Is Wałęsa Poland’s Hero?

March 9, 2016

On the backdrop of what has been happening recently in relation to Lech Wałęsa, I was reminded of a post I wrote almost eight years ago. I’m re-posting it for your enjoyment…

Get WałęsaThe political climate in Poland is abubbling, afrothing and afoaming due to the imminent publication of SB a Lech Wałęsa (the Secret Police and Lech Wałęsa) by Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk. The authors of the book, two historians who work for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), claim that the former President of Poland and legendary leader of Solidarity Lech Wałęsa was in fact a communist agent (Polish TW = tajny współpracownik = secret agent) with the pseudonym “Bolek”. A double agent, no less. This has sent shock waves across the Polish political landscape causing an incredible polarisation of an already divided political scene.

Bolek or Not
WałęsaThere are in effect two camps. Those who believe Wałęsa is the now mythical “Bolek” and those who believe there is no way on God’s Earth that the leader of Solidarity, the man who defeated communism and a devout Catholic could have played for both sides. The “Bolek” camp is headed by the terrible twins, wannabe Machiavellis, Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński who very early on in their political careers made it clear that they thought Wałęsa was “Bolek”. Interestingly, they only made their opinions known when Wałęsa threw his former aide Lech Kaczyński out of his office and decided he was unfit to work in politics and when Wałęsa decided to put an end to the ill-fated government of Kaczyński buddy Jan Olszewski (as well as Antoni Macierewicz).

Campaign of Dishonour
WałęsaThe truly annoying thing about this campaign to discredit the Nobel Peace Prize winner is that Kaczyński and Kaczyński have quite literally pulled out all the stops to besmirch Wałęsa. The IPN is loaded with Law and Justice (PiS) cronies who have not yet been cleared out by the government of Civic Platform (PO). Several days ago, Polish National Television (TVP) broadcast a so-called documentary which provided ‘hard evidence’ that Wałęsa was “Bolek”. Actually, this ‘papumentary’ was more an advert for the book. TVP is of course headed and managed by a whole slew of PiS sympathisers casting a dark shadow over the journalistic credibility of the programme. What is more, the now infamous book is an alleged history based on IPN documents. It is odd that a history book posits a thesis at the beginning rather than look at the facts and then draw a conclusion.

What if…?
Man of the YearThe question on most people’s lips is what will happen (or become of Wałęsa) if it turns out that he did collaborate with the SB. Those people who survived communism know full well that a large majority of people did collaborate. So what? They did so to survive. I suggest the younger generation go out and watch the poignant Das Leben der Anderen which shows how communism was never truly black and white. We are rarely confronted with true, pure evil in life and people usually come in shades of grey. If Wałęsa did collaborate (which I severely doubt) then I’m sure he did it to protect the fragile, embryonic democracy that he was trying to nurture. If he did collaborate why doesn’t he admit it? Life is never black and white and to point the finger and to name names would do no good now. The facts are that Wałęsa did more for freedom than most men do in their whole lives and that can never be taken away from him.

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Death of Solidarity

August 31, 2010
Spotlight on Poland

Spotlight on Poland

Nobody could have envisaged that the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of Solidarność (in August 1980) would turn into a farce and sound the death knell for Poland’s first trade union. It is fair to say that the anniversary celebrations symbolically, yet unintentionally, brought about the end of the heroic Solidarność of August 1980. The Janusz Śniadek-led politically-distorted Solidarity of 2010 has absolutely nothing in common with the Solidarity of 1980 that brought together people of varying views, opinions and political allegiances. Lech Wałęsa’s refusal to attend the celebrations was a clear cutting of the umbilical cord and demonstration of the fact that the legacy of Solidarity 1980 is to be found elsewhere, not in Solidarity 2010.

