Polish leader mops up after spy scandal

Warsaw insists the murky past will not halt reform, writes Adrian Bridge

Poland's new Prime Minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, has moved swiftly to try to limit the damage following the dramatic resignation of his predecessor, Jozef Oleksy, over allegations that he spied for the KGB.

After a week of hard bargaining, he secured agreement on a new coalition government last week that promises to maintain the momentum of Poland's economic reform and its drive to join the European Union and Nato. At the same time, he has made it clear that he wants to open up wide-ranging dialogue with opposition groups and include them in decision-making.

Above all he has pledged a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations against Mr Oleksy, which are being examined by the country's senior military prosecutors.

"I will do everything to ensure that the government will be fully credible in the legality of its actions and respect for law," Mr Cimoszewicz told the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Holbrooke, who visited Warsaw last week. He conceded, however, that if the allegations against Mr Oleksy were found to be true, there would be "repercussions on the entire political situation".

Many Poles fear that the scandal surrounding Mr Oleksy has already had serious repercussions, harming their country's international standing and raising question marks against its suitability for Nato and EU membership.

Mr Holbrooke himself conceded that Poland's handling of the crisis was being "keenly watched" by Washington, adding that, "they [the Poles] recognise themselves that there are some democratic procedures that must be worked through in the next few months".

Most Western diplomats in Warsaw admit to being disconcerted by the KGB allegations - which have been denied by Mr Oleksy himself - but are withholding judgement pending the results of the investigation.

"These are very serious charges and the longer this goes on, the worse it looks," said a diplomat. "The sooner things are brought out into the open and clarified, the better."

The storm over Mr Oleksy, a former Communist, broke in the last week of Lech Walesa's presidency in December. Mr Walesa claimed to have material showing that Mr Oleksy spied for the KGB from the early 1980s up until he became Prime Minister last March.

Mr Oleksy described the allegations as a "dirty provocation", motivated by Mr Walesa's desire for revenge following his defeat at the hands of another former Communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, in November's presidential election. Mr Oleksy admitted, however, to a long friendship with a Russian diplomat who later turned out to be a KGB officer. He also admitted that, under the circumstances, the friendship had been "imprudent".

Since the overthrow of Communism in 1989, Poland has experienced six changes of government and seven changes of prime minister. However, for all the dramas in the Sejm (lower house of parliament) the country's economy has boomed regardless, recording impressive growth rates for four years in succession and an ever-increasing shift towards the private sector.

The departure of Mr Oleksy has rung more alarm bells than those of his predecessors because it raises awkward questions about his formerly Communist party, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the dominant force in Polish politics today.

For Mr Walesa and the heirs of Solidarity, it confirms what they have said all along: that for all the SLD's claims to be a party of reform- minded Western-style social democrats, there is something rotten at its core. Even those more favourably disposed towards the party concede that they do now wonder what other skeletons may be rattling in its cupboard.

Both friend and foe acknowledge, however, that in choosing Mr Cimoszewicz as Mr Oleksy's successor, President Kwasniewski has made a shrewd move. Although he was a member of the old Communist Party, Mr Cimoszewicz, 45, never held a high position within it, in marked contrast to both Mr Oleksy and Mr Kwasniewski. Since 1989 Mr Cimoszewicz has stood out as being an independent spirit, frequently refusing to toe the SLD party line.

As justice minister in 1993, he became famous for his "clean hands" campaign aimed at ensuring probity in public life, including among former Communists. Last year, he caused further consternation in the SLD camp by initially refusing to support Mr Kwasniewski in his election campaign.

The SLD is clearly hoping that the new Prime Minister will help to restore some of its lost credibility. It may also back President Kwasniewski's recent proposal to open up the country's secret service files to determine exactly who did inform for the old regime.

But the SLD is not feeling too contrite. Last month it selected Mr Oleksy to succeed Mr Kwasniewski as party leader.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones