Tag Archives: Iron Curtain

Lech Wałęsa: a hero / a lesser hero / a traitor. Choose your title.

[edited June 20th, 3pm]

This is a follow up from Ian’s post just below. Read his post first, and then come back to mine.

Done? Ok. The book in qustion was not published yet. However it has already become the subject of a heated debate. Fragments were published in one of the dailies. Television presenters parade around their studios carrying massive files containing this book photocopied before publication. News channels and front pages are not talking about anything else for at least three days.

The book came as a special gift for the 25th anniversary of Wałęsa’s Nobel Peace Prize and Wałęsa’s nameday – which he is celebrating this Saturday.

Those, who criticise he book, say it is based only on Secret Service paperwork, and not cross-examined with other possible sources (like party files, interviews with communist figures, former oppositionists, diaries, etc…. and impossible sources like the vast archives in Moscow, to which there is no access). They also say that where proves cannot be found, authors make guesses and assumptions that prove their theory.

The book authors are educated historians, however some people claim their clear political agenda allows to call them politicians. They are employees of the IPN, the Institute of National Remembrance. It is an institution that was created to educate about the history of Poland, investigate unknown facts, and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against the Polish nation. Many of its employees have a clear opinion about the recent Polish history, that is corresponding with the ideas of the Kaczynski brothers (see below).

Notice that when talking about Secret Service inkjob, I am deliberately  not using the word “documents”, as in my vocabulary this word only applies to paperwork produced legitimately.

How did the Secret Service work?

Lets try to have a look at how were they getting their their paperwork. They had their own people lets call them secret servicemen. The secret servicemen were trying, among other things, to infiltrate the opposition and do all sorts of things to disturb them. And give information about what is going on to those who were holding political power. What were the ways of disturbing? First that come your mind are probably arrests, beating, threatening, detention – yes that of course was there. But also trying to make some oppositions distrust others (giving for instance false evidence of some of them conspiring with secret services), to make them quarrel, to strengthen personal dislikes among them, to make the opposition look bad in the eyes of the general public (once for instance fake recordings of Lech Wałęsa discussing how to fraud Solidarity money was broadcast in tv). Using various methods they tried to gain their agents (“tajny współpracownik”) among the oppositionists. Agents were (mostly, but not always) those who were aware that they were talking to the Secret Services. Sometimes they were worked on, someties they wanted to co-operate, sometimes they were forced to. They could be threatened, given money in exchange for information or “favour”. Agents had code names, and could also be given tasks – in order for instance to orchestrate some situation, or gain information from someone else. Apart from agents, there were also “sources of information” (who were also given codenames). People labeled in  such way in the papers may or may not have known that they have supplied Secret Services with information. They could be thinking they were talking to a friend or a co-worker. Or someone might have installed a bug in their flat. Etc.
Apart from that Secret Services are known for creating fake “agents” and “sources of information” in their paperwork, to use these papers later somehow. Information for such fake papers could come from person A, while attributed to person B. It could come from recorded telephone calls, from anecdotal knowledge, from serviceman’s imagination etc. etc. Why? For producing good and interesting results, Secret Servicemen were, for instance given more money, or promoted. Alternatively such papers could be shown to one oppositionist to make them think someone else was a traitor. Et caetera.. Secret Services were very creative. For instance special actions could be organized, like kidnapping of agents-oppositionists, just to make them more credible in the eyes of their opposition colleagues.

Apart from that some people could have been registered as candidates for agent (“tajny współpracownik”), there could be their signed pledge for cooperation in files, while they did not take any action whatsoever.

People’s attitudes towards Secret Services were different. Some were afraid and talked “with caution” trying not to spill the beans, some wanted to play their game with them and trick them… Only when in late 1970s an instruction was issued by Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers’ Defence Commitee – an intelligentsia opposition organization) people became aware they shouldn’t talk with Secret Services at all, and shouldn’t sign anything.

Credibility of Secret Service files is questionable, and it is difficult to say what is fake and what is based on facts. Many files were destroyed or hidden in various moments in time: some most likely during the times of transition in 1989-1990.

Basic claims in the book

The book reportedly claims that Lech Wałęsa was giving information to the Secret Services in the early 1970s, as “tajny współpracownik” – agent. He was not a known figure back then, he was an ordinary person, taking part in opposition demonstration in Gdańsk and engaging in the movement. The Secret serviceman whose report is in the file, writes that he has paid “Bolek” 13000 złotys. However there are no receipts. Nothing signed by Wałęsa, nothing hand-written at all.

