Poland Purges Its Past New Law to Punish Communist-Era Secret Police

As Poland is finally forced to deal with its murky communist past, the government in Warsaw wants to punish the former secret police -- by barring them from public jobs and cutting their pensions.

The Polish government has announced that it will introduce a new law that aims to punish the country's communist-era secret police, instead of their often reluctant informers who have born the brunt of recent exposures.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski  said on Thursday that his Law and Justice party would introduce the bill to parliament in the coming weeks. The New York Times quoted Kaczynski as saying the law would "free Poland of the last traces of communism by removing all the priviledges of individuals responsible for the crimes and repression of the totalitarian state."

The proposed law would make the communist-era secret police, the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, into a criminal organization. It would also bar former secret service officers from public jobs and cut their state benefits and pensions.

The newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza quoted Prime Minister Kaczynski on Wednesday as saying, "We have to make the nation aware who was the victim and who was the hangman. It is time to start dealing with the hangmen now." He added, "We cannot allow the guilt of the executioners to be overshadowed by the guilt of those who did wrong, who made mistakes and who were broken, but who were the actual victims."

Poland has recently been forced to face up to its communist past to an unprecedented extent. The resignation of the newly appointed Archbishop of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus  following the exposure of his collaboration with the secret police has rocked the staunchly Catholic country. The Catholic Church was revered for its resistance to communist rule, with the late Pope John Paul II being seen as an anti-communist hero.

Many Poles are now uncomfortable with the fact that informers are being named and shamed, while those who often harassed or blackmailed them into collaboration have gone unpunished. After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, many agents simply switched over the new secret service or used their contacts and insider knowledge to take advantage of the new free-market conditions and get rich.

The purge of the former secret agents and police comes after years of brushing the former activities of the communist regime under the carpet in favour of reconciliation between its opponents and supporters. But now the secret files are being opened, revealing the uncomfortable truth that many Poles -- including ostensibly anti-communist priests and bishops -- spied on their friends, colleagues and neighbors.

smd/reuters

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