the globe in media reports and photos, bearing witness to a deplorable situation in the Church and in the post-communist Poland. In its 18th year after the peaceful regime-change, the country of Solidarity and its people didn’t cope with the main problem: how to overcome the consequences of the communist past.
A British historian, Timothy Garton Ash, who knows Poland and speaks Polish, wrote in his recent article (Los Angeles Times, January 11): “The Wielgus affair illustrates the importance of a timely, scrupulous, fair and comprehensive uncovering of the dictatorial past, in all its complexity. After all, the truth will out in the end. Would it have been better if, 50 years from now, Polish Catholics had discovered from the long-sealed archives that their beloved archbishop had been supping with the communist devil?”
The truth will come out anyhow, but the price of hiding the secrets of the communist past might become too high for a nation, like Poland, which had been the cradle of Solidarity, a popular opposition movement that changed the fate of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s.

The Round Table Agreements’ Tangle

The collapse of the communist regime in Poland, following the half-free general elections on June 4, 1989, had been orchestrated by long-lasting secret and open talks between the representatives of the regime and of the Solidarity-led political opposition in 1988 and 1989. These talks resulted in Round Table Agreements, being a hard-hammered compromise between the communists and the freedom-loving representatives of the Polish people. The compromise enabled a peaceful transition of power to the democratic opposition. But its price was a number of privileges, granted for the stepping down functionaries of the old regime.

Wojciech Jaruzelski  

Enough to remember that the communists had an assured representation in the Parliament (The Sejm) and that the first elected President of Poland was General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the man who had crushed the Solidarity movement by a military coup d’etat in December 1981 and the martial law. The Round Table Agreements of 1989 were the safeguards, preventing a resurge of an orthodox communist regime, but at the same time these agreements protected hundreds of thousand of former communist functionaries and left the economic power mainly in their hands. No de-communization of any sort was possible then. The secret services had been officially dissolved in 1990 but many officers from the political police (SB – Security Service) and the communist intelligence passed through the inspection process (“lustration”) and found jobs in the new secret services (like UOP – The Office for the Protection of State) or in the reformed Police. The military security, counter-intelligence and intelligence (renamed WSI – the Military Information Services) were left intact, without any verification process. These services have been liquidated only in 2006. Yet, the most dangerous hangover from the communist era was the information about a quarter of a million or more secret collaborators, informants and agents of the political police and the intelligence. Their names, code names and data on their activities were kept secret in the archives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. Their transfer to the newly formed state-protection services in 1990 did not change anything: the archives remained tightly closed, until the documentation was moved to a special custodian institution, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). The IPN, modeled according to the Israeli Yad Vashem and the Gauck Institute in Germany, started its activities on July 1, 2000. The documentation of the former communist secret services was gradually transferred to the IPN. But not complete. In 1989-1990 the communist services destroyed a large part of the most important and most sensitive documentation. The archives of the IPN are not complete, but fortunately some documents about the informants (TW) and agents have been microfilmed, and can be retrieved. Nobody but the highest chiefs of the former services know, how much of the most important documentation, including the files of Polish and foreign intelligence agents, has been transferred to Moscow, where they remain inaccessible for the Polish historians and researchers. The main danger emanating from these secret archives is a possibility to blackmail politicians, MPs, state officials, businessmen, scientists, journalists, lawyers, priests and other important people by the use of secret documentation about their communist past. This has been facilitated by the illegal distribution of some documents to former officers of the communist secret services, in 1989 and the early 1990s.
The Round Table Agreements of 1989 draw a sharp criticism from the right side of the Polish political scene. Some politicians, including President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, openly voice their condemnation of the Agreements and announce full nullification of their consequences. The most extreme parties speak about a “national treason” of the Round Table Talks, and about a “conspiracy” bounding the former communist leaders and the leaders of the former left-wing democratic opposition (people like Adam Michnik and his KOR opposition movement).