And then, when Wałęsa became president he requested to view his file. When the files were reopened during the presidency of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, it turned out several hundred pages were missing.

However the index is still there, it is therefore known what is missing. And these are typed reports of this agent “Bolek” – of being whom Wałęsa is being accused. Among the missing papers there are no signed or handwritten papers or receipts. Therefore the material missing would only be handy for cross-examination with other sources.
It is not certain when the pages were taken away and who did it. Pages were not checked when the file was being delivered to Wałęsa, and Wałęsa reportedly did not check them either.

What does Wałęsa say?

Wałęsa says that if had done what thay say he did, he would have said long time ago. He denies any involvement with Secret Services. He claims he never gave them any information, never gave in his colleagues. He claims he was not important enough then for the Secret Services wanting him for an agent. He is very angry, and thretens to sue the authors of the book. He says he did view his file during his presidency, however he did no remove anything from there. He wanted to check whether the files contain any materials from his and his wives sexual lives.

What do others say?

Other oppositionsts are divided. Some of them, who believe in the vision 2, believe these accusatins are true. Other’s don’t, and are talking about how the reality of the time is difficult to explain.

What is the political context?

What the book does is to try and put Wałęsa in a certain context, of an alternative interpretation of Polish history and current Polish affairs.

The history most people know looks like this: Solidarność fought our freedom. And thanks to the Round Table Compromise between Solidarność and communist government Poland was able to enter the path to independence and democracy. It also opened the possibility for democratic change in other countries from the Eastern Bloc. And this was one of the greatest moments in Polish history.

The alternative version of history (let’s call it version 2) has it that Wałęsa and Solidarność were orchestrated by the Secret Services, the Round Table Talks were the moment when Polish nation was betrayed. That the elite of Solidarność betrayed the ideals of the workers, and, conspiring with the communists, sold Poland. Sold the companies and factories, the market, the people as work-force. To the foreign capital, to foreign banks… Arranging the new reality in such a way, that post-communists (incl. Secret Servicemen), intelligentsia and elites are well-off, while workers are poor and disrespeted. Elites did not care for them.
Ian in his previous post rightly points that Kaczynski brothers and their party, who also have a deep personal dislike for Wałęsa, strongly believe in the second version (although Lech Kaczynski took part in the Round Table Talks himself).
There is also a claim, that Wałęsa’s policies, which are interpreted as againt lustration, during his presidency, were because of his problems with his own past.

The book is a supporting the version 2, reportedly being such an interpretation of certain facts from Lech Wałęsa’s past (and assumptions of Wałęsas 1970s agentship) to make the version 2 work well together.Some of those who prefer this version believe that Wałęsa is controlled by ex-Secret Servicemen until this day.

What is the general context?

What I would like people to remember from this story is not the fate of Wałęsa, who EVEN IF was broken by the Secret Services was also a victim. A victim of Police state, a victim of Secret Services who imposed themselves on people’s lives, who destroyed people, whowere paid by the state to disorganise, to plant distrust…

Wałęsa is still a great figure in Polish history, he was chosen by workers as their representative. In the 1980s had the strength and courage to stand up. He was a real leader, he had the skills, he had the talk, he had the charisma.

Epilogue

So was Wałęsa or was he not an agent? Did he or did he not remove his papers from the file? That depends on what you want to believe. It can’t be proven that he is guilty. It can’t be proven he is not guilty. Do you prefer to assume innocence or guilt?

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See a Polish news report with Lech Wałęsa (youtube).
Have a look at other news from Poland.

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A Guide To Songs About Poland, Heavily YouTube Loaded

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There was a time I envied Hungary a bit of a lot:

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Jethro Tull, my band #1 to take to an inhabited tropical island (or wherever my pension is going to take me) gave out a song “Budapest”. Before the ultimate tearing the Iron Curtain off and away, and today, too, to a certain extent, the national pride of Poland had longed for any honourable mentions in Western production. So that we’d know the civilised world knows we’re not a Russian colony with no history or ambitions.

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We would idolise people feeding our starving egos – like Marino Marini, a medium-popular Italian songster with a one-timer in heavily-accented Polish (but damn, the song is so sentimentally kitsch it’s beautiful):

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Or like Classix Nouveaux. (They’ll never never come out of my mobile). The problem with bands like CN was they would requite the love Poles felt for them — but were not recognised too worldly.

