Poland's Communist informers caught red-handed on the Net

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Poles have been logging on to the internet in record numbers this week after a journalist accidentally posted the names of tens of thousands of Communist-era police informers on a website.

Poles have been logging on to the internet in record numbers this week after a journalist accidentally posted the names of tens of thousands of Communist-era police informers on a website.

The question: "Are you a spy?" is now being heard everywhere, from family gatherings and parliamentary debates to bars and nightclubs.

It is all the work of Bronislaw Wildstein, a journalist who legally made a copy of a secret police file in Poland's National Remembrance Institute containing the names of thousands of secret police collaborators, informers and the citizens they were monitoring.

But to the shock and fascination of the nation ­ and the embarrassment of Mr Wildstein ­ his list of about 240,000 names made its way from his computer, via a chain of colleagues and friends, on to an anonymous website with a dedicated search engine.

Computer-shy Poles have scrambled online in their hundreds of thousands, all with one goal: to enter their name on to the site, click "search" and find out whether, they have been fingered as a spy.

"Wildstein's List", as it has become known, is widely assumed to be an index of names of Poles who spied for the hated Communist authorities prior to the democratic changes of 1989. Poles dread seeing their name on the list, as they fear they will be associated with the murky world of Cold War espionage.

But the list is in fact an index of spies and their victims, often the same democratic activists, such as the Solidarity union activists of the Gdansk shipyard, who helped bring down the regime led by Poland's last Communist president, General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Karol Malcuzynski, a journalist who worked for the BBC in Poland in the 1980s, is on the list and revealed he was approached by secret police who offered him a job as a spy, which he declined. "I can talk to the radio or television," Mr Malcuzynski said.

"But imagine a situation of a school principal in a small town whose name is on it. He does not stand a chance. People will distance themselves from him."

On 6 February, General Marek Dukaczewski, Poland's head of army intelligence, tried to play down suggestions that the publication of the list represented a breach in national security. He announced that he himself is on the list, and told Radio Zet, a popular independent radio station: "There is no threat to active officers of military intelligence."

The confusion between victims and perpetrators that the list creates has caused personal anguish as well as a means by which former and present intelligence officers can conceal their true identity. The subject of collaboration with the Communists is a delicate issue in Poland, which after the fall of the Berlin Wall, chose the path of reconciliation with former party cadres. Consequently many of the country's bureaucrats and public servants still have some link to the former regime. The current administration, which has a popularity rating of less than 10 per cent, is of former Communists who have remade themselves as democratic left-leaning politicians.

Political analysts in Poland say that the leaking of files is often the work of the conservative opposition, which is expected to win a landslide victory in elections this year.

Comments