The Sordid Past of Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski
|Marek Jan Chodakiewicz | Bio | 16 Nov 2006
World Politics Watch Exclusive
When Poland's president and prime minister, the Kaczynski twins, visited Washington, D.C., in September 2006, they both voiced their support for former Polish chief of state, the post-Communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, who aspired to be the new secretary general, or gensek, of the United Nations. The White House responded with an embarrassing silence. Although George W. Bush had earlier supported Kwasniewski, the United States resolved to back the Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon.
Many assumed that Bush discarded Kwasniewski because the Pole could no longer deliver for the United States, as he had by committing Polish troops to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That was to be his stepping stone to the top post at the U.N. Now, however, Kwasniewski is old news. South Korea is more important, particularly in light of its northern neighbor's nuclear threats. Realpolitik thus derailed the chances of the Polish candidate.
At least that is the official story. Perhaps, however, there was another factor. Perhaps the American President knew more than he wanted to let on. Perhaps George W. Bush wanted to avoid a serious embarrassment.
After all, there have long been rumors about Kwasniewski's unsavory past. It may very well be then that the United States wanted to prevent a major scandal. Let's call it containment of the Kurt Waldheim syndrome. The Austrian served as general secretary of the United Nations between 1972 and 1981. In his case, wanton disregard for history resulted in explosive revelations about the U.N. gensek's Nazi activities before and during the Second World War. More seriously, this led to the allegations that the Soviets, privy to Waldheim's past, had been blackmailing him to assure the U.N.'s anti-U.S. and anti-Israel stance.
Kwasniewski's ugly secrets may have likewise rendered the politician open to the post-Soviet Russian blackmail and, hence, potentially, anti-American attitudes. After all, at least until 1989, the politician from Warsaw served Moscow as a secret agent.
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When, in 1995, Kwasniewski became Poland's post-Communist president, he had to fill out an affidavit stating that he had not served or been an agent of the secret police. He perjured himself.
According to the right-wing weekly Voice (Glos), the internal security service (Urzad Ochrony Panstwa (UOP) -- Office for the Defense of the State) under Poland's "Solidarity" government turned Kwasniewski's file over to the courts in August 2000. This was to be the post-Communist sitting president's lustration (vetting). In September 2000, the court determined that the material available indeed concerned Kwasniewski. The court further determined that Kwasniewski was registered as an agent of the secret police, the Security Service (SB, Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa). However, no records were found regarding his specific activities as an agent. All pertinent documents appeared to have been destroyed. Therefore the court decided that it could be claimed that Kwasniewski did not perjure himself in his affidavit. This was an innocent verdict by default. Thus, the post-Communist judges once again cleared one of their own, according to the Christian-nationalist Our Daily (Nasz Dziennik).
Soon after the "trial", however, more documents regarding Kwasniewski were found. The UOP released a Communist secret police report from the Seoul Olympics (1988). According to the report, there were secret agents in "the strict leadership" of the Polish Olympic team. In fact, there were 5 agents listed out of 7 persons who constituted "the strict leadership." The head of the leadership was the then-Communist minister of sport, Aleksander Kwasniewski.
In fact, many more documents have been located to implicate the politician. To appreciate the Benedictine effort of the researchers and archivists, a few words on methodology are warranted. Much of what follows is available in a very recently published monograph, edited by Dr. Filip Musial of the Institute of National Remembrance in Cracow, "Regarding the Secret Police Files: Methodological and Research Problems" (Wokól teczek bezpieki: Zagadnienia metodologiczno-zródloznawcze, Kraków: Instytut Pamieci Narodowej, Komisja Scigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, 2006).
The Security Service of Poland periodically purged its archives of certain categories of documents. But the greatest massacre of the records took place between January and April of 1990, well after the so-called "free" elections of June 1989 and the alleged "fall of communism." An estimated 70 percent of all Communist secret police reports were destroyed under the glazed eyes of the liberal Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a left-wing Solidarity appointee.
However, the remaining documents, which are stored by the Institute of National Remembrance, can sometimes suffice to establish some basic facts, and sometimes even the gory details, of the activities of the net of agents, the agentura. This is possible because of the Byzantine system of record keeping by the SB.
