In the biggest new EU member state in post-communist Europe, the new law requiring political vetting is stirring unease from Warsaw to Strasbourg and Brussels. Poland aims to identify citizens who collaborated with the former powers. Many worry this will punish people whom the secret police coerced. Critics say lower-ranking officials rather than authorities will be hit.
Giving his opinion, Polish television’s Andrzej Geber, in Strasbourg, chose his words with care. He said: “In this area where the people are responsible for something – a journalist as a fourth power – maybe it is not so bad to say: ‘I was not (a) collaborator.’” Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski sowed fear earlier this month; He said the old communist network was still present, and stronger than he had thought.
Former anti-communist activists and Church officials have already been outed, some crying ‘foul justice’. Stanislaw Wielgus quit his office as bishop after admitting he spied on fellow clerics during communist rule. He apologised but said he was blackmailed into co-operating.
Rzeczospolita correspondent in Brussels Anna Slojewska presents the case for shedding light on a long-obscured past. She said: “Always there are some information, some files, some accusations that are being published, so even a lot of people who were against that kind of action many years ago, now they admit that we have to do it, just to open all the files, just to check everything, and then for the people who are guilty but also for the people who are innocent but being accused based on some false information, it is better to do it as quick as possible.”
All employers will need to verify that staff have been vetted by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), that guards millions of state security records from the apparatus that pervaded Poland for four decades after World War Two. An IPN spokesman, however, said the process of checking all the cases could take more than 15 years.
Liberal MEP and Polish elder statesman Bronislaw Geremek said: “I don’t think it’s a good solution to ask a teacher who has to teach, to tell the truth, or a journalist who has to convey information and interpretation completely freely, to undergo this act of submission.”
The law will require up to 700,000 Poles in dozens of job categories and born before June 1972 to say in writing whether they collaborated with the regime toppled in 1989. False declaration will be punishable with a ban from the public sector of up to 10 years.