Recently, the European Parliament condemned the Polish government's attempt to strip Bronislaw Geremek of his parliamentary mandate. A leader of Solidarity, a former political prisoner and the foreign minister responsible for Poland's accession to NATO, Geremek had refused to sign yet another declaration that he had not been a communist secret police agent.
The EU parliamentarians called the Polish government's actions a witch-hunt, and Geremek declared Poland's "lustration" law a threat to civil liberties. In response, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski accused Geremek of "damaging his fatherland" and "provoking an anti-Polish affair."
The same phrases were used by Communists when Geremek criticized their misrule.
A ruling by Poland's Constitutional Court issued on Friday gutted much of the lustration law, and made Germek's position in the EU parliament safe -- at least for now. But the lustration law was but one act among many in a systematic effort by Poland's current government to undermine the country's democratic institutions and fabric.
What is happening in Poland, the country where communism's downfall began? Every revolution has two phases. First comes a struggle for freedom, then a struggle for power. The first makes the human spirit soar and brings out the best in people. The second unleashes the worst: envy, intrigue, greed, suspicion, and the urge for revenge.
The Polish Solidarity revolution followed an unusual course. Solidarity, pushed underground when martial law was declared in December 1981, survived seven years of repression and then returned in 1989 on the wave of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika."
During the Round Table negotiations that brought about the end of communist rule, a compromise was reached between the reform wing of the communist government and Solidarity. This cleared a path to the peaceful dismantling of communist dictatorship throughout the entire Soviet bloc.
Solidarity adopted a philosophy of compromise rather than revenge, and embraced the idea of a Poland for everyone rather than a state divided between omnipotent winners and oppressed losers. Since 1989, governments changed, but the state remained stable; even the postcommunists approved the rules of parliamentary democracy and a market economy.
But not everyone accepted this path. Today, Poland is ruled by a coalition of post-Solidarity revanchists, postcommunist provincial trouble-makers, the heirs of pre-World War II chauvinist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic groups, and the milieu of Radio Maryja, the spokesmen for ethno-clerical fundamentalism.
Worrying signs are everywhere: the authority of the courts is undermined, the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal is attacked, the civil service corrupted, and prosecutors are politicized. Everyday social life is being repressively regulated.
Why is this happening? Every successful revolution creates winners and losers. Poland's revolution brought civil rights along with increased criminality, a market economy along with failed enterprises and high unemployment, and the formation of a dynamic middle class along with increased income inequality. It opened Poland to Europe, but also brought a fear of foreigners and an invasion of Western mass culture.
For the losers of Poland's revolution of 1989, freedom is a great uncertainty. The Solidarity workers at giant enterprises have become victims of the freedoms they won. In the prison world of communism, a person was the property of the state, but the state took care of one's existence. In the world of freedom, nobody provides care. It is in this anxious atmosphere that the current coalition rules, combining US President George W. Bush's conservative nostrums with the centralizing practices of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Solidarity veterans believed that the dictatorship's demise would be followed by their own reign. But guilty communists were not punished, and virtuous Solidarity activists were not rewarded. So feelings of injustice gave rise to resentment, envy, and a destructive energy focused on revenge against former enemies and old friends who seemed successful.
The losers refused to admit that the achievement of freedom was Poland's greatest success in 300 years. For them, Poland remained a country ruled by the communist security apparatus. Such a Poland required a moral revolution in which crimes would be punished, virtue rewarded, and injustice redeemed.
The means chosen by these losers' parties after they won the general election of 2005 was a great purge. Lustration, according to early estimates, would affect 700,000 people and take 17 years to complete.
A list of names found in the reports of the Security Services was to be prepared and made public. Moreover, was the duty of every one of the 700,000 people subjected to lustration to declare that he or she did not collaborate with the security services. Those who refused or filed a false declaration were to be fired and banned from working in their profession for 10 years.
The result of all this was a pervasive climate of fear. But not everyone fell silent. Cardinal Dziwisz of Krakow argued that there could be no place in Poland "for retribution, revenge, lack of respect for human dignity, and reckless accusations."
Never since the fall of communism had a Catholic Cardinal used such words of condemnation.
The goal of Poland's peaceful revolution was freedom, sovereignty, and economic reform, not a hunt for suspected or real secret police agents. If a hunt for agents had been organized in 1990 when the democratic revolution began, neither Leszek Balcerowicz's economic reforms nor the establishment of a state governed by law would have been possible. Poland would not be in NATO or the EU.
Today, two Polands confront each other. A Poland of suspicion, fear and revenge is fighting a Poland of hope, courage and dialogue. This second Poland -- of openness and tolerance, of John Paul II and Czeslaw Milosz, of my friends from the underground and from prison -- must prevail.
I believe that Poles will once again defend their right to be treated with dignity. The Constitutional Tribunal's decision gives hope that the second phase of the Polish revolution will not consume either its father, the will to freedom, or its child, the democratic state.
Adam Michnik, a former leader of Solidarity, is editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza. Copyright: Project Syndicate
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