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And Poles would probably remind an English or German foreigner some internationally famous tunes may be of Polish origin.

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Or that Polish Roman Polański directed a movie about Polish Władysław Szpilman playing Polish Fryderyk Szopen. If music should not be enough:

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Or that Gazebo would sing “I like Chopin” [but did he mean Chopin vodka?].

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Or that Midnight Oil sing about Kościuszko, though Aussies misspell and mispronounce him and often think he’s just a mount.

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Or we would speak of Charles Bronson, who was Polish (oh really?), and a harmonica virtuoso.

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Or we would be happy Maidens want us to play pray with them:

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Or that they visit our airports.

That they visit our cities.

That they play our football.

That they see our people.

That they attend our weddings.

So that they could say “Na zdrowie”:

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Or that U2 made a Solidarnosc-inspired song (for which Poles would pay back waving their shirts the other time).

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Or Kim Wilde? Long before she was covered in Cambodia by Apoptygma Berzerk, Polish “affectionate people” had covered her with flowers and kisses and kisses and improvised dancing, live, probably to thank her she came to us capable of saying “Cześć” or “Dziękuję”:

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Hey, we even liked strangers when their admiration came through imitation. For example: Vox, the first Polish boys-will-be-boys-band, singing about aloha-sunny-banana way of life when it was grey and communist outside. The song has been kicking arse, amen. And it still kicks, even if in a Czech remake meant for a TV commercial.

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Our hearts soar when someone such as Eddie Vedder speaks Polish (even if it’s read, and it’s B16 Polish more than Polish Polish).

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Yes, our depression could be low.

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So, what more?

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This premiere-league metal musician took Danzig for his alias. (And Danzig is German for Gdańsk. Hurrah!)

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And then there’s Christopher Poland. (What a nice surname!)

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Any common denominator? Considering Chris got himself into metal albums, and that I found heavy bands like these Danes, it seems the natural way you would musically relate to Poland would be loud and clearly hard.

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Type O Negative is a first class metal band, and its core-man is Peter Steele, born Ratajczyk. Just when one could boast his Polish surname, one would learn Peter sings about faeces, or women that cheat on him, that he posed for Playgirl, that he was clinically treated for depression, or that he converted from atheism to Catholicism. Let’s be confused: is it good PR, or not?

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There are exports, too (to boost up our pride aware of them admiring our guys).

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Vader – the best (selling) thing in music from Poland (*).
I still recall the thrill of the time I saw
the first Polish words on MTVfirst Polish words on MTV, a Polish ballet dancer, a Polish power plant, lots of first class loudness in their video. On the other hand, Vader is not a Polish name, the band IS good (while goodness is international) and singing in English. [And how! Uttering loud lines “We await the silent empire” and “We do believe in silence” is clear irony and wit, and they will discuss stuff like for-snobs-only Pynchonisms, with unprecedented speed (try to say “You’d better never antagonize the horn” in 0.8 second).]

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(*) Since that etude thing Chopin wrote. Yes, that borrowing from a prelude by Birkin. The lending to Beyond The Sea. Yes, the song in American…Or’s it English?…French?…Or Corsican French?…Or French-English on Japanese tv? — It’s all one, anyway.
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Anyway. Jethro Tull went on with “Budapest” for 10 minutes long and more. This could hurt the national pride of a non-Hungarian. Despite the fact Poles and Hungarians have been considered “brethren”. (We don’t speak our brother’s language, we don’t see one another too often, we hardly shared borders. Yes, warm feelings are feasible.)

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Granted, Jethro Tull mentions Poland alright (“the beat of distant Africa or a Polish factory town”) but that’s not quite what I’d expect. I mean — where’s a song entitled “Warsaw”?

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Well, I’ll tell you where.

Joy Division.
Porcupine Tree.
David Bowie (with Brian Eno).

Plus Tangerine Dream (with Poland) ?
Plus Niemen in French?

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Not often a place earns a Babylonian god’s song with German title, English words, Swedish voice.
Not always a madam’s cul in that place gets a mention in a French song, Belgian voice, first verse.
Not bad. Not bad at all.

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PS But now I am going to listen to Laibach. Whose “words are for you, Poland”, says the third sentence, and the beginning rings the bell in its unmistakenly Polish way.

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I can’t dance, I can’t sing.

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