Controversial vetting law takes effect in Poland
Nearly 18 years after the demise of communism, European Union and NATO member Poland is taking a radical step to banish any lingering spectres of the failed system from public life.
The dream of the ruling brothers is to de-communize Poland.
Critics are worried the project could quickly turn into a nightmare.
As many as 700,000 people from various professions including municipal government officials, university professors, legal professionals, journalists and corporate as well as bank chiefs born prior to 1972 are subject to the new vetting law.
They will all be required to submit statements revealing any co- operation with communist-era secret police and intelligence services. Liars risk being banned from their profession for up to a decade should independent courts rule against them.
Estimates suggest the process of sifting through and verifying hundreds of thousands of declarations could last until 2023.
Covers thousands of posts
Saddled with this mammoth task is Poland's Institute for National Remembrance (IPN), also responsible for prosecuting Nazi and Communist-era crimes.
In charge of the formidable operation, IPN President Janusz Kurtyka believes there could have been up to a million people who covertly co-operated with the secret police during the 45 years of communist rule in Poland prior to 1989.
*quote1* By September 15, Kurtyka and the IPN must also begin publishing internet lists of communist intelligence agents, their informants and persons who were spied upon. Also included are press censors and agents who infiltrated the Roman Catholic church as well as top communist officials.
An existing vetting law passed in 1997 covers about 27,000 public posts. Under it, senior politicians and civil servants are required to reveal any covert co-operation with communist era spy services and are also liable to a decade-long ban from public life if they are caught lying.
Vetting public officials for possible communist-era collaboration with secret police has always provoked controversy in Poland.
Critics have variously slammed it as a witch-hunt and a dangerous instrument which could be abused to destroy political rivals. The new law, they argue, will open a Pandora's Box of allegations and counter allegations creating confusion rather than clarity about Poland's past.
They also point out vetting courts and investigators must rely on secret police files, often making it impossible to determine the truth of a case. Communist-era spies are known to have fabricated reports - sometimes alleging persons co-operated when they in fact did not.
Skeletons in the closet
Supporters, however, insist vetting is an essential tonic improving the health of public life; officials with skeletons in their closet who are thus vulnerable to blackmail must go.
*quote1* Moreover, they point to positive developments in other former Soviet bloc countries, such the former East Germany, where communist secret police files were made public long ago.
The prospect of having to submit vetting statements has raised eyebrows in Poland's corporate and banking communities and split journalists.
In an unprecedented move, executives from state-owned and private corporations and banks born before 1972 must file statements. It is up to Poland's newly created Financial Supervision Authority to determine exactly who must do so.
Meanwhile, some of Poland's most prominent journalists with roots in the anti-communist Solidarity trade union have already declared they will not submit vetting statements.
Former Solidarity activist Ewa Milewicz, now a leading columnist for Poland's liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily, says her refusal to comply with the vetting law constitutes an act of ci