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Polish Institute: Files Show Lech Walesa Worked With Communist-Era Secret Police

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, shown at his office on June 20, 2012, in Gdansk, Poland. The Nobel Peace laureate has long denied accusations that he collaborated with Communist-era secret police.
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Former Polish President Lech Walesa, shown at his office on June 20, 2012, in Gdansk, Poland. The Nobel Peace laureate has long denied accusations that he collaborated with Communist-era secret police.

Poland's history institute says it has seized records showing that Lech Walesa — former president of Poland and the founder of the nation's anti-Communist Solidarity movement — was a paid informant for secret police during the Communist era.

Allegations of Walesa's involvement with the secret police date back decades; a special court cleared him of the charges in 2000.

The new documents seized by the Institute of National Remembrance reportedly show a handwritten commitment to cooperate with the secret police — signed Lech Walesa and "Bolek," his alleged code name — as well as receipts for money, signed "Bolek."

"In the opinion of an expert-archivist participating in the activities, the documents are authentic," a spokeswoman for the institute said in a statement.

The files came from the house of the late Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the last Communist interior minister of Poland, The Associated Press reports:

"The papers concerning Walesa came to light on Tuesday, when Kiszczak's widow offered to sell the institute documents concerning secret informer 'Bolek.' She demanded 90,000 zlotys ($23,000)," the wire service writes. "Prosecutors seized the documents the same day, because the law requires important historic papers to be handed in."

The documents include hundreds of pages of reports, receipts and notes from meetings, the Institute of National Remembrance says — as well as a letter from Kiszczak suggesting he intended to mail the files, as proof of Walesa's collaboration, to one of Poland's national archives. The letter was never sent.

The files date from 1970 to 1976. Walesa co-founded the Solidarity union in 1980, and the group's efforts led to the fall of Poland's Communist government in 1989. Walesa was elected president the next year.

Walesa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and is a national hero in Poland, has long been accused of supplying names to the secret police during the Communist era. In 2008, a book by two historians reiterated the charges that Walesa collaborated under the code name "Bolek" and also accused Walesa of using his power as president to conceal evidence of his cooperation with police.

He has strongly denied the charges, saying documents that incriminate him were forged to discredit him. (The AP notes that the Communist-era secret service did fabricate documents, "a fact that calls for the meticulous confirmation of any compromising documents that emerge.")

In 2008, for instance, Walesa told the BBC, "You will not find any signature of mine agreeing to collaborate anywhere. This is all insinuation and part of the communist secret service campaign against me."

But in more recent years, he confirmed to the Polish media that he signed a commitment to cooperate with the police while maintaining he never followed through.

One historian tells the AP the new documents are unlikely to mar Walesa's reputation as "the symