Friday, January 14, 2005

An interesting New York Times story on the allegations that quite a few veterans of Poland's Solidarity movement might have been collaborating with the Communist secret police back in the 70s and 80s.

Among the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe, Poland is a relative latecomer to what has become know as lustration, so called because the bringing to light of secret Communist files may serve as a purifying sacrifice, a process that roiled countries like Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary in the 1990's.

Several years ago, none other than Lech Walesa, a founder of Solidarity and Poland's first democratically elected president, was charged with having collaborated in the early 1970's. While he was cleared by the Polish Parliament, the taint on his reputation has remained.

But there has been a sharp increase here lately in lustration cases because, after years of delay, Poland only this month completed the process of opening its former Communist secret police archives to anybody who can claim to have been a target.

I don't recall any such "lustration" cases in Ukraine, but this may be because I've been living outside Ukraine too much. I did meet a few individuals, though, who claimed that two of our best-known dissidents, Vyacheslav Chornovil and Mustafa Jemilyov, had spent all those years in the Soviet labor camps not as a result of their political activities but because they were rapers. Paradoxically, Vyacheslav Chornovil's son, Taras, head of Yanukovych's campaign #2, turned the same kind of charge upside down and used it to try to cleanse the reputation of his boss (Ekho Moskvy radio interview, Dec. 7, 2004, in Russian):

Question from the audience: Your current boss Yanukovych was convicted on two very disgusting articles. Did you have any doubts about his reputation?

Taras Chornovil's answer: Around the time Yanukovych was being convicted, or perhaps a bit later, I received a warning, a threat, because, being a dissident's son, I couldn't establish a normal contact with the local KGB of Ukraine: "If you continue to get involved in anti-Soviet stuff, we'll throw you to jail. And the article we'll use to convict you would be rape." I know that in those times, in order to close many cases and get rid of the backlog, the police used to put the blame on just about anyone. It would have been very easy to do it with a person who was an orphan and totally powerless. In order to close the backlog cases. And it was very difficult to prove your innocence in those times. If a person with no means and no power had managed to do it then, I think this proves more than enough that the accusations were inadequate. Moreover, if a person in this situation has managed to reach such heights, despite the very difficult early years, then, it seems to me, he has a huge potential.

The evil ways of the KGB's Polish equivalent are mentioned in the New York Times piece, too:

"Their attitude is that if the secret police wrote something, it must be true," Ms. Niezabitowska, 56, said of her accusers during a conversation at her home outside Warsaw. "But this is a fundamental misunderstanding. In the Communist time the core of the system was a lie and the system's executors were professionals. They knew very well how to make lies look like truth by mixing both in words and in documents.

"There was a special service inside the secret police called Office T that specialized in making false documents," she continued. "Sometimes they invented fake agents altogether, or they fabricated letters with compromising information."

To me, however, a lot more important is this paragraph:

This has led some people here to wonder if the process is not harming the wrong people - former democracy activists rather than the many current government officials who were members of the very Communist Party that persecuted them.

This must be true of most if not all post-Soviet states: the rhetoric has changed, the word "democracy" has replaced the word "Communism" - but the faces haven't changed, the same people who ruled the old countries remain in power today. Or they are in charge of the really big, profitable businesses. Or their children are.

With Ukraine, these names come to mind: Victor Medvedchuk, who pretended to defend a dissident poet Vasyl Stus during Brezhnev's rule and who now heads Kuchma's Administration and isn't likely to leave politics after Kuchma's gone; and Yevhen Marchuk, who had spent part of his 30-year career in the Soviet security services dealing with the dissidents and who then became Ukraine's prime minister, and then a presidential candidate in the 1999 race, briefly posturing as a dissident of sorts and then swiftly re-joining Kuchma's team after the defeat in the first round.

Politics is such a stinking swamp.

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