WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- In quick succession last week, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader, received a World War II medal for patriotism from the Polish state, and was indicted for cracking down on the labor movement Solidarity in 1981.
The office of Polish President Lech Kaczynski said Friday that Jaruzelski had been given the medal in error, and demanded it back. The citation said Jaruzelski had been decorated for fighting in the Polish army alongside Soviet forces in the liberation of German-occupied Poland. But the presidential spokesman was quoted as saying that President Kaczynski must have authorized the decoration by mistake. "The president does not read everything he signs," was Maciej Lopinski's explanation.
Whether by coincidence or design, the sequence of events mirrors the division in Polish attitudes towards the balding, myopic Communist leader whose failure to suppress the independent labor union Solidarity led by Lech Walesa led to the end of his regime, but who redeemed himself in the eyes of many Poles first by preventing a Soviet intervention, and later by peacefully relinquishing power.
Solidarity - supported from Rome by Polish-born Pope John Paul II - literally swept the Communist regime out of office; and the communist leadership was tacitly spared retribution in return for going quietly. Even so, Jaruzelski was later the subject of an inquiry by the Polish parliament for declaring martial law during his regime. The assembly, which still had a sizeable number of elected Communist members, cleared him of responsibility for the 100 or so deaths resulting from the crackdown on Solidarity.
Now Jaruzelski's case has been resurrected following the election six months ago of a conservative government and president. Last week the state's Institute of National Remembrance (IPN)-- a state organization that investigates crimes from the Nazi occupation and Poland's communist era -- indicted him for "communist crimes," notably the arrest of thousands of Solidarity members under the martial law. Both Walesa and President Kaczynski had been among those jailed. Jaruzelski, who is now 82, remains free in Warsaw, and no date has been set for a trial.
His defense has always been that by declaring martial law as the threat to the regime from Solidarity increased he had kept the Russians at bay, perhaps preventing a repetition of what had happened in Budapest in 1956, and in Prague in 1968 when Soviet tanks had rolled into Hungary and Czechoslovakia respectively. "This was our own sovereign decision - but one which took into account the realities of those times," Jaruzelski said recently. "At that time the Socialist system was the reality of that state - its backbone. And toppling that reality would have meant both civil war and foreign intervention."
His critics say Jaruzelski's case has been weakened by the fact that documents found in former Soviet archives since the collapse of communism show that the Russians were not planning to invade Poland. If that is so, then the Polish leader's justification was obviously nothing more then a pretext.
But Moscow's East European satellites had very little intelligence about Russian intentions. They had to rely on what the Russians told them, or on what they sometimes gleaned from the West; and some believe the Warsaw regime was receiving the latter in a roundabout way. In the first half of the 1980s the Reagan administration regularly passed on to the Vatican intelligence about Moscow's handling of the growing crisis in Poland. Vatican historians have described how Gen. Vernon Walters, a senior CIA official at the time, made several trips to Rome during that period to brief Pope John Paul II and top Vatican prelates, showing them satellite pictures of Soviet troop movements on Poland's borders with both the Soviet Union and East Germany.
The pope in turn is known to have been in close touch with the Polish hierarchy, and possibly passing on the information. On his trips to Poland, John Paul even had private meetings with Jaruzelski himself. What the Vatican did or did not pass on to Jaruzelski may recently have become easier for IPN investigators to determine. Pope John Paul's long-time private secretary and close collaborator, Cardinal Stanlislas Dziwsz, is now back in Poland as archbishop of Krakow; and Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the Polish Primate at the time is still living Warsaw, the Polish capital.
Furthermore, the Kremlin may not have had any intention of intervening in Poland, but does that mean that it did not want the Poles to think otherwise? Jaruzelski's view of Moscow was also darkened by the lens of his own history. His family had been deported to Siberia by the Russians early in World War II. It was from Siberia that he volunteered for service in the Polish army that drove the Germans out of Poland.
But if there is a show trial for Jaruzelski, it will be a belated break in the remarkable pattern of transition with relatively little retribution from communism to democracy that helped smooth the changes in Eastern Europe. Of the leaders in power when communism collapsed, only Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaucescu was tried and executed. Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov died at home in bed, where admittedly he was under virtual house arrest. Czechoslovakia's last communist president, Gustav Husak also died of natural causes in 1991. Hungarian party leader Karoly Grosz passed away in 1996, a free man.
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