The only person who knew a Communist agent was his direct handler, his immediate superior, and the internal affairs vetting inspector, who checked periodically whether agent registration was real and whether all procedures were followed. Even the SB record keepers were not privy to information about an agent's identity (see below). After 1989 only a few Communist secret policemen decided to come clean and reveal their agent net. Nonetheless, few agents have been identified this way. Most were not. But they can't sleep in peace anymore.
Before 1989, each time a secret police officer received or wrote a report, he was obligated to identify each person and object (building or institution) mentioned in the report and insert a copy of the report into the separate files of each person or object referenced. This way not only the original of the report was kept but also its multiple copies.
Further, sometimes secret police reports could be misfiled with regular court records. This was the case with the notorious Major Adam Humer, a chief Stalinist torturer, who destroyed all his records, save for a misplaced copy of his own report describing how he murdered an underground journalist. This bureaucratic mistake allowed for the secret policeman to be tried and sentenced to jail after 1989.
There are also secret police records in the regular criminal police archive. For example, abstractly speaking, if the vice squad of Warsaw was unable to catch a serial rapist, the criminal police would ask the secret police for assistance. The former usually would supply the latter with agent reports from the areas where the rapist was active. And so a secret police agent would share his insights about his neighborhood. At all times the agent's identity would remain anonymous to the criminal police. However, it was often possible to identify the agent because the report would contain his codename, his registration number, and even, albeit much less frequently, his general address (no apartment number).
Additionally, agent identity can be established by juxtaposing the contents of secret police card catalogues. There are two main types: a name catalogue and a call number catalogue. Secret police archivists who were assigned to service the former were not allowed access to the latter. However, they destroyed both catalogues partly. Some cards were individually removed. Most cards were dumped and mixed up. This meant that the individual records of the agentura and its handlers were freely combined with these of their victims. The secret police archivists also destroyed the key to the catalogue system and, essentially, refused to share the knowledge about it with their successors. However, the archivists of the Institute of National Remembrance have been able to restore the catalogues from scratch. Now, one can more easily try to match the names with the registration numbers.
It is now also less complicated to understand the numbers and symbols on unrelated documents without the agent registration records. Take the files regarding weapon permits.
Poland had a total ban on weapons under communism. More precisely, the military, secret police, and top party people were permitted weapons. Regular Poles were not. However, each weapons permit had to be issued individually based upon the decision of a local secret police commander. The permit sheet included the following rubrics: the name, date of birth, place of birth, address, weapon type, remarks, and legal basis (podstawa prawna) of the decision. Usually, the authority granting the permit would invoke an innocuous sounding paragraph of the Communist law. Occasionally, however, under the rubric "legal basis" there would be written, say, 72204, an agent registration number. It would then be possible to match the name in the weapons permit against the name catalogue in the agent registration section, and the registration number against the number catalogue or any of the many extant copies of agent reports containing the registration number and the codename, and the identity of the agent would quickly become clear.
Next, individual files have been recovered by the IPN and the new Polish secret services both by recovery from the former Communist secret policemen and by declassifying records kept elsewhere by related institutions, most notably military intelligence.
Also, there is a multi-level password-protected master computer list of the agentura. The endeavor to decipher it is well advanced.
Last but not least, a master copy of all registered agents is in Moscow. The official denials by the Kremlin notwithstanding, this can be argued by analogy with other Soviet Block services, the East German Stasi in particular. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Stasi officer liaison delivered the master copy of the register to the Soviets but made another copy and sold it to the United States. It took a decade of begging for the German government to receive some records from the copy, which is deposited with the CIA.
Now that it has finally vetted its intelligence services, Warsaw should urgently approach Washington to ask for the secret police records from Poland. When it does, it can officially confirm what the researchers at the Institute of National Remembrance have found in disparate files.
