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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Narutowicz Assasinated

October 22, 2010

President Narutowicz with Józef Piłsudski

President Narutowicz with Józef Piłsudski

Gabriel Narutowicz, Poland’s first President, has been assassinated. The President was visiting the Zachęta art gallery in Warsaw. A few minutes after midday, President Narutowicz (who had only just been sworn in five days previously), arrived at Zachęta and was admiring a painting by Bronisław Kopczyński when the British ambassador William Grenfell Max-Müller together with his wife greeted him warmly. Müller’s wife addressed Narutowicz saying “Permettez-moi Monsieur le Président de Vous fèliciter” (Allow me to congratulate you, Mr President) to which he prophetically replied, “Oh, plutôt faire les condoléances” (Oh, rather offer your condolences). Narutowicz moved on to admire another painting – Teodor Ziomka’s Szron – after which three shots rang out.

Niewiadomski - Face of a Murderer

Niewiadomski - Murderer

The perpetrator of this crime comes as a surprise to everyone. Eligiusz Niewiadomski, the assassin, is a painter, art critic, man of letters, and one of the many heroes who fought for Polish independence after 123 years of foreign domination. In 1918 he was nominated as head of the Art and Sculpture department in the Ministry of  Culture and Art by the regency Council government. He took an active part in the demobilisation of the German forces in Warsaw in early November 1918. Later, he worked for counter-intelligence demanding that the government step up its fight against communism. He was largely ignored in these demands. He is a right-wing nationalist and is a known critic of Józef Piłsudski and the late President. An impassioned anti-German and anti-Russian, he is vehemently in favour of a strong, nationalist Polish state.

Chjena - Attacking Like a Hyena

Chjena - Attacking Like a Hyena

Divisive politics, the struggle between the left- and right-wings, has brought about this terrible moment for Poland. We are all responsible for this mindless act of violence. Things will never be the same again. Who can forget the words of the Christian Union of National Unity – ‘Chjena’ (ChZJN): “This President has been forced upon us and we need to fight him in order to maintain the nationalist nature of Poland”. The National Democracy (ND) declared that “it would not accept any government formed by this President”. Stanisław Stroński wrote in Rzeczpospolita that “this obstacle needs to be removed”. The Office of the President has been splattered with mud. President Narutowicz has been called a Jew, an atheist and a cosmopolitan. Now, however, the Office of the President is not only caked with mud but also soiled with blood.

R.I.P. Gabriel Narutowicz, the first President of the Republic of Poland.
17 March 1865 – 16 December 1922.


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.


Was Kaczyński A Hero?

April 14, 2010
Royal Wawel - Place of Kings

Royal Wawel - Place of Kings

The tragic death of President Lech Kaczyński and the 95 other passengers of flight 101 in Smolensk has opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of constitutional, political and moral issues. The first is whether or not President Lech Kaczyński should be buried in the hallowed chambers of Wawel Royal Castle, Kraków, final resting place of Poland’s kings and queens, greatest poets, military leaders and heroes. The news that President Kaczyński might be buried in Kraków hit the headlines on Tuesday 13th April after which protesters took to the streets in Kraków with banners reading “Kraków for Kings, Presidents for Powązki (Warsaw’s finest cemetary). The decision has already been taken (by Kaczyński’s family and the Archbishop of Kraków) but was it the right decision?

Is Kaczyński Another Piłsudski?

Is Kaczyński Another Piłsudski?

Lech Aleksander Kaczyński had always been in awe of former President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces Józef Piłsudski. Therefore, the decision by the late President’s family to bury him alongside his hero was a natural choice. Many believe it only right for Poland’s patriotic leader and Catholic family man to rest alongside the great Piłsudski. They also believe it fitting for Lech Kaczyński to be buried in Wawel Castle as he is the first non-communist President to have died after Poland’s independence in 1989. Many are calling for the new national stadium to be named after Kaczyński, others are calling him a hero as he died serving Poland while visiting those who died in Katyń. Was he a hero? Are his accomplishments comparable with those of, for example, Piłsudski?

Piłsudski Waits for Kaczyński

Piłsudski Waits for Kaczyński

I have no doubt that President Lech Kaczyński, may he rest in peace, was a good, warm, caring person who had Poland and the good of Poland at the very core of his being. I also have no doubt that the tragic Smolensk air crash will change the world’s conception of the Katyń massacre and for this I will forever be in debt to all those who died in the shocking air disaster on the 10th April. Let us also remember that the crash was an accident, a terrible, terrible accident and therefore can we speak of heroism? History has been changed and whatever we may have thought about Lech Kaczyński before the accident is now no longer relevant. He will lie in the crypts of Wawel Castle whether we like it or not, whether we agree with this decision or not. How the world sees Kaczyński, how it sees Katyń, how it sees Poland will now depend on how Poland, and the people of Poland, react to what has happened and what follows. For the time being, the people of Poland have again shown the world the meaning of solidarity, the meaning of unity and the meaning of peace.


