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Krzysztof Wyszkowski

Accusations of a secret betrayal

In Poland, accusations of a secret betrayal

Symbol of Solidaritydenies collaborating with Communists

By Richard Bernstein

Published: FRIDAY, JANUARY 14, 2005

WARSAW: During the heady days a decade and a half ago when democracy first came to Poland, nobody was more visible, or more emblematic of the democracy movement, than Malgorzata Niezabitowska, the movie star-like spokeswoman for Solidarity. Certainly, she would be the last person anybody would expect of having collaborated with the hated Communist regime.

But in the past few weeks, Niezabitowska has been snared by allegations, supported by newly available documents from the Communist-era secret police, that under the code name Nowak, she was a regular informer for the Communist security services. The allegation, which she fervently denies, has both transfixed Poland and made a turmoil of Niezabitowska's normally quiet life.

Among the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe, Poland is a relative latecomer to a process known as "lustration," the examination of secret files to identify collaborators of the fallen Communist governments, which roiled countries like Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the 1990s.

Several years ago, none other than Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity and Poland's first democratically elected president, was charged with having collaborated in the early 1970s. While he was cleared by Parliament, the taint on his reputation has remained.

But there has been a sharp increase here lately in lustration cases - the term derives from the Latin word lustrum, "a purifying sacrifice" - because, after years of delay, Poland has finally opened its secret police archives to anybody who can claim to have been the target of secret surveillance.

week, for example, former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy was forced to resign as speaker of the Polish Parliament, the second highest position in the country, after a court found that he had lied about his past associations with Polish military intelligence. Oleksy denies that allegation and is appealing the court's ruling.

Oleksy is a former member of the Communist Party, but, in a strange paradox, most of the people whose past records are coming up for scrutiny are former leaders in the Solidarity movement. This has led some people in this country to wonder if lustration is not harming the wrong people - former democracy activists rather than the many current officials of today's Polish government who were members of the very Communist Party that persecuted them.

"Lots of people signed something; lots of people said something to the police, because they were weak, or because they were blackmailed," Helena Luczywo, the deputy editor of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and a former democracy activist, said of lustration. "It's all very complicated," Luczywo said, "but if you're young and didn't have this experience, it's difficult to understand."

While there have been a number of highly publicized disclosures lately, the accusation against Niezabitowska is the one that Poles seem to have singled out for discussion in the developing national debate on lustration. She has admitted to speaking once to the secret police, but says she refused to collaborate with them and, in any case, told them nothing they did not already know. Any documents in the files relating to anything other than that one meeting are fakes made by a secret police that routinely engaged in fabrications, she says.

"Their attitude is that if the secret police wrote something, it must be true," Niezabitowska said during a long conversation at her home outside Warsaw, speaking of her accusers. "But this is a fundamental misunderstanding. In the Communist time the core of the system was a lie and the system's executors were professionals. They knew very well how to make lies look like truth by mixing both in words and in documents."

But officials at the government bureau that keeps the documents and studies them argue that, while Niezabitowska's claim of forgery could theoretically be true - the issue is now before a special court - they contend that forgeries are unlikely in this case, and that Niezabitowska does indeed have a past that she has, until now, refused publicly to acknowledge.

"To me the file of Malgorzata Niezabitowska is a standard file," said Pawel Machcewicz, a historian at the Institute for National Remembrance, which is the custodian of the vast records of Poland's Communist past. "I didn't see anything in it that makes it different from other files."

Niezabitowska's case came up when another former member of Solidarity Weekly, Krzysztof Wyszkowski, examined his own files and learned that he had been informed on by a secret collaborator identified as Nowak. Researchers at the Institute of National Remembrance determined that Nowak was Niezabitowska, and Wyszkowski gave that information to the Polish press.

In the meantime, having learned that her file had turned up, Niezabitowska made a statement of her own to the press, in which she recounted her secret police experience. She had one and only one meeting with the secret police, on Dec. 15, 1981, she said, shortly after martial law was declared, when she was interrogated at the Interior Ministry in Warsaw for six hours. She says that she gave some opinions about some of her fellow members of Solidarity Weekly, the democracy movement's main newspaper on which she was a star reporter, and this included comments about Wyszkowski, whom she did not like.

To disclose information harmful to anybody, and she refused further cooperation. After that first involuntary meeting, she said, she never met with the secret police again.

She argues that what she really was doing in those days belies the accusation of collaboration. She and her husband, Tomasz Tomaszewski, a photographer, clandestinely documented scenes of martial law, taking pictures, for example, of tanks on the streets, and surreptitiously passing them to a Western diplomat who sent them abroad. There they were published, helping to counter the portrait being painted by the official propaganda, which was that Poland, free of the unrest caused by Solidarity's strikes and demonstrations, had once again become a happy, peaceful place.

If Niezabitowska or Tomaszewski had been caught, she said, their crime, according to martial law regulations, would have been espionage, and they would have faced prison terms of at least 10 years, or possibly even the death penalty.

"So can you imagine how I feel about this now - that I was not a fighter for democracy, but was a petty collaborator with the secret police," Niezabitowska said. "I'm heartbroken, not just for me, but for Poland. I fear that the history of the Polish opposition and our struggle for freedom will now be the story as told by the secret police, by people who were our worst enemies and did everything to destroy us. It would be a real victory of totalitarian system from its grave.

Machcewicz said that, having studied Niezabitowska's dossier, he believes the documents in it to be authentic. Her file, he said, consists of 11 reports from her controller in the secret police. In one of them, for example, she appears to provide information about a clandestine meeting of members of the underground Solidarity Weekly that took place in April 1982.

Machcewicz says that the police seemed to have some information about Niezabitowska, the exact nature of which he declined to disclose, but that they used it to pressure her to cooperate. In his reconstruction of her case, she seems to have been interrogated on Dec. 15 and to have agreed to cooperate the day after. After that, the officer in charge of her filed 11 reports summarizing information given to him by "Nowak."

"It's a complicated case," Machcewicz said of Niezabitowska, "of a person who was under strong pressure, who tried not to collaborate, but who nonetheless provided some valuable information.",%20Lech&pagewanted=all&position=

Ostatnia aktualizacja: środa, 26 listopada 2008 09:34


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