Tusk Called For Solidarity But Was Booed

Tusk Called For Solidarity But Was Booed

What was shocking about the celebrations was the reception that Prime Minister Donald Tusk got from the trade union members. Tusk, a former Solidarity member and activist, was hissed and jeered at when he asked the audience what had happened to the old Solidarity which brought together religious people, atheists, opposition activists and communists alike all for the good of the country. There was no room for hate. To this the hall erupted in a chorus of whistles and boos. Likewise, President Komorowski was greeted with hostility. It was only when PiS head Jarosław Kaczyński took the stage that the hecklers finally settled down giving him rapturous round of applause.

Kaczyński Giving Tusk 'The Evils'

Kaczyński Giving Tusk ‘The Evils’

Why was Jarosław Kaczyński giving a speech in the first place? He neither espouses to the ideals of tolerance and solidarity nor was he an integral member of the original movement. His place at the anniversary celebrations was misplaced, misconceived and misguided. He had neither the authority not the right to stand up and talk about ‘solidarity’ with the views he holds. In his speech he talked about manipulation and lies whilst looking straight at PM Tusk. Unsurprisingly, he talked about his patriotic brother Lech Kaczyński who, he alleged, had struggled with Tadeusz Mazowiecki (Poland’s first non-communist post-war Prime Minister) and Bronisław Geremek (Minister of Foreign Affairs) who were ready to give up the fight.

Henryka Krzywonos Strikes Back

Henryka Krzywonos Strikes Back

A hurt and shell-shocked Mazowiecki confronted Kaczyński afterwards telling him that what he had said was a complete pack of lies to which Kaczyński replied that he had a different view of what had happened. Mazowiecki retorted: “This has nothing to do with anyone’s views. It is about the facts and what happened. Gemerek’s no longer with us. How could you?! The facts are completely different”. However, what really rocked the celebrations was Henryka Krzywonos’ impromptu speech.

Henryka Krzywonos Saves The Day

Henryka Krzywonos Saves The Day

The former Solidarity heroine and tram driver hit the headlines when she brought traffic to a standstill and initiated a Solidarity-led strike in August 1980 when she stopped her tram. After hearing Kaczyński and the jeers at Tusk, she ploughed into the audience and Jarosław Kaczyński claiming that the members of Solidarity had worked for the good of everyone and to boo at PM Tusk was simply out of order. As for Kaczyński, she said she did not know what had happened to him but he should stop stirring things up and let people get on with their lives. “It is you,” she said to Jarosław Kaczyński, “who is destroying Lech’s [Kaczyński] dignity”.

Solidarność began life as a movement fighting for the rights of workers. Sadly, this non-violent and tolerant institution, open for all, became embroiled in politics and has since become the lapdog of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS). As Henryka Krzywonos, one of the original signatories of the Solidarity Gdańsk Agreement (pol. Porozumienie Sierpniowe) said, “The name ‘Solidarity’ binds and obligates us”. It certainly does; solidarity obligates us to work together, in tolerance and openness with one another.


Most Important Event

December 6, 2009
Soaring Eagle?

Soaring Eagle?

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since Poland regained its freedom way back in 1989. Twenty years of ‘transformation’ (as Polish people like to call it) have fashioned the country that we now call Poland. I wonder whether everything that has happened over these twenty years is a consequence of the baggage of communism. Could some things have been avoided? Could Poland have taken a different route? Below is a list of (what I think to be) the most important events in Poland of the last twenty years (in chronological order):

Defining Moment?

Defining Moment?

Round Table Talks (5th April 1989)
A constant bone of contention between Law and Justice (PiS) and Poland’s other political parties. This is the moment when the communists decide to sit down and discuss with Solidarity the future of Poland.

Rydzyk Radio (9th December 1991)
Radio Maryja is founded in Toruń. After a mere three years this local Catholic radio station, the patron of which is controversial cleric Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, obtains a licence to broadcast nationally helping it later become the voice of right-wing Polish Catholicism.

War Upstairs (4th June 1992)
Jan Olszewski’s weak minority government is toppled by President Lech Wałęsa who, fearing a backlash and possible coup d’etat following Antoni Macierewicz’s much-maligned Vetting Act, decides to put an end to the Olszewski-Kaczyński-Macierewicz madness.

