Lech Walesa is the Zeus in the Olympus of democracy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Poland’s Solidarity leader and former president. However, that’s not all he is.
It has long been alleged that under the communists this secular saint was a secret police informer codenamed Bolek. Walesa and his passionate supporters have always denied the charges. However, dispassionate observers have stubbornly insisted on the old saw about smoke and fire. Well, the fire has been found and it’s blazing.
Having compared Walesa’s handwriting to Bolek’s signature adorning money receipts for his spying activities, forensic experts have proved that Walesa and Bolek are the same man.
The findings are so overwhelming that even Walesa’s admirers no longer bother to dispute them. Instead they dismiss that biographical detail as insignificant and overshadowed by his subsequent leadership of Poland’s transition to democracy.
So what if, before his entry into hagiography, Walesa had informed on his friends for money? The Służba Bezpieczeństwa could twist anybody’s arm into collaboration, they aver.
After all, if one saint, Paul, can be forgiven his pre-sainthood persecution of Christians, why can’t Walesa be afforded similar leniency? Don’t you believe in epiphany?
No such incredulity for Radek Sikorski, former British subject, former Bullingdon man at Oxford, former Poland foreign minister and present husband to poor Anne Applebaum. Addressing Walensa, Sikorski tweeted: “You are a greater man than your critics.”
Would Walesa still be a great man if he had murdered, rather than just informed, for the Służba Bezpieczeństwa? Come to think of it, those two activities were often a distinction without a difference: many poor souls turned in to the secret police never came back. Can anything besmirch Walesa in Sikorski’s eyes and other champions of liberal democracy über alles?
They say that discrediting Walesa, and vicariously other champions of liberal democracy über alles, plays into the hands of the present government. That’s meaningless if true: truth doesn’t become a lie because it benefits those we dislike.
So what does this particular truth mean? A minor point first: the secret police couldn’t coerce anybody into betraying his friends. Having grown up under the aegis of a considerably more murderous organisation than the SB, I knew men who flatly refused to inform.
I also knew some who succumbed to threats and did inform. Yet none of them collaborated for cold cash, as Bolek did. There we’re talking about a witting career agent, not a poor coerced soul.
Now a more important point. Unlike wide-eyed Western champions of liberal democracy über alles, those who know the USSR not from hearsay have always discerned a certain pattern in simultaneous transition to democracy throughout Eastern Europe.
The mid-eighties, when Walesa ascended to secular sainthood, was the time when power in the Soviet Union was passing from the Party to the KGB, a process later called glasnost and perestroika.
That message was communicated unequivocally in 1982, when the KGB chief Andropov became Secretary General, dictator for all practical purposes.
It was Andropov who decided to act on the ideas first put forth by his mentor Lavrentiy Beria, the secret police chief murdered in 1953. Beria advocated loosening Party control over Russia and Soviet control over Eastern Europe. That, he believed, would dupe the West into acquiescence and perpetuate Soviet de facto influence.
Such a flexible KGB policy, developed to its logical end by Andropov’s protégé Gorbachev, was resisted by the Party to the bitter end, both in the USSR and its satellites. Echoes of that resistance could he heard distinctly.
For example, the last two months of 1984 saw the demise of the defence ministers of five Warsaw Pact countries, including the Soviet Union itself. They all died of cardiac arrest. Would it be preposterous to suggest that such a concentrated outbreak of fatalities bucked statistical odds?
Assuming that the sudden epidemic of cardiac arrests wasn’t entirely coincidental, one is entitled to see it as a visible result of that invisible struggle – at least this is the only way I can make sense of the statistics.
Also, no deposed Eastern European dictator was killed by the vanquishing democrats – with one exception. Nicolae Ceaușescu couldn’t get his rigid mind around the new flexibility. Hence he had to be shot, along with his whole family.
There’s much indirect evidence to support this version of recent history – enough to convince me, for one. I’m certain that the KGB saw its chance and grabbed it. (In today’s Russia 85 per cent of the top government officials, including Putin, are KGB officers.) It’s debatable whether it maintained control all along or at some point lost it and let matters go further than intended.
But what matters in the Bolek affair isn’t the end but the beginning. If it’s true that the KGB directed the whole liberalisation movement from the start, then Walesa also acted as an SB agent in his saintly incarnation.
Such a role isn’t unlikely historically, psychologically or morally. A man who shops his friend for money is certainly capable of doing his masters’ bidding all along.
Many revolutionaries of the past, most famously Gapon and Azef in tsarist Russia, had secret police links. We know that more recently Gorbachev and Yeltsyn were in bed with the KGB. Do we disregard forensic evidence and believe Walesa is a virgin? I don’t.