Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President, and Polish national hero Lech Walesa has once again been accused of collaborating with Poland’s Communist government in the 1970s. New documents have surfaced in the home of the late General Czeslaw Kiszczak that seem to implicate Mr. Walesa.
The famous leader of Poland’s Solidarity movement, Walesa would seem to be an unlikely candidate for Communist collaboration. Yet accusations have dogged him throughout his life. Walesa has denied the most recent charges.
What will this do to Walesa’s reputation in Poland, where he is revered?
Indiana University professor Padraic Kenney told The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview that the results of the recent accusations will likely be based in the present rather than in Poland’s cultural memory.
“He’s going to become a figure who people are going to see in diametrically opposite ways, says Dr. Kenney, “based on Polish politics today, rather than the historical context of the 1980s.”
Walesa’s Solidarity party was liberal, whereas Poland’s newly elected Law and Justice (PiS) party is rightward leaning. PiS has been accused of illiberal legislation that impacts the freedom of the country’s media and constitutional court system. Reuters reports that Walesa accused the PiS party of attempting to undermine Poland’s democratic system when it was elected in October.
“This comes at a great moment for the current government,” says Kenney. Not only does it validate past claims that Walesa was a Communist collaborator, but it is also, “related to broader arguments that PiS has made that there were conspiracies of silence in order to maintain certain relationships of power in the solidarity government over the last twenty-five years.”
Walesa was first a soldier, and then a shipyard worker until the mid 1970s. After he was fired from the shipyard in 1976, Walesa began to organize non-Communist trade unions. In 1980, Walesa led a shipyard strike that sparked other strikes across Poland, advocating for workers rights. Eventually, Walesa was elected president in the early 1990s.
National Institute historian Antoni Dudek said that he believed that Walesa’s reputation would not suffer. “I don’t think it will affect greatly how Poles think of Walesa,” said Mr. Dudek. “The fact that Walesa may have had a shameful moment in the ’70s does not make his accomplishments from the ’80s any smaller.”
Walesa was first publicly accused of collaborating with the former Communist government in 1992, by Antoni Macierewicz. Macierewicz is now the defense minister for the conservative PiS government.
Although Walesa was cleared of charges by a special court in 2000, the new documents mean that he will once again face accusations of collaboration with Communist security services in the early 1970s.
The head of Poland’s National Remembrance Institute announced that the recovered security service documents included a “declaration to collaborate” signed by Walesa. He was allegedly code named “Bolek,” and received money for his services.
"In the opinion of an expert-archivist participating in the activities,” said the Institute in a statement, “the documents are authentic." There are 279 pages of documents, all together. They will likely be released in the near future.
Kenney reminds the Monitor that the mid-20th century Polish political atmosphere was a difficult one.
“The Communist era, especially the 1960s and 70s,” says Kenney, “was a grey period in the sense that in Poland, although the Communist regime was no longer imprisoning opponents at a significant scale.... Thousands to tens of thousands of people were placed into compromising situations in which the party forced people into collaborating.”
Walesa allegedly stopped being an informer in 1976. Politically, although Walesa became the leader of the upstart Solidarity movement, Kenney describes him as a “moderating force.” Some have speculated that this may be why these documents have been hidden for so long instead of being used by the Communist government as leverage.
The real question, according to Kenney, is whether or not Walesa ever intentionally hurt or lied to people at the time.
Walesa continues to fight the allegations.
“There cannot be any materials written by me,” said Walesa in a post on the Polish social media website Wykop. “If there were any, there would be no need to forge them. I will prove it in court.”