The Past

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” The words of George Orwell in 1984, a novel, intended as a satire, which becomes ever more chillingly prescient in our time as the lessons of history and common sense are ignored for the faux outrage of the social media lynch-mobs, the coalition of the thin-skinned, the grievance ridden, the virtue signalers, and allied trades. This of course, does not apply in Poland where the ruling party, as we saw in Controlling the Past, is concerned merely that a correct view of Polish history should be understood.

Thus, officials from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) announced on Tuesday that recently unearthed secret documents confirm that former president Lech Wałęsa had collaborated with Poland’s the security services during the communist era. Wałęsa, who also led the Solidarity trade union which helped topple communism in Poland, has in the past dismissed such claims as “lies”. For its part, the IPN presented an analysis by graphology experts which concluded that documents signed in the 1970s by an informer codenamed “Bolek” were in the same handwriting as that of Wałęsa.

Files found in the house of general Czesław Kiszczak, interior minister under communist regime, following his death in 2015 allegedly contained a personal file and a work file of a secret collaborator. These documents included a handwritten note signed “Lech Wałęsa – Bolek” in which the signatory vowed to collaborate with communist security services. While Wałęsa has previously admitted that he had “made a mistake”, he has denied ever being a paid agent who collaborated with the communist regime. On Sunday he claimed that documents found in Kiszczak’s house were forgeries.

Over the years a number of publications by historians have said that Wałęsa broke off any cooperation with the communist secret services years before the strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard in 1980, which protest that led to the birth of the Solidarity trade union and Wałęsa’s rise to international fame, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and culminating in his serving as president of Poland from1990 to 1995.

It is important to have a proper understanding of the past and historians must reassess their views as new material becomes available but they must also question the authenticity and provenance of documents and the motives of those revealing them. Fortunately, as the president of the IPN, Jarosław Szarek, told a press conference on Tuesday: “We do not intend to remove Lech Wałęsa from Polish history,” before adding: “The way Lech Wałęsa is seen is changing.”

“From today there are no doubts about Lech Wałęsa’s collaboration with the [communist] security services. However, from today a new question can be asked (…) to what extent did the fact that Lech Wałęsa started this collaboration in the early 70s determine his decisions at a later date, in the first 16 months of Solidarity, later in the 80s, and also after 1989” following the collapse of communism in Poland. “This is an open question,” Szarek added. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Given the communist party’s unequalled dedication to truth and transparency, it seems not beyond the bounds of possibility that those who were able to keep files secret after the defeat of communism might also have had no difficulty in also keeping handy a supply of those coloured stamps so beloved in this part of the world, and a supply of unused notepaper with which to make mischief later.

Be that as it may, whether Wałęsa did or did not cooperate with the communist regime at some time does not detract from his undoubted achievements thereafter, one might think. Unless, perish the thought, one thought others had not enjoyed their share of the limelight and wanted to redress the balance. Besides, this government, above all, with its pro Church sympathies should, take heart from Luke 15:7 and share Heaven’s joy in the sinner who repented, if sinning there was. However, as we also saw in Controlling the Past, perhaps they are too busy rooting out former communists to notice those in their own midst, a classic case of do as we say, not as we do. The Party is simply not always right.

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