Katyń Returns to Haunt Poland

April 10, 2010

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Poland’s list of tragedies keeps on growing. The 10th April will live long in the memory of Poles around the world. On this day, 70 years ago, the cream of Poland’s political, cultural and intellectual elite were massacred in the forests of Katyń by Soviet officers on orders from Joseph Stalin. On the 10th April 2010, in one fatal, tragic swoop, Poland lost its President, Lech Kaczyński; Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last President-in-exile, Jerzy Szmajdziński, deputy Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, as well as a host of other political, church and military dignitaries. In fact, Poland lost its entire military command who were also on the tragic flight to Katyń. As former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski said, “Katyń is an accursed place for the Polish nation”.

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Conditions were poor over Smolensk airport. Thick fog ominously swirled about the airport and forests around Smolensk. The Polish Presidential Tupolev Tu-154 circled the airport. It was obvious that there were problems. The tower recommended that the plane land elsewhere. However, the pilot attempted to land the plane four times. Each time without success. On its final attempt, not more than 1 km from the runway, the Tupolev Tu-154 caught the treetops with its left wing, crashed and exploded in a ball of flames engulfing all 96 passengers and members of the crew. Even though they arrived within minutes, the emergency services realised that all they could do was put out the flames. There were no survivors.

Among the tragic dead were:

Kaczorowski, last President-in-exile

Kaczorowski, President-in-exile

President and Personnel
Lech Kaczyński, President of the Republic of Poland
Maria Kaczyńska, First Lady of the Republic of Poland
Mariusz Handzlik, Deputy Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Ryszard Kaczorowski, last President of the Polish government-in-exile
Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sławomir Skrzypek, President of the National Bank of Poland
Władysław Stasiak, Chief of the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Aleksander Szczygło, Head of the National Security Bureau
Paweł Wypych, Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland

Szmajdzinski, Presidential candidate

Szmajdziński, Left Wing Leader

Members of Parliament
Krystyna Bochenek, Deputy Speaker of the Senate
Leszek Deptuła, member of the Sejm
Grzegorz Dolniak, member of the Sejm
Janina Fetlińska, member of the Senate
Grażyna Gęsicka, member of the Sejm
Przemysław Gosiewski, member of the Sejm
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, member of the Sejm
Sebastian Karpiniuk, member of the Sejm
Aleksandra Natalli-Świat, member of the Sejm
Krzysztof Putra, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Arkadiusz Rybicki, member of the Sejm
Jerzy Szmajdziński, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, member of the Sejm
Zbigniew Wassermann, member of the Sejm
Wiesław Woda, member of the Sejm
Edward Wojtas, member of the Sejm
Stanisław Zając, member of the Senate

General Franciszek Gągor

General Franciszek Gągor

Military figures
Lieutenant General Andrzej Błasik, Chief of the Polish Air Force
Major General Tadeusz Buk, Commander of the Polish Land Forces
General Franciszek Gągor, Chief of the Polish Army General Staff
Vice Admiral Andrzej Karweta, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Navy
General Włodzimierz Potasiński, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Special Forces

Religious figures
Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox Ordinary of the Polish Army
Tadeusz Płoski, bishop of the Military Ordinariate of the Polish Army
Ryszard Rumianek, Rector of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University

Katyń, Accursed Forest

Katyń, Accursed Forest

Others
Janusz Kochanowski, Polish Ombudsman for Citizen Rights
Janusz Kurtyka, President of the Institute of National Remembrance and historian
Piotr Nurowski, President of the Polish Olympic Committee
Maciej Płażyński, President of the Polish Community Association and co-founder of Civic Platform (PO)
Andrzej Przewoźnik, Secretary-General of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites
Anna Walentynowicz, free trade union activist, member of Solidarity
Janusz Zakrzeński, actor

May they all rest in peace. Those here and those left unmentioned.
Let us end with the words of Zbigniew Herbert (from “Guziki”):

…a bird flew by, a cloud floats along
a leaf falls, a plant sprouts
and silence on high
and the mist steams over Katyń forest…


A Short History of the ‘Komisja Śledcza’ (Part 3)

March 12, 2010

continued from Part 2

Death Comes to the Komisja

Death Comes to the Komisja

Outrage swept the political scene in 2007 when Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) MP Barbara Blida committed suicide at home in the presence of officers of the Internal Security Agency (ABW) who had burst into her house with a warrant for her arrest. Accusations were flying everywhere. Why did the ABW officers not stop Blida pulling the trigger? The Commission on the Tragic Death of MP Barbara Blida headed by Ryszard Kalisz (a colleague of Blida’s) sought to discover the legality of the actions of the ABW and public prosecutor (which at the time were under the auspices of Jarosław Kaczyński’s government). Also incriminated in the affair was Zbigniew Wasserman, himself no stranger to the workings of the investigative commissions having being a member of two previous ones. The komisja has not yet concluded its work.