The agony of de-communization

There was almost none legally introduced de-communization, after 1989. It was virtually prevented by the Round Table Agreements and by the decomposition and weakness of the post-Solidarity political class. An attempt to disclose the secret communist files and to name the agents and informants, clumsily made by a right-wing government of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski (his Minister of Interior, Antoni Macierewicz, disclosed an unverified “list of agents”), ended by the dismissal of this government, caused by President Lech Walesa in 1992. As a political and social pressure on “lustration” of the Polish political class continued, a so called Lustration Law was passed in the Parliament, but only in April 1997, after many previous failed attempts. The process of the lustration began only in 1999. People elected or nominated for public offices had to submit “Lustration Declarations”, describing their eventual links to the communist secret services in the past. In case of a doubt about the veracity of such declaration, its author could be put on trial in the Lustration Tribunal. “Lustration liars”, proven their guilt in the court, could be excluded from performing public offices.
But this selective system of control didn’t work properly. It could not eliminate all former communist functionaries and also former agents from holding state and political (party) offices, or from the representation in the Parliament (The Sejm and the Senate). The office-holders in the Catholic Church and other churches were not subject to the lustration process. It meant that a great majority of the former agents and informants of the communist political police (SB) and the intelligence could pass through the eye of the needle. The process of de-communization in Poland, already retarded by the consequences of the 1989 Round Table Agreements, seemed to be in the state of agony. But recently it was suddenly revived.

A “Wildstein’s List” and a “Wild lustration”

  Bronislaw Wildstein

In January of 2005 a staff member of Rzeczpospolita daily and a former opposition activist, Mr. Bronislaw Wildstein, was sacked from his job for allegedly stealing the IPN a list of 240 thousand names of former agents and informants of the communist secret services. The later investigation didn’t prove how this archive list got out from the computers of the Institute of National Remembrance, but it was multiplied in thousands of copies in the Internet. Mr. Wildstein became a very popular person, and this purported “theft” revived the problem of the former communist agents, whose names and registration numbers were flying all over the world on the Web. Asked about his purpose, Mr. Wildstein told the media he wanted to speed up the slow pace of the lustration and de-communization process. And he was right on the money.
An unwanted side-effect of the release of this list of names, was a sort of a “wild lustration” panic: people were exchanging mutual accusations, and it came out very soon that the “Wildstein’s List”, reduced to 162 617 names accounted for, contained not only the names of true informants and agents but also the names of victims of the special services, of the people, who had been registered as “personal information sources” (OZI) and were often members of the former political opposition. The IPN almost lost its credibility but the deliberate act performed by Bronislaw Wildstein (or by somebody who helped him to get this list out) resulted in a revived all-country discussion about the need for de-communization. This discussion also helped Brothers Kaczynski and their political party (PiS – Law and Justice) to win the elections to the Parliament and the Presidential Elections in Fall of 2005. Their campaign included such vital issues as to end with the rule of the post-communists and their agents and to clean Poland of the negative influence of the former secret services and their informants and agents, also those remaining in the Polish Catholic Church and in other congregations.

The invigilation of the Church

In Autumn of 1986, when I was still kept in a special ward of the Barczewo Prison in Northern Poland, I met there an ex-colonel of the Polish security police (Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa – SB), Adam Pietruszka. Mr. Pietruszka earned a sentence of 25 years for his non-direct participation in the brutal murder of a Solidarity chaplain, Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, a martyr-priest soon to become a new saint. The ex-colonel of the SB was deputy chief of the notorious 4th Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MSW), tasked with the fight against the Catholic Church. In 1989, his sentence was already reduced to 15 years in jail (in all he then served only 10) and he was sure he would be freed soon and still would play a vital role in the post-communist Polish state. He pleaded non-guilty, blaming the generals Jaruzelski and Kiszczak for their alleged complicity in the murder of the rebellious priest, in 1984. He also told me that many high-ranking prelates of the Polish Church offered help to him and to his family.