Charitable Change?

Charitable Change?

Orchestrating Help (3rd January 1993)
Jerzy Owsiak sets in motion what will later become the largest and most celebrated charitable event in Polish history. The very first Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity raised $1.5 million, an unprecedented sum in a country new to such events.

Russians Leave (17th September 1993)
In what turns out to be a major coup for Lech Wałęsa and a welcome surprise for Poles, Russian President Boris Yeltsin agrees to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland. In mid September, President Wałęsa bids farewell to the last of the Russian soldiers.

Poland Joins NATO (12th March 1999)
Finally, after years of oppression, Polish people around the world breathe a sigh of relief when Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek signs Poland’s NATO membership agreement.

Changing Europe?

Changing Europe?

Poland Joins EU (1st May 2004)
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader and Prime Minister, Leszek Miller signs the paperwork in April 2003, the referendum takes place in June 2003 and within less than a year, Poland becomes a fully-fledged member of Europe’s finest club.

Death of Hope (2nd April 2005)
The death of John Paul II marked the end of an era for many. During his papacy he travelled to more countries than any previous Vicar of Rome. For Poles, his death also marked the passing of their chief flag-bearer, spiritual leader and beacon of hope.

Poland Going Euro (18th April 2007)
Much to the amazement of all concerned, Michel Platini, head of UEFA, announces that the joint bid by Poland and Ukraine to host the European Football Championships in 2012 is victorious. Poland’s future is looking brighter…

Soaring Higher?

Soaring Higher?

Buzek Tops (14th July 2009)
Former Polish Prime Minister takes the helm of the European Parliament becoming Poland’s first ever President of the European Parliament. Although not a particularly powerful post, it demonstrates Poland’s increasing influence in the EU.

It occurred to me that it has been over twenty years since Poland regained its freedom way back in 1989. Twenty years of ‘transformation’ (as Polish people like to call it) have fashioned the country that we now call Poland. I wonder whether everything that has happened over these twenty years is a consequence of the baggage of communism. Could some things have been avoided? Could Poland have taken a different route?

Some may argue that such questions are always futile and lead to nothing but frustration. I disagree. They may help us re-evaluate the reasons why certain decisions were taken, why leaders, politicians and media personalities did what they did, how this affected society, and how, in the future, we might be able to avoid some of the needless mistakes that were made.

Below is a list of (what I think to be) the most important events in Poland of the last twenty years (in chronological order):

Event No. 1: The Round Table Talks (5th April 1989)

A constant bone of contention between Law and Justice (PiS) and seemingly Poland’s other political parties. This was the moment when the communists decided to sit down and discuss with Solidarity the future of Poland.

Event No. 2: Rydzyk Radio (9th December 1991)

Radio Maryja is founded in Toruń. This local Catholic radio station, the patron of which is controversial cleric Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, obtains a licence to broadcast nationally three years after being founded later becoming the voice of right-wing Polish Catholicism.

Event No. 3: The Change Upstairs (4th June 1992)

Jan Olszewski’s weak minority government is toppled by President Lech Wałęsa who, fearing a backlash and possible coup d’etat following Antoni Macierewicz’s much-maligned Vetting Act, decides to put an end to the Olszewski-Kaczyński-Macierewicz madness.

Event No. 4: Orchestrating Help (3rd January 1993)

Jerzy Owsiak sets in motion what will later become the largest and most celebrated charitable event in Polish history. The very first Great Orchestra of Christmas Help raised $1.5 million, an unprecedented sum in a country new to such events.

Event No. 5: Russians Leave (17th September 1993)

What turned out to be one Lech Wałęsa’s major coups and much to the joyous surprise of the whole country, Russian President Boris Yelcyn agrees to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland. In mid September, President Wałęsa bids farewell to the last of the Russian soldiers.

