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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Purge overshadows Polish vote
By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

Polish archivist searches through communist-era files
Many Poles approved of steps to root out former communists
In the run-up to Sunday's general election in Poland the Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has made cleaning up corruption and the communist past a central issue.

For the 58-year-old prime minister and former anti-communist Solidarity activist, the two issues are inextricably connected. Mr Kaczynski believes Poland's failure to deal with its communist past is the cause of many of the country's current problems.

During the roundtable talks in 1989, Poland's communist authorities and Solidarity activists negotiated a peaceful end to the totalitarian system.

The first Solidarity government decided to draw a "thick line" under the preceding 45 years and did not attempt to purge communists from public life.

Mr Kaczynski says a shady network of former communists, spies, corrupt businessmen and state officials emerged which has dominated Polish public life ever since.

One of his Law and Justice party (PiS) campaign ads on TV purports to show "Poland, not long ago". It shows a cigar-smoking businessman kicking over a briefcase full of dollar bills to a corrupt politician.

Anti-communist agenda

Since his party took office two years ago, Mr Kaczynski has created a high-profile Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and attempted to weed out former communists from public positions.

Polish ex-interior minister Janusz Kaczmarek
The ex-interior minister was at the centre of a big spying row
"This government is the first to put this problem on the highest level of the political agenda," a Law and Justice party MP, Pawel Zalewski, told the BBC.

"The total number of anti-corruption investigations has increased by 100 percent in the last two years compared to previous years and the general public perception today is that corruption has decreased."

Many Poles appreciate Mr Kaczynski's efforts. But his critics and former coalition partners are not happy with the way corruption has been tackled. They accuse him of flouting democratic practices and using state agencies to tap phones and gather information on his political opponents.

On Thursday, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, which is openly critical of the government, gave away stickers of Mr Kaczynski peering through a keyhole under the words, "Look out, Little Brother is watching" - the "little" being a reference to the prime minister's height.

Sting that went wrong

During the summer Poland's governing coalition collapsed over a corruption affair. The CBA launched a failed sting operation to catch Andrzej Lepper, a deputy prime minister and leader of the junior coalition party Self Defence, accepting a bribe.

Law and Justice election poster in Warsaw
Law and Justice is in a close race with the rival Civic Platform party
Adam Michnik, the famous Solidarity activist, complained about the "police provocation" in Gazeta Wyborcza earlier this week.

"Do I want to live in a country where human dignity is treated with contempt by daily accusations of corruption, but where there are no sentences in corruption trials? Of course, apart from the sentences issued by the prime minister, justice minister or the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau," he said.

In August, Janusz Kaczmarek, the then interior minister, was arrested because the government suspected he had leaked news of the CBA sting operation before it went ahead.

A CBA press conference showing CCTV video of Mr Kaczmarek's visit to one of Poland's richest businessmen, allegedly to pass on the information, played well with much of the public - but it came before the minister was charged with any crime.

On Wednesday the CBA held another press conference airing what it said was evidence of a former MP from Law and Justice's main election rival, the Civic Platform party, asking for a bribe.

"I'm against corruption and I believe it has become a part of public life in recent years and I understand the fight against it. But this seems to me to be a very political situation. This latest case came just days before the election," said MEP Bronislaw Geremek, a former Solidarity adviser and ex-foreign minister.

"The direct intervention of the state agencies in the election campaign is for me proof that this government is abusing democracy," he told the BBC.

Vetting controversy

I put it to Mr Zalewski that these accusations against Mr Kaczynski were being made by some of Poland's most respected democracy activists.

"These people are and were political opponents of the Law and Justice party and Mr Kaczynski. While I respect Adam Michnik's role in Polish history, he is involved in a political debate and he's not presenting any proof to justify his claims," Mr Zalewski said.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of Poles support the removal of former communist functionaries from public life.

But Mr Kaczynski's policies have been divisive. None more so than a law which required up to 700,000 people, ranging from teachers to state company bosses to journalists, to publicly declare whether they had collaborated with the communist secret services.

Before the ruling Mr Geremek challenged the government and refused to fill in his declaration. "I do understand that communism should be condemned... But the system of checks and balances was weakened and attacked. It was an attempt to dominate the judiciary, the academic community and the free media through use of the communist secret police files," he said.

The Constitutional Court ruled that large parts of the collaboration law were unconstitutional and it was withdrawn.

Country profile: Poland
11 Oct 07 |  Country profiles
Poland widens hunt for ex-spies
15 Mar 07 |  Europe
New Warsaw archbishop appointed
03 Mar 07 |  Europe

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