Commissions Galore

Commissions Galore

The following commission began its work at the beginning of 2009. Yet again, death returned to the komisja. This time the remit of the investigative commission was to look into the kidnapping and murder of Krzysztof Olewnik, who was the son of a wealthy businessman.  Two days after his kidnapping, a ransom was demanded for Olewnik’s safe return. Olewnik’s family paid the ransom, however his body was later found beaten, tortured and pumped full of drugs (by the kidnappers). The affair exploded when it turned out that the police/public prosecutor files on the case had gone missing. Soon afterwards the criminals who had been sentenced to prison for Olewnik’s murder were one by one found dead in their prison cells. First, Wojciech Franiewski, then Sławomir Kościuk. For fear that Robert Pazik (one of the three criminals found guilty of murder and the only one still alive) would also kill himself (or be killed), his cell was closely monitored at all times. However, he  too was found dead in his cell. Mystery clouds Olewnik’s death and the commission is still at work.

PO's Turn to Come Under Attack

PO's Turn to Come Under Attack

Poland’s latest komisja saw PiS MP Zbigniew Wasserman (former controversial coordinator of the Special Services) return yet again as a member of a komisja and play a starring role together with PiS colleague Beata Kempa. Every government has come under its fair share of attacks from subsequent commissions – first SLD, then PiS. The new PO government was no exception and felt the full force of negative komisja PR. The Gamblegate Commission, as it has become known, was called into being in order to investigate charges of illegal lobbying on the part of members of the gambling fraternity as well as the dubious connections with this fraternity of various members of the PO government. This komisja was a chance for the afore-mentioned Wasserman and Kempa to attack the government, however, the real star of the show was Franciszek Stefaniuk of PSL who showed everyone the true motivation behind the creation of each and every komisja – marketing, showbiz and self-promotion (click here to watch him in action).

What have these commissions brought to Polish politics? Certainly controversy, scandal, self-promotion and politicking but have they served their purpose? Probably not. If this institution is to meet the demands of today’s politics and politicians, something has to change. The question is what? The politicians or the komisja.


A Short History of the ‘Komisja Śledcza’ (Part 2)

March 5, 2010

continued from part 1

Looking For The Guilty

Looking For The Guilty

The 2005 komisja śledcza hit the headlines first of all not with its remit but rather with who did not become its chairperson. The Commission on the Privatisation of PZU decided against electing Andrzej Lepper to be its chairperson much to the annoyance of the head of Samoobrona (Self-Defence). Instead, Janusz Dobrosz (of LPR, another extremist PiS coalition partner) took the helm of this commission whose brief it was to discover whether or not the privatisation of PZU (a state-owned insurance giant) was legal. The commission sought to discover how millions of tax payer złoty had evaporated. Przemysław Gosiewski of PiS and Cezary Grabarczyk of PO strengthened their political standing thanks to the commission.

The Puppet Show

The Puppet Show

By the time of the next komisja, the Polish public had become anaesthetised to the bickering and politicking of the members of investigative commissions. Each time a new commission was created, politicians were fighting at the chance to get on board in the hope of repeating the political success of Jan Rokita and Zbigniew Ziobro during Rywingate. The komisja śledcza had become synonymous with political show business and the commission members eager puppets in the pay of their party leaders. The 2006 Commission on the Banking Supervisory Commission (KNB) set out to discover the influence that the National Bank of Poland (NBP) and the Banking Supervisory Commission (KNB) (now the KNF) had had on privatisation in the years 1989-2006. Again, the komisja served more as a chance for politicians to shine rather than reach any conclusions. Adam Hofman, the young PiS politician was its chairperson thanks to which his political career took off.

The PO-PiS Aftermath

The PO-PiS Aftermath

The next komisja which was called into being in 2008 was particularly memorable for its bickering. It was perceived to be an act of revenge by PO on PiS after PO had won the parliamentary elections. The members of Kaczyński’s PiS government were seen to have used their political weight to exert pressure on the police, special services, the Central Anti-corruption Bureau (CBA), public prosecutors, Internal Security Agency (ABW) and judicial authorities for political gain, in particular against PO. The commission’s brief was to investigate these claims. The ‘Commission on Pressure’, as it became known, despite admirable intentions to defend democracy and fight any moves to destabilise it, descended into chaotic pettifoggery and was unanimously declared a farce.

to be continued in (final) part 3