According to his file, Aleksander Zdzislaw Kwasniewski, codenamed "Alek," was first registered by the SB on June 23, 1982. This was a preliminary registration under the "secured" (zaba) category. That meant that the target was approached and investigated to determine whether he could be recruited. On June 29, 1983, Kwasniewski's registration was changed to secret collaborator/agent (TW, tajny wspólpracownik). His secret police registration number was 72204. His secret police card catalogue sequential registration number was 4645. Kwasniewski's case officer was Captain Wytrwal. The agent was originally registered by Section XIV (Wydzial XIV) of the II Department (counterintelligence) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MSW) in Warsaw. On December 3, 1983, the agent was shifted to Section VII of the III Department, which infiltrated and controlled the media. The agent was de-registered on September 9, 1989. This marks the official date of the termination of his relationship with the secret police of Communist Poland.
However, in the mid-1990s allegations surfaced that Kwasniewski was a Russian agent codenamed "Executioner" (Kat). It was further alleged that Executioner met with his handler, ex-KGB officer Vladimir Alganov, outside of Gdansk in August 1993. When the allegations became public, the post-Communist courts predictably cleared Kwasniewski of meeting with Alganov. The court however focused on this single occasion in August 1993. The crucial "evidence" of Kwasniewski's innocence was supplied in the form of credit card receipts and bank operation records which purported to show that Kwasniewski was in Ireland at the time of the alleged meeting. The bank records were made available by BIG (now Millenium) Bank, which is run by a post-communist kleptocrat, Boguslaw Kot.
In other words, this and other cases of alleged espionage remain open before the court of public opinion. It will remain so for a while. The attempts to allow the public access to the Kwasniewski secret police file have so far been defeated.
An important facet of collaborating with the Communist secret police was that the SB was intimately involved in creating communist Poland's elite. Cooperate and you would be rewarded. Refuse and you would be punished: denied a job, a promotion, a foreign scholarship, a passport to travel abroad, or a special coupon for consumer goods unavailable to regular citizens. Your children would be barred from the university. And that was the minimum punishment. Resist actively and you would be imprisoned or even killed. Collaborate and denounce your family, friends, and neighbors and you would reap the bountiful rewards. This was the standard method of negative selection of the Polish elite between 1944 and 1989. And Kwasniewski was one of the principal beneficiaries of the system.
In 1977, he joined the Communist Party while a university student in Gdansk. He never graduated but claimed until recently that he had a master's degree. At the time of his registration as a secret police agent Kwasniewski was a Communist youth activist and the editor-in-chief of a student weekly, called Etc (Itd). Accordingly, he was assigned to inform on fellow journalists. He must have pleased his superiors. In 1984 he was promoted to head the party's daily Youth Banner (Sztandar Mlodych). Between 1985 and 1987 Kwasniewski served the minister of sports and youth. He was also put in charge of the Polish Olympic Committee. Further, from 1987 through 1990, Kwasniewski headed the Committee for Youth and Physical Culture. During his tenure at the committee, about $100 million disappeared. In March 2006, belatedly, the Public Prosecutor's Office launched an official investigation into the matter.
A Democrat Rises
Meanwhile, Kwasniewski had enjoyed a stellar career in post-1989 Poland. First, he was one of the leading lights of the post-Communist Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland (SDRP) and, then, the Union of the Democratic Left (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej), both avatars of the transformed Communist party. Finally, in 1995, he was elected to the nation's presidency. Having won reelection in 2000, Kwasniewski completed his second term as President in 2005.
After the "fall" of Communism in 1989, Kwasniewski quickly reinvented himself as a liberal democratic politician. First, while retaining his Moscow links through his erstwhile comrades, he established contact with the United States. In the summer of 1989, when the first Solidarity-led (but Communist dominated) government was established, agent "Alek" invited U.S. Ambassador John Davis out to lunch. "I am the opposition now," he told him, successfully wooing the American. Kwasniewski continued networking suavely. As a result, Bill Clinton sent him public relations advisors and other assistance, which greatly assisted his narrow victory over Lech Walesa in the presidential elections of 1995.
More importantly, however, Kwasniewski won because there had been no de-Communization, no vetting of former agents, and no coming to grips with Poland's totalitarian past. The post-Communists were able to pose as liberal democrats. Their flip-floping was routine and brazen. To illustrate, in the early 1990s Kwasniewski was quoted by centrist paper Republic (Rzeczpospolita) as saying he had joined the Communists because: "My leftist views to a large extent were shaped under the influence of the evil, primitive propaganda of [Radio] Free Europe. Its bias upset me so that it pushed me toward the left." A few years later, however, Kwasniewski swore that "Radio Free Europe shaped me to a large extent. In a certain sense, if it had not been for them, I would have not become a man of the Left. My father listened to Radio Free Europe all the time."