Event No. 6: Poland joins NATO (12th March 1999)

Finally, after years of oppression, Polish people around the world breathe a sigh of relief when Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek signs Poland’s NATO membership agreement.

Event No. 7: Poland joins the EU (1st May 2004)

Left Democratic Alliance (SLD) leader and Prime Minister, Leszek Miller signs the paperwork in April 2003, the referendum takes place in June 2003 and within less than a year, Poland becomes a fully-fledged member of Europe’s finest club.

Event No. 8: Death of Hope (2nd April 2005)

The death of John Paul II marked the end of an era for many. During his papacy he travelled to more countries than any previous Vicar of Rome. For Poles, his passing marked also the passing of their chief flag-bearer, spiritual leader and beacon of hope.

Event No. 9: Poland Going Euro (18th April 2007)

Much to the amazement of all concerned, Michel Platini, head of UEFA, announces that the joint bid by Poland and Ukraine to host the European Football Championships in 2012 is victorious. Poland’s future is looking brighter…

Event No. 10: Buzek Tops (14th July 2009)

Former Polish Prime Minister takes the helm of the European Parliament becoming Poland’s first ever President of the European Parliament. Although not a particularly powerful post, it demonstrates Poland’s increasing influence in the EU.


Left or Right?

April 6, 2009

Fighting & In-fighting

Fighting & In-fighting

Picture the scene: a country on the verge of complete decay. People with no money, no food; social unrest in the streets, freedom of speech does not exist and Big Brother has such power that people cannot trust their own neighbours. This is a state in collapse, ready to implode and disappear.

Birth of Peace
Then, just as this nation is about to evaporate into nothingness a group of people appear who are ready to fight for survival, fight for freedom and fight for the right to speak out. The non-violent Solidarność is born and with it one of the most famous figures of the 20th century, Lech Wałęsa. Solidarity manages to negotiate  a level of cooperation with the communist authorities and set in motion a remarkable turn of events which, domino-like, bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

Beginning of the End
After the incredible success of the Round Table Talks which sees Solidarność sit down with their adversaries the communists, Solidarity remarkably gain a foothold in government and soon the right-wing, with Solidarity as its chief flag-bearer, becomes a real force to be reckoned with. Poland’s future looks bright and its political system seems to be reaching an equilibrium of sorts. However, with power comes intoxication and Poland’s right-wing begins to bicker, quarrel and eventually fragment. Factions appear and the unity of Solidarity crashes to an unceremonious end.

When Right is Left
A united right-wing is no more. In fact, the idea that the right-wing was ever unified was simply illusory and at most pie-in-the-sky. Solidarity was a trade union. Its doctrine of workers’ rights and equality was socialist in nature, not right-wing. The leaders of Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) may share a common heritage (in Solidarity) but neither would dream of being called socialist. In reality, the closest Poland has to a Solidarity-like party is the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the offspring of the communist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), sworn enemies of Solidarność.

PiS vs. PO
Polish politics is a strange beast. PiS claims to be right-wing, although at times it appears to be socialist (worker rights, pensioner rights and social hand-outs), whereas at other times it verges on fascist extremism. PO, also claiming to be right-wing, is often seen to be ultra-liberal, at times dangerously (for them) conservative. Anyone who did not know that they shared a common heritage would be most surprised. It might prove useful to finally do away with this leftist-rightest distinction as it does justice neither to Poland’s parties nor does it help in categorising them.

The Church
The terms left and right do not seem to mean anything anymore. They have become worn-out and arbitrary. In fact, the closest we can get in describing them is through the dichotomy: pro-church/anti-church, or to be more specific, pro-Catholic/anti-Catholic. In other words, in Poland, a right-wing party is (generally) a pro-Catholic party whereas a left-wing party is an anti-Catholic party. If this is the case, does this make Poland a secular or a religious state?


Round Table Anniversary

February 6, 2009

Mazowiecki, Kuroń, Wałęsa, Kwaśniewski...

