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Charges of Communist-Era Spying Dog Polish Presidential Candidates

August 05, 2000|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WARSAW — A much-criticized law designed to expose Communist-era collaborators with the secret police has ensnared both President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former President Lech Walesa in special court hearings to judge whether they were spies.

Both men--who are among 12 candidates in a presidential election set for Oct. 8--vehemently deny the allegations, and in both cases, evidence so far made public appears flimsy.

Hearings are scheduled for both men next week. If either is found guilty, he would be required to drop out of the presidential race.

Many here find it particularly distasteful--and ironic--that the so-called "vetting" law is being wielded against these two men.

Walesa's heroism in fighting communism as leader of the Solidarity trade union is unchallenged. Kwasniewski, a smooth politician with an ingratiating manner, was a top Communist official in the late 1980s and is now seen as an advocate of democracy and capitalism. Thus, even if they had been pressured at some point into some kind of cooperation with the police, such a fact would not change their historical roles.

The accusations against Walesa were first aired in 1992 by Antoni Macierewicz, a former Solidarity activist and onetime friend of Walesa. At the time, Macierewicz was interior minister in a Solidarity-led government, and he based the charges on materials found in police files. He is a witness against Walesa in the current case.

Walesa lamented during a break in a hearing Wednesday that Macierewicz "believes more in evidence stemming from secret-police operations than in the leader who caused everything that happened afterward."

Macierewicz countered, "To me, truth and justice are of the utmost importance."

In Walesa's case, evidence consists primarily of old photocopies of documents that appear to carry his signature. The judge hearing his case noted in court Wednesday that it is quite easy to use a photocopier to forge a document.

"All the documents we are dealing with are photocopies," the judge said, adding that police experts found "no traces of a purposeful forgery, but it cannot be excluded."

It isn't difficult to imagine that in the 1970s or '80s, when Walesa was a dissident shipyard worker in Gdansk, secret police might have created documents falsely implicating him as an informer, to be used to discredit him.

In Kwasniewski's case, the key allegation is that he was an informer code-named "Alek," who, according to Polish media reports, is identified in secret-police files as a journalist at the Zycie Warsawy newspaper in the mid-1980s. Kwasniewski at the time worked as an editor at a different newspaper.

"I'm afraid this is a politically motivated affair," Kwasniewski said after the charge surfaced.

Under the vetting law, which went into effect in late 1998, politicians, judges, prosecutors and lawyers--about 20,000 people--are required to file statements declaring whether they ever cooperated with the secret police. There is no punishment for admitting collaboration, but if denials are proved false in a court hearing, those who lied are banned from public office for 10 years.

Only one of the candidates in this year's presidential campaign has admitted to helping the secret police: former Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski, who said he was forced to supply economic information when posted to the United States in the 1970s.

A special parliamentary committee rebuked the national Office for State Security for waiting until last month to reveal the data on Kwasniewski despite having possession of it much earlier.

The timing of the charges against Walesa and Kwasniewski has fueled public suspicion that the allegations are motivated at least in part by a desire to influence the presidential campaign. Some also see the cases as reflecting a poorly thought out law.

Kwasniewski enjoyed about 70% support in polls taken before the spying allegation surfaced, with Olechowski, an independent liberal, second at 10%. Most analysts still see Kwasniewski as virtually unbeatable for reelection.

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