This can be dismissed as the sort of routine lies that even truly democratic U.S. politicians sometimes resort to. But that would be mirror imaging. The extent of Kwasniewski's involvement in shady deals puts to shame many an embezzling U.S. politician, if only in terms of the relative value of the loot. Poland is a very poor country. Naturally, the scandalous dealings of agent "Alek" and his comrades have often been denied and, until recently, Polish legal authorities routinely refused to deal with them.
Here's a short list of Kwasniewski's snafus over the years as reported in various sources, including the leftist Electoral Gazette (Gazeta Wyborcza), centrist Republic, populist Daily (Dziennik) and the right-wing Our Daily.
1. In 1995, when he was about to be elected as post-Communist president, it was revealed that Kwasniewski had falsified his tax return. He "forgot" to mention that his wife, Jolanta, held stock in a publicly traded insurance company and made about $15,000 per year on it (an average monthly salary in Poland was about $200 at that time).
2. Also at that time (October and November 1995), Kwasniewski perjured himself while filing an affidavit with the federal electoral commission. In addition to denying his involvement with the Communist secret police, he also falsely claimed that he had graduated from the University of Gdansk with a master's degree. He then repeated the boast to Polish and foreign media (the last time to the Frankfurter Rundschau on Nov. 24, 1995). This is a significant point because in his campaign against Lech Walesa Kwasniewski claimed to be "an educated man." After his electoral victory, Kwasniewski finally admitted, in an interview for the leftist weekly Polityka, that he had failed to graduate. Prior, the media in Poland, which is controlled mostly by post-Communists and leftists, failed to report that university authorities officially denied the presidential candidate's claim twice in October and November 1995. The Solidarity opposition sued to invalidate the election because of the falsified affidavit. The post-Communist Supreme Court ruled against (with merely one judge abstaining).
3. In December 1995, after he moved to the Presidential Palace, Kwasniewski loaned his own apartment to a friend, Wladyslaw Wapinski, who was a convicted drug dealer. Wapinski, who had also been convicted on illegal weapon's possession and traveling on a false passport, later, in 2003, was implicated in an embezzlement case involving the procurement of state funds ($30 million) -- secured through Kwasniewski -- for a phony "blood deposit laboratory" that was never built. The president was also friendly with a number of other unsavory characters, including Marek Dochnal. Their mutual dealings would surface in October 2004 when the Orlen gasoline company scandal broke out and Dochnal was arrested. Kwasniewski disavowed knowing the man, but after the media produced a picture of the two together in 1997, the President fell silent.
4. In March 1996, in the Bialowieza Forest, Kwasniewski met Aleksandr Lukashenka of Belorussia, where the former allegedly became so intoxicated that, following the meeting, he attempted, in full view of the cameras, to enter his limo through the trunk. In September 1996, Kwasniewski was photographed at the United Nations wrapping himself in a Polish flag. He was allegedly drunk again. Last but not least, in September 1999, while attending the solemn ceremony to commemorate the Polish officers shot by the NKVD in the Katyn Forest, Kwasniewski got drunk, staggered, mumbled, and was unable to walk by himself. This took place in Ukraine and in full view not only of assembled foreign dignitaries and families of the victims, but it was also immortalized before a number of TV cameras. The post-Communist prime minister Leszek Miller and the presidential staff prevailed upon the TV crews (almost uniformly reporting for post-Communist controlled TV stations) not to air the footage. The scandal was publicly acknowledged by Kwasniewski only after he had left office.
5. In August 1996, Kwasniewski issued a temporary amnesty affidavit to a professional Polish-American boxer, Andrew Golota from Chicago. Golota was wanted by the authorities for beating up several people. This thuggish athlete kept unsavory company in Poland with various mafiosi. However, the boxer paid $100,000 to a "charitable" foundation controlled by Kwasniewski and was permitted to travel to Poland unmolested.