Foreground (l-r): Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Lech Wałęsa. Background (l-r): Kuroń, Geremek, Kwaśniewski.

Today is a wonderful day. The 6th February 2009 is the 20th anniversary of one of the most important moments in European history. On the 6th February 1989, twenty years ago, the so-called ‘Round Table’ talks kicked off in Warsaw and so began the dismantling of the totalitarian regime in Poland.

Good vs. Evil
The Round Table talks were pretty amazing as they saw the communist government invite representatives of Solidarity (the anti-government, anti-communist, pro-democratic semi-legal opposition) as well as members of the Catholic Church (sworn enemies of communism) to the table in order to discuss the future. The very fact that all of these people were able, and wanted, to sit down and together discuss the future of their country was unprecedented on a European, and perhaps even global, scale.

Forces of Good
The members of the Solidarity opposition who sat at the Round Table (and in later years became key figures in Polish politics) included: Lech Wałęsa (leader of Solidarity), Bronisław Geremek (chief consultant to Lech Wałęsa), Tadeusz Mazowiecki (editor-in-chief of the weekly Solidarność), Jacek Kuroń (Solidarity advisor and founder of the Workers’ Defence Committee), Adam Michnik (Solidarity advisor and Workers’ Defence Committee member) and Lech Kaczyński (Solidarity advisor).

Forces of Evil
The governmental side at the Round Table included: General Czesław Kiszczak (member of the Politbiuro and Minister of Internal Affairs), Leszek Miller (member of the Central Committee of the Party) and Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Minister for Young People).  The infamous General Kiszczak is said to have played a fundamentally positive role in the talks. Leszek Miller and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, perhaps not huge players at the time, were set for dazzling careers in Polish politics in the years to come.

Wałęsa at the Table

Wałęsa at the Table

Repercussions
The talks were pivotal in the fact that they saw the bitterest of enemies sit down and constructively discuss the future of a nation on the brink of economic and social collapse. As a result, Solidarity gained a tangible foothold in Eastern European politics and led to the disintegration of communism throughout Europe. The Round Table not only began the erosion of communism within Europe, but the participants (including the much-maligned communists) actively worked towards the dismantling of a totalitarian regime that they realised no longer had a future.

Round Table Careers
The political legacy of the talks can still be felt today. Beginning with the Solidarity side, Lech Wałęsa went on to become President of Poland, Bronisław Geremek was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was Poland’s first post-war democratically-elected Prime Minister, Jacek Kuroń became Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Adam Michnik founded Poland’s first post-war free newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and Lech Kaczyński is currently President of Poland. As for the communists, Leszek Miller became Polish Prime Minster whereas Aleksander Kwaśniewski was President of Poland. Three Presidents, two Prime Ministers and a host of ministers is quite a legacy.


Polish Personality 2008

January 3, 2009

2009 is upon us and it’s perhaps time to take stock of 2008 and consider who were the biggest players on Poland’s political scene, who people took most notice of and who was the most influential Polish politician. Several names spring to mind but we can safely whittle the number down to five politicians:

Lech Kaczyński, President of Poland
Janusz Palikot, Civic Platform politician
Radosław Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland
Lech Wałęsa, former President of Poland and leader of Solidarity

Law and Justice for All

Justice (and Law) for All

Battling Everyone
Poland’s President has been on the front pages for the majority of 2008. However, for most of that time, the former head of Law and Justice (PiS) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Lech Kaczyński hit the headlines for his ongoing war with two other Polish political heavyweights – Lech Wałęsa (his former employer) and Donald Tusk (a one-time friend).

Civic Mascot

Waging War

Battle-ready
Palikot has become Civic Platform’s (PO) aggressive little mascot, a renegade that the governing party is able to let loose every now and again to take a swipe at the President and the opposition, Law and Justice. Palikot hit the headlines in 2008 by claiming the President had alcohol problems and should have regular health checks to see if he is ‘fit’ enough to govern.

