Soon after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, I interviewed newly liberated Poland’s Deputy Minister of Defense. He pointed to the ceiling of his office and to two lamps, put his fingers to his lips in a universally understood gesture, and suggested we take a stroll in one of Warsaw’s beautiful the parks.
As we walked, I asked the obvious question, were the Communists still a threat? He stopped, and whispered, `they are gone, but they are still here.’
His words have always haunted me.
Two weeks ago, we witnessed a striking example of what the minister meant. Warsaw’s prominent archbishop, Stanislaw Wielgus, was forced to resign after revelations he had informed for decades on his fellow clergymen and countrymen for Poland’s brutal Communist secret police, the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, or SB.
Many other senior Catholic clergymen are also being exposed as informers or outright SB agents. Two legislators in this ultra-Catholic nation recently tabled legislation calling for Jesus Christ to be named president of Poland. As may be imagined, Poles are in national shock over the Wielgus scandal.
This is also the latest faux-pas in Pope Benedict’s accident-prone reign that began with his foolish, medieval slurs against Islam. He had appointed old friend Wielgus archbishop, and defended him when the scandal first broke. Questions were immediately raised about how many other former SB and East Germany Stasi agents there might be in the pope’s entourage.
Most of the former Soviet Union’s Orthodox clergy were KGB agents; so was the entire Muslim religious establishment of the Soviet Central Asian republics. KGB also planted numerous highly-placed agents in Poland’s Catholic Church and in the Vatican. Many still remain active today, reporting to KGB’s successor, Russia’s FSB.
KGB and Soviet military intelligence, GRU, were everywhere.
For example, KGB general Pavel Sudoplatov, who organized Trotsky’s murder, even claimed GRU and KGB had three agents in President Franklin Roosevelt’s wartime White House. The late French Socialist Defense Minister, Charles Hernu, was exposed in 1996 as a longtime KGB agent. So effective was KGB that western intelligence for a time feared that the prime ministers of Britain and Canada, and the chancellor of West Germany, might be enemy sleeper agents.
The sinister residue of Communist-era intelligence and security systems still infects Eastern Europe and Russia. After Communism’s collapse, its former intelligence agents and their precious files were simply absorbed into Europe’s new security agencies, or retired on full pensions. A similar process occurred after the fall of Nazi Germany: its intelligence agencies and files were divvied up between the Soviets, Americans, British and French.
After the fall of the Soviet Empire, many former KGB and other East Bloc agents became `businessmen,’ notably in Russia, where they grew rich from blackmail, extortion, and protection, like the former KGB/FSB agents now being investigated in Litvinenko murder case.
In East Germany, one in five citizens became informers for Stasi, the ubiquitous, efficient security police. In Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania, their communist era secret police, Securitate, DS, and Sigurimi, still terrorize these nations.
The chief of Bulgaria’s top secret intelligence archives that were due to be shortly released, was found dead last November. He was officially listed as a `suicide.’ Two other Bulgarian security archivists have also `killed themselves.’ These deaths were clearly aimed at preventing exposure of Bulgarian intelligence in the 1981 plot to kill Pope John Paul.
It was very easy for Communist regimes to enlist informers and agents. The socialist state controlled every aspect of life: housing, medical care, education, pensions, travel, employment, food ration coupons, even marriage licenses. `
Each apartment building, city block, factory section, and school had government informers and party security apparatchiks. Any `anti-state’ or `deviationist’ activities were immediately reported to the party.
Those accused of wrong-doing risked losing homes or jobs and their parent’s pensions. Their children’s futures would be ruined. This efficient totalitarian control system ensured everyone became their own little secret policeman and reported relatives, friends, and co-workers. Informing brought job advancement, better apartments, foreign travel and access to western goods.
In the 1980’s, I faced one of East Europe’s most vicious Communist secret police, which threatened my distant relatives with prison and torture in an effort to get me to write articles attacking its enemies. I adamantly refused, but it was a frightening, ugly business. I finally managed to end it by threatening to kill the specific agents menacing me. I was never bothered again.
Poland’s Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has tabled legislation to exclude former Communist agents from public jobs and reduce or end their state pensions.
More important, the law declares the SB and its former agents `a criminal organization.’ PM Kaczynski and his twin brother, Lech, Poland’s president, vow to purge all remaining Communist agents.
Poland should be hailed for finally exposing Communist criminals and their pawns. Now, it’s time for East Europe’s other nations, Ukraine, and Russia to do the same, though it’s highly unlikely Moscow will ever prosecute its surviving Soviet era mass murderers. The European Union should enact legislation similar to Poland’s, defining the Communist secret police and their political leaders as the criminals they were.
Endlessly repeating mantras about Nazi evils while totally ignoring even greater crimes of the west’s former Communist allies is obscene and profoundly dishonest. Poland’s conservative government has taken a major step in the right direction.