Poles fear McCarthy-style purge
Hundreds of thousands of Poles could be sacked because they were reported to have collaborated with the communist-era secret police, after the country’s right-wing government pushed through a law that critics say will spark a witch-hunt.
The move is seen as central to the “moral revolution’’ promised by the Law and Justice Party when it swept to power last year, led by Lech Kaczynski and his identical twin, Jaroslaw, who are now the country’s president and prime minister, respectively.
The one-time child actors ousted the former leftist government with a vow to purge public life of corruption and of the many former communists who moved seamlessly into prominent and lucrative roles in capitalist Poland after 1989.
Under the new law backed by the Kaczynskis, all Poles born before August 1972 who hold so-called positions of public trust will not be allowed to continue in their jobs without a certificate showing that they were not collaborators.
Compulsory vetting will apply to diplomats, local officials, board members of state-owned companies, media bosses, headmasters, lawyers and journalists—a list that is expected to include hundreds of thousands of Poland’s 38-million-strong population.
Anyone covered by the law who does not apply for clearance could be dismissed, while an employer who does not ensure that his workers request certificates could also be fired.
The security service files of communist-era public figures will be published on the Internet under the new law, together with the names of former secret police officials.
“I am in favour of disclosing all informers, and in favour of screening,’’ said Jaroslaw Kaczynski who, like his twin, was an activist in the Solidarity movement that toppled communism in Poland and undermined it across Eastern Europe.
Opposition leaders said the law opened the way for a witch-hunt against former communists, however, warning that thousands of careers could be ruined on the strength of evidence found in secret police archives that are flawed and incomplete.
“This is a huge mistake,’’ said Wojciech Olejniczak, leader of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems for people who are unable to defend their reputation in court.’‘
Critics of the Kaczynskis say the policy is in keeping with staunchly traditionalist Catholic values, which saw Lech Kaczynski banning gay parades when he was mayor of Warsaw, calling the organisers “perverts’‘.
But supporters insist the new law is vital to give Poland a clean break from its communist past.
“We have to come to terms with the past to build the foundations of a strong state, where no one will use secret police files to blackmail people,’’ said law and justice parliamentarian Andrzej Mularczyk.
Under current rules, MPs, judges and top civil servants and security officials must declare whether they collaborated with the communist-era intelligence services.
An admission that they did does not automatically bar them from office, but anyone who is found to have lied can be banned from holding a public post for 10 years.
The new clearance certificates will be issued by the Institute of National Remembrance, which pores over the archives of Poland’s communist secret police.
People will be able to appeal against the institute’s decisions in the courts.
Several senior officials, former Solidarity activists and prominent Catholic priests have been accused of collaboration by the institute.
However, most of the accused have denied the allegations, saying the secret police files contained false information intended to discredit them.—Â