6. In September 1997, during a campaign visit to Kielce, upon landing at the local heliport, Kwasniewski encouraged his own chief of staff, post-Communist Marek Siwiec, to mock John Paul II. To the president's great amusement, Siwiec descended from the presidential helicopter, "blessed" everyone with a sign of the cross, prostrated himself, and kissed the ground. Kwasniewski was so tickled that he urged Siwiec to repeat the performance, which the latter did, delighting everyone in the presidential entourage. This was captured on camera.
7. In February 1998, Kwasniewski's image and endorsement appeared in an ad for a furniture company. The President argued that he merely supported a Polish firm competing in Asian markets. Then it turned out that the owner of the company is Kwasniewski's wife's (the first lady's) brother-in-law. At this point, Kwasniewski denied ever having given anyone permission to use his image and endorsement for the ad.
8. In 1998, Kwasniewski was among several high-ranking post-Communist officials who acquired luxurious, municipally owned apartments and homes for peanuts. Poland's President was able to pay several hundred dollars for the property because the municipal authorities of Warsaw (also post-Communists) charged him the pre-hyper-inflationary prices of 1990. The post-Communist courts, naturally, found the transactions to have been "in congruence with the law." An investigation has just been opened in the case.
9. Throughout his tenure as president, Kwasniewski, covertly and overtly, supported veterans of the Communist secret police. Nothing was more outrageous than when he awarded Poland's equivalent of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to one Stanislaw Suproniuk, a prominent torturer from the Stalinist era. This secret policeman's claim to fame is that he kidnapped a pregnant wife of a pro-Western underground commander and shot her dead. She was eight months pregnant at the time of her death. Suproniuk was also involved in many other crimes. This and similar acts earned Kwasniewski the sobriquet of "The President of all the KGB-men." The term was coined by Jerzy Palubicki, the head of the toothless civilian secret services under the Solidarity government. Palubicki thus challenged Kwasniewski's claim that the latter was "The President of all Poles."
10. Just to provide another egregious example of Kwasniewski's chumminess with the secret police, let's look at the notorious Vogel case. In 1977, Piotr Filipczynski, a.k.a. Peter Vogel, brutally murdered an elderly lady and burned her body to prevent detection. However, he was caught and sentenced to jail. In 1983, miraculously, the Communists allowed him to leave Poland and settle in Switzerland, where Vogel became a banker. After 1989, Vogel appeared in Poland, where he quickly earned a sobriquet "the accountant of the Left." Vogel was also involved in a number of scams, embezzlements, and money laundering operations, including the Orlen gasoline case. Vogel enjoyed close ties to the KGB's Vladimir Alganov (Kwasniewski's alleged handler) and to Poland's Communist secret police collaborators residing in Vienna, Andrzej Kuna and Aleksander Zagiel, both implicated in the Orlen case. In July 1999 Kwasniewski initiated the process to grant amnesty to Peter Vogel, whom he finally pardoned in December 2005, right before leaving office.
11. Likewise, in December 2005, Kwasniewski pardoned the post-Communist deputy minister of Justice Zbigniew Sobotka, who had warned gangsters about a planned police operation against them. Sobotka was convicted and sentenced to jail but the presidential pardon freed him.
12. In March 2001, Kwasniewski vetoed legislation regarding property restitution. The law would have either restored or compensated victims (Jews and Christians) whose private property was expropriated by the Nazis and Communists.
13. In February 2002, Kwasniewski signed into law legislation cooked up by the post-Communist parliament which would prevent the vetting of democratic Poland's secret service personnel to determine whether individual officers had been Communist secret police murderers, collaborators, and/or agents.
14. In July 2002, it was revealed that Kwasniewski was privy to a massive influence peddling scandal, the so-called Rywin case. Lew Rywin approached the owners and principal players in Poland's media on the behalf of the nebulously defined "group which holds power" and demanded kickbacks.
In December 2005, when a Polish TV journalist asked Kwasniewski to comment on his presidency, the outgoing president remarked: "the past ten years I will always consider to have been the most beautiful time in my life." No kidding.
Kwasniewski apparently was eager to continue his "beautiful time" at the United Nations. Fortunately, his scheme came to naught.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is academic dean and professor of history at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He was formerly assistant professor of history of the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. He has authored numerous works in both Polish and English.
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