Riding High

Rising Statesman

Battling High
Radosław Sikorski’s comebackability, first from senator to Defence Minister (when PiS was in power), sacking (by PiS) and then appointment as Foreign Minister  (by PO) has solidified his position as an expert in foreign policy and high government advisor. Rumours that he could become NATO’s new leader, though far-fetched, could be a sign of great things to come.

Prime Problems

Shaky Platform

Battle-worn
The PM has by no means had an easy ride this year. Constant bickering and petty squabbling with the President have not gone down well with the Polish public denting his popularity. Tusk seems to be a man always ready for the race but never  managing to get to the finish line. 2008 has been a year of near successes and Poland’s much-needed reforms still seem a long way off.

World Class

Prized Leader

Battle-hardened
Wałęsa spent much of 2008 trying to clear his name after a book was published claiming he had collaborated with the communists. Lech Kaczyński publicly slurred Wałęsa and spurned him during Independence Day celebrations by not inviting him to the official do. However, Wałęsa’s year finished on a high note with his own Nobel Peace Prize Anniversary celebrations attended by the world’s greatest politicians, famous personalities and finest dignitaries.


Get Wałęsa

June 20, 2008

Get WałęsaThe political climate in Poland is abubbling, afrothing and afoaming due to the imminent publication of SB a Lech Wałęsa (the Secret Police and Lech Wałęsa) by Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk. The authors of the book, two historians who work for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), claim that the former President of Poland and legendary leader of Solidarity Lech Wałęsa was in fact a communist agent (Polish TW = tajny współpracownik = secret agent) with the pseudonym “Bolek”. A double agent, no less. This has sent shock waves across the Polish political landscape causing an incredible polarisation of an already divided political scene.

Bolek or Not
WałęsaThere are in effect two camps. Those who believe Wałęsa is the now mythical “Bolek” and those who believe there is no way on God’s Earth that the leader of Solidarity, the man who defeated communism and a devout Catholic could have played for both sides. The “Bolek” camp is headed by the terrible twins, wannabe Machiavellis, Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński who very early on in their political careers made it clear that they thought Wałęsa was “Bolek”. Interestingly, they only made their opinions known when Wałęsa threw his former aide Lech Kaczyński out of his office and decided he was unfit to work in politics and when Wałęsa decided to put an end to the ill-fated government of Kaczyński buddy Jan Olszewski (as well as Antoni Macierewicz).

Campaign of Dishonour
WałęsaThe truly annoying thing about this campaign to discredit the Nobel Peace Prize winner is that Kaczyński and Kaczyński have quite literally pulled out all the stops to besmirch Wałęsa. The IPN is loaded with Law and Justice (PiS) cronies who have not yet been cleared out by the government of Civic Platform (PO). Several days ago, Polish National Television (TVP) broadcast a so-called documentary which provided ‘hard evidence’ that Wałęsa was “Bolek”. Actually, this ‘papumentary’ was more an advert for the book. TVP is of course headed and managed by a whole slew of PiS sympathisers casting a dark shadow over the journalistic credibility of the programme. What is more, the now infamous book is an alleged history based on IPN documents. It is odd that a history book posits a thesis at the beginning rather than look at the facts and then draw a conclusion.

What if…?
Man of the YearThe question on most people’s lips is what will happen (or become of Wałęsa) if it turns out that he did collaborate with the SB. Those people who survived communism know full well that a large majority of people did collaborate. So what? They did so to survive. I suggest the younger generation go out and watch the poignant Das Leben der Anderen which shows how communism was never truly black and white. We are rarely confronted with true, pure evil in life and people usually come in shades of grey. If Wałęsa did collaborate (which I severely doubt) then I’m sure he did it to protect the fragile, embryonic democracy that he was trying to nurture. If he did collaborate why doesn’t he admit it? Life is never black and white and to point the finger and to name names would do no good now. The facts are that Wałęsa did more for freedom than most men do in their whole lives and that can never be taken away from him.