Controlling the Past
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The words of George Orwell which, as with much of his writing, remain chillingly apposite, all the more so because of the technological advances that have made so much of what was envisaged in 1984 common place today. What are the PC terror and obfuscations of politicians if not examples of Newspeak, social media if not the unwitting help-mate of Big Brother? Be that as it may, the present Polish government is determined that a correct view of the Polish past should be understood.
Thus, Tuesday, which is the 35th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in 1981, is an opportunity to right perceived historical wrongs with Poland’s defence minister saying that Wojciech Jaruzelski and Czesław Kiszczak (who died in 2014 and 2015 respectively) will be stripped of their rank of general. Jaruzelski was First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party when he imposed martial law in Poland on 13 December, 1981, and Kiszcak served as interior minister. That was the date on which the communist regime cracked down on the Solidarity pro-democracy movement, during which period thousands of opposition activists were jailed, and dozens were killed, across Poland, learn more about it at this site.
“People who committed crimes against the nation should be stripped of their general rank,” Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told TVP on Tuesday. He said that recently the ministry had posthumously promoted to the rank of brigadier general, Ryszard Kukliński, who passed secret Warsaw Pact documents to the CIA during the Cold War. “On the one hand we honour such heroes as Kukliński, who we promoted to the rank of general,” Macierewicz said, adding that at the same time Poles wrongly “respect and accept this position in the case of people who not only betrayed, but also committed crimes against their country.”
Which is all well and good one might think. After all, the comrades were a thoroughly bad crowd who were lucky not to to be swinging from the lamp posts after 1989 when Poland, wisely it seemed at the time, did not go in for mass blood-letting, enabling the current government to engage, by its lights, in some long overdue settling of scores. And with typical efficiency, the government has decided that low rank is no salvation, with the recent suggestion that those who were employed by “organs of the totalitarian state” (broadly the security services) prior to 31st August 1990 have their pensions reduced.
But not all of the former comrades are quaking in their boots. For example, some have had the temerity to question how the PiS governing party is able so aggressively to pursue its policy of rooting out communism against those who worked for the pre-1989 state security apparatus while itself having Stranisław Piotowicz, a prosecutor from the martial law era, as one of its senior members. He has been defended by Jacek Sasin, a PiS member of the Polish parliament, who has argued that it is not important to dig into Piotrowicz’s CV, but just to focus on what he does today.
And quite right too. It is a sad day for a country when a perfectly proper ministry of truthesque exercise to establish the truth about the past cannot take place without a lot of ill-founded accusations of hypocrisy and double standards, based on an impertinent investigation of a chap’s past. After all, Piotrowicz has said that although his name does appear on the indictment of a Solidarity activist, he did all in his power to secure the man’s release. He said that “the truth is that I was a prosecutor in the communist period because I was born in the communist period…I have nothing to be ashamed of. I always behaved decently. I adhered to…Christian values”.
But, even if it is true, does that not merely demonstrate the indiscriminate nature of PiS’s current efforts to “decommunise” when, for example, all police officers who started service in the Polish Peopele’s Republic are to be removed from managerial positions, even if they worked for only one day under the communist regime. They too had the misfortune to be born during the communist period and may well have tried to circumvent orders to help the democratic opposition.
Still, whatever one’s views, as Orwell reminds us: “All the animals on the farm were equal, but some were more equal than others.” Or, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”