Adam Pietruszka  

In 1989, I wondered why? But now, after almost 18 years and the disclosure of many secret files of the SB and of the communist intelligence services, I know that ex- Colonel Pietruszka could count on the help of some priests and even bishops, whom he, or his subordinates, had recruited as secret informants (tajny wspolpracownik – TW) or agents of the 4th Department. Adam Pietruszka, who enjoys a quiet life of a well-gratified pensioner now (allegedly he receives a special state pension 4-times higher than an average retirement pay in Poland), also served as a “diplomat” in Italy, taking care of some informants and agents the Polish communists had planted in the Vatican City or near by. He would never disclose, in 1989 and also now, whom he had recruited from the Polish Catholic Church and how the 4th Department coordinated their anti-Church work with the Soviet KGB. But the recent discoveries in the secret files, collected in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance, reveal that Colonel Adam Pietruszka personally supervised at last two important members of the Church hierarchy in Poland, turned informants. One of them was Rev. Michal Czajkowski (a secret informant, a.k.a. “Jankowski”), a well known Professor of the Academy of Catholic Theology (ATK) in Warsaw and a prominent author. Rev. Czajkowski admitted to his services rendered to the SB, after a series of publications based on his files. So far, he was the only one, who publicly asked for pardon and withdrew from the public life. He also agreed that a book be written, based on his confession of guilt and his secret activities. According to a last week’s publication in an acknowledged Polish weekly Wprost (“Agent Ignacy” by Tadeusz Witkowski), Colonel Adam Pietruszka was also involved in the case of a high-ranking agent (a.k.a. “Ignacy”), who was the late Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were two prelates of the same family name “Dabrowski” in the Secretariat of the Polish Episcopate: Archbishop Bronislaw Dabrowski, the very merited Secretary of the Episcopate and his deputy, Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski, who had been recruited by an officer of the 4th Department on December 10, 1962, before his departure to Rome for studies of musicology at the Papal Gregorianum University. He acted as a communist secret agent in Italy from 1963 to 1970, supplying information about The Vaticanum II and other events. Then he returned to Poland and worked in the Secretariat of the Episcopate. Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski must have been a very important communist agent, as he was a close aide to Cardinal Josef Glemp and he took part in almost all confidential negotiations between Solidarity (Lech Walesa) and the communist authorities (General Wojciech Jaruzelski), with Primate Jozef Glemp and Abp Bronislaw Dabrowski and in many official trips abroad, also to meet the pope in the Vatican. In 1988-1989, he was deeply involved in the negotiations, which led to the Round Table Talks and the regime change in Poland. At the beginning of the 1990s, Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski became a diocese head in Gniezno and, as a special envoy of the Church, he also he traveled to the Soviet Russia, taking care of the Polish Catholics there. His sudden death in a car crash, on the road from Gniezno to Warsaw, on the 14th of February 1991, is still an unsolved mystery. Some people believe that the Soviet KGB was instrumental in it.
Colonel Adam Pietruszka may also have known about Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus’ role as an informant of the SB (4th Department’s Section) in Lublin, where he was Professor and then President of the Lublin Catholic University, and about his services rendered abroad, in Germany and in other countries, to the Polish communist intelligence (the 1st Department of the Ministry of Interior).
I have not met the former SB colonel, Adam Pietruszka, since our last meetings in the Barczewo Prison in 1989, though I spoke to his wife, Roza, after my release from jail in February 1990. I know from several sources, also from my friend – Professor Jozef Szaniawski (the biographer of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, the late top CIA spy in Poland), that Adam Pietruszka tried to accuse the communist top generals Jaruzelski and Kiszczak of an alleged directing of the operation to “get rid” of Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, but he failed to prove their role in the 1984 assassination of the Solidarity chaplain. When I asked General Jaruzelski about this, during one of my meetings with him in the late 1990s or early 2000s, he – of course – denied any participation in the crime, hinting that the brutal murder of Rev. Popieluszko could be set by Polish hardliners, backed by the KGB, to oust him from his state and communist party offices.
Will Adam Pietruszka open up and talk about his agents in the Catholic Church? I doubt, because he won’t take the high risk of revealing top secret operations of the communist secret police and intelligence, directed against the Polish Church and against the late pope, John Paul II.

A breakthrough? Perhaps

A popular daily, Dziennik, published in Warsaw by a German Axel Springer Media Corporation, revealed on January 9, that in 1978, still before the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as the 261 pope in Fall of the same year, the Polish secret services tried to use 12 bishops (as informants) to influence the election of a new Primate of Poland, following an expected demise of the moribund Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. The communist authorities strongly opposed an eventual choice of “Rev.Dr.Jozef Glemp” (as they wrote about him in their top secret documents in 1978), urgently trying to compromise or recruit him. But Bishop Glemp, a future Cardinal (1983) and Archbishop of Warsaw with the title of Primate of Poland (1992), was immune to all their efforts. Wprost weekly wrote in an interview with Professor Jan Zaryn, a leading historian of the Church in the IPN, that Rev. Jozef Glemp set a model of an effective resistance to the secret services. Professor Zaryn quotes Rev. Josef Glemp’s answer, given to a communist officer trying to recruit him in 1973: “You are set on breaking me down. I am set on to resist you.” Then, why Cardinal Jozef Glemp spoke in defense of a proven communist collaborator, Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, last Sunday? Probably he did so to give him a chance to survive a depressing situation and to reform himself. To pardon one’s sins is a normal function of a priest. But first the sinner must admit to his or her sins and repent. Archbishop Wielgus did that at the last moment, facing the irrefutable evidence and papal disapproval.

  Jozef Glemp and John Paul II 

The crisis in the Polish Church, evoked by the case of Archbishop Wielgus, could be overcome by more efforts to disclose the communist files and to name informants and agents. But these efforts must be civilized, and the former collaborators have to admit their guilt. A colleague of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow (Cracow) from the Theological Seminary, Rev. Janusz Bielanski (a.k.a. “Waga”) was recently dismissed, at his own request, from his post of the Dean of the Wawel Royal Castle Cathedral in Krakow, but only under pressure of the recent dramatic events, and he did not admit his guilt even after that. On January 10, Polish media informed about a research being made in the archives of the IPN into the past of another, still living, Catholic bishop, a.k.a, “Teolog” (Theologian), who was supposed to serve the communists as a secret agent for 25 years. The resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, forced by the pope, prompted both the Catholic laymen and the Church officials to pay more attention to the documents in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance, concerning priests, monks and nuns who were supposed to cooperate with the then communist secret services. There is a general hope, in spite of the opposition from a part of the Church hierarchy and laymen, that a “self-purification” of the Polish Catholic Church will be accomplished, though this process may be difficult and extended over several years.
In various periods of “People’s Poland”, the number of registered informants and agents in the Catholic Church, recruited by blackmail or voluntarily cooperating with the communist authorities, reached 10 – 15 per cent of the total number of the clergymen (including nuns). It means that there could be 2000 – 2500 thousand of clergy members, compromised by the secret services in the past. But 85 to 90 per cent of all sacerdots, monks and nuns effectively resisted the pressure. The Polish Church came out of the communist era battered but still victorious.

De-communization at last?

The recent scandal over the nomination of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus to one of the highest Church offices in Poland, and his resignation forced by the pope, evoked strong emotions not only in the Catholic Church but also in the Polish society. On one hand, there were negative emotions, expressed by a ‘mutiny’ of nationalist and conservative, sometimes anti-Semitic (in a country almost without Jews!) and xenophobic forces. A so called “Rodzina Radia Maryja” (A Family of the Radio St.Mary) had a strong influence upon the election of President Lech Kaczynski and on the conservative and Church-leaning PiS (Law and Justice) and LPR (League of Polish Families) political parties’ electoral victory and on the present coalition government, also including a populist Samoobrona (Self-defense) party. On the other hand, the shock caused by the sudden unveiling of the ignoble past of one of the highest members of the Church hierarchy and his public defense by Primate Jozef Glemp, known of his strong anti-communist stance, helped to revive the almost moribund question of the de-communization, never accomplished in the post-communist period.
The Polish media report of spontaneous admissions of guilt by former agents and informants, including some priests. The lustration process, which is still discussed in the Parliament, stepped down to the grass-roots level, and “self-purification” and public disclosure of former agents and informants occurs in many institutions and even in factories. The President passed his corrections to the new Lustration Bill to the Sejm (the lower chamber of the Parliament) and the government is preparing a draft of a new de-communization bill, which might deprive former communist functionaries of their privileges, including the very high pensions they draw from the state. Polish universities and other institutions of science, the corporations of lawyers, the associations of journalists and other professional organizations are getting rid of proven former communist collaborators.
Many people doubt whether a full and effective de-communization is still able in Poland, after almost 18 years since the regime change in 1989. Other voice a concern that a new wave of “wild lustration” might destroy the substance of the society and could harm innocent people. One thing is beyond any doubt: this is the last moment to end the post-communist period in the recent history of Poland. If this cannot be done now, it would never happen.
A British historian and writer, Timothy Garton Ash (quoted above) wrote in the conclusion of his article: “When I first traveled to Warsaw — nearly 30 years ago, when it was under communist rule — I chanced upon a monk in the church of St. Antony of Padua who led me around, pointing out memorial tablets for prisoners of war who died at Katyn in 1940 — killed, that is, by the Soviets, a fact flatly denied by official communist propaganda. I did not then speak Polish, so communication was difficult. But I found a way. Fortis est veritas, I said in Latin, et praevalebit! (Truth is strong and will prevail.) I will never forget his grin of sheer delight. It was a good motto for Poland then, and I think it’s still a good motto for Poland. And not just for Poland”.
Truth will prevail. It’s a good prognostic for Poland and for other post-communist countries, struggling against the aftermath of their difficult past.

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