Thursday, April 05, 2007

Poland and heavy vetting

Poland and its past

Heavy vetting
Apr 4th 2007 | WARSAW
From The Economist print edition

The cure for ex-communist sleaze in Poland may be worse than the disease

SLEAZE was endemic among the ex-communists who ran Poland until 2005, say the moral zealots now in charge. They have backing from a surprising source: Jozef Oleksy, an ex-communist who was, in the 1990s, prime minister, interior minister and parliamentary speaker. A leaked recording of his boozy three-hour lunch with one of Poland's richest businessmen, Aleksander Gudzowaty, contains detailed allegations about top ex-communists' financial shenanigans.

All those mentioned deny everything. Aleksander Kwasniewski, president between 1995 and 2005 and still the left's most popular politician, calls Mr Oleksy an “utter cretin” and “traitor”. Mr Oleksy has grovelled in vain to his former colleagues, complaining that the tapes were doctored in the hope of sowing dissension on the left and of scuppering Mr Kwasniewski's return to domestic politics.

Recorded by Mr Gudzowaty's security staff, the tapes seem to have reached the media via the justice ministry and the security services. Mr Gudzowaty, Poland's fifth-richest man, has not explained how they got out. Some think he is currying favour with the powers-that-be: Law and Justice, the centre-right party founded by Lech Kaczynski (president) and his twin brother Jaroslaw (prime minister).

The Kaczynskis loathe this sort of thing. They like to stand above all for clean government. Their own probity is unquestioned. But their record is tainted, not least by the antics of two coalition allies. One of these is a bunch of farmers with dodgy business ties; the other is a bunch of homophobes who flirt with anti-Semitism.

Worse, the government has created a paranoid atmosphere, in which secret material is close to becoming a political currency. Government critics complain of being bugged: hard to prove, but a fear rarely expressed since the collapse of communism. The justice ministry seems heavy-handed and too fond of publicity. Some say it is being misused for political ends.

The Kaczynskis want to drive the old regime's cronies out of their powerful jobs. But they have often brought in their own chums, rather than apolitical experts. In a tussle over the sale of Poland's largest insurer, they replaced the firm's boss with a candidate who lacks the usual qualifications. The head of the country's largest oil company has been replaced by an inexperienced friend of the president's.

The biggest row is about the government's “lustration” law, which beefs up the vetting of anybody who ever co-operated with the communist-era secret services. The aim is to uproot the uklad, a supposed network of communist-era spies and their allies in business and the public services that the Kaczynskis blame for all of Poland's wrong turnings since 1989.

Screening public figures for connections to the old regime is common in eastern Europe, but the new law has unparalleled scope. Leading academics and journalists have threatened civil disobedience. The institute that looks after the secret-service archives is concerned that it will be unable to certify the purity of as many as 700,000 people within the time limit stipulated by the law.

Critics say that screening laws, however well-meant, tend to hit collaborators—perhaps coerced at the time and remorseful now—more than perpetrators. Heavy vetting is a cumbersome way of dealing with the uklad. A better one would be to make the economy more open, so that connections ceased to matter. Jan Winiecki, a professor and critic of communist economics, calls the law “unacceptable on both moral and legal grounds” and says it “puts its authors beyond the pale of Western civilisation”. The final version proposed by the president is vague, lacking a clear definition of collaboration.

If the publication of the tapes was a bid to destroy the ex-communists' party, it has backfired. Wojciech Olejniczak, the party's 32-year-old leader, has strengthened his position against the old guard after Mr Oleksy's remarks. Polls show that Mr Kwasniewski remains popular. The Kaczynskis are creating monstrous difficulties for small fry. But they are not catching big fish, such as the tycoons who have prospered so mysteriously in recent years.


Unknown said...

It seems, after all, you can write an article, without a single lie! Bravo! ... Moreover, I see 'voices', whom you quote, finally have got names...
I cannot find a spot I could set it on to!Well, well, well.

P.S You have given me one to prove I am not 'round the bend, nor am I Kaczynski 's uncritical fanatic; this time - I am sorry to say - your criticism is a.)proper criticism and not mud-throwing, b.) is essentially valid...

Happy Easter

Praguetory said...

I'd have to argue that Poland is well behind other states in terms of cleaning out the stables. If there's one thing that should have been learnt from the last 18 years, it is that you need to change the old guard to move things on. Therefore, I find the moral zealots line a bit curious. Sleaze was endemic in Poland and it's not just moral zealots that think so. If corruption is an issue (and I think it is) rather than carping what would you do?

Unknown said...

To Praguetory:

yes, all you've said is true; sleaze was endemic and it should have been disinfected long ago. However, when a chance has finally loomed to do that, why is it carried out in a self-effacing manner? Why the law-making was left in the hands of arkadiusz-mularczyks of this world and not to Romaszewski, Borusewicz et alia, who were consulted only once it had been spawned by the former brainiacs?
They way I would have done it, it would have been prepared like a major military operation to the last second waay before the elections so that not to trip over a banana peel when it comes to action...d

Unknown said...

Over the last 17 years the vetting of ex-communist officials has been permanently blocked by successive left-wing governments. I have no doubts as to the intentions of the anti-vetting lobby which uses the rethorics of human rights and reconciliation, but in fact pursues a policy of sweeping history under the carpet in the attempt to avoid responsibility for being a cog in the oppressive communist system. The secret services of the communist state did a lot of harm to the people who wouldn’t swear allegiance to the figurehead government steered by the Soviets. Those who took up collaboration were required to sign a written pledge to provide regular intelligence on their neighbours, colleagues or superiors, and by the same token supported the despotic rules of the communist party. Today most former communist secret agents live off the fat of the land. They pulled the strings during the privatization of public property and took control of many state-owned companies after 1989. They can also be found among university faculty delivering lectures on crimminal law, literature or political sciences. Moreover, every now and then the media leak information about a journalist, politician or a priest implicated in the collaboration with the secret services of the Polish People’s Republic. I wouldn’t be surprised if in near future the idea of purging public life of ex-communist agents came to a dead end or was consigned to the dustbin as there are too many people who have gained too much through their ignominious activities and hence they have too much to lose now.