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Leaked spy list sends Poland scrambling

Associated Press
Published February 13, 2005

WARSAW - The Slazaks always thought they had safely avoided the politics of the Polish communist era, until their son came out of his room the other day and said, "Mom, you're on the list, and Dad is on the list, and so is Grandpa."

Since then, their lives have been swept up in the turmoil engulfing Polish society over a leaked list of more than 164,000 names of secret police, their informers and the people they spied on while this country was under dictatorship.

It has sent people scrambling onto the Internet where it appeared 12 days ago, and they have been lining up at the National Remembrance Institute, which compiled the list, demanding to see their files.

The list was leaked to journalist Bronislaw Wildstein, 53, who shared it with trusted reporters, and it was posted on the Internet.

Wildstein denies posting it himself, but it has become known as the Wildstein list. Wildstein has been fired by his newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, which accuses him of playing politics. He says his motive was to speed up a reckoning with the past that has been painfully slow in coming.

The problem is that because the list does not distinguish between perpetrators and victims, it exposes everyone on it to the suspicion that they collaborated with the secret police.

Malgorzata Slazak, 48, fought back tears as she waited in the institute lobby where her husband was applying to see his file. For three days after finding their names, the couple "had arguments at home over silly little things, but the reason was we were very tense and felt bad about being on the list of snitches," she said.

Slazak says she and her husband were neither dissidents nor collaborators. She believes she and her husband are on the list because they socialized in the 1980s with a couple who did not hide the fact that they were secret police employees. She believes they may have fabricated reports on the Slazaks to please their superiors.

For her, being on the list was a shock. For former dissident Jan Gdak, 73, it touched a painful memory from 1984 of being pressed by the secret police to be an informer. When he refused, he was thrown in a basement cell for 48 hours, he said.

The retired electronics specialist joined the line to apply to see his record and find out "who denounced me."

Jan Litynski, a prominent ex-dissident who has since served on a parliamentary committee on intelligence, said he feels pain for the people who helped him escape communist authorities and who now find themselves on the list and unjustly tainted.

"They received a powerful blow on the head and have spent sleepless nights," Litynski said. "Who will atone for the wrongs done them? Who will redress the injury to their children and grandchildren?"

At the root of the tension is the decision by Poland's first post-communist government to refrain from settling scores with collaborators.

Buried but not forgotten, the issue was partially addressed in 1997 when a law was passed to vet politicians' pasts. Those concealing acts of collaboration are banned from public posts for 10 years, but the screening can take years, and Wildstein insists this justifies his action.

"This is not the past, this is our present," he said. "Those people are present and play important roles in our reality."

The Rev. Jozef Maj, a Roman Catholic priest in Warsaw who is on the list, called Wildstein's action a "blessed offense ... blessed because finally a process of reaching the truth in public life started.

"Wildstein took upon himself a great responsibility, because he started a certain process," Maj said.

Political analyst Lena Kolarska-Bobinska said the controversy results from social tensions stoked by the absence of rigorous screening and a growing public awareness that former intelligence officers and informers have reached positions of influence.

Kolarska-Bobinska said the Wildstein list strengthens the right-wing Law and Justice Party's chances of boosting its vote in this year's election. It advocates purging Polish society of former communists' influence.

Jozef Pinior, a former Solidarity leader and now a member of the European Parliament, thinks the Wildstein list will serve Polish society well.

"Sometimes very painful, difficult things can lead to a kind of catharsis, which I think the Polish society needs for the renewal of Poland's democracy," he said.

"I think our legal order, our democracy, are strong enough to deal with it."

[Last modified February 13, 2005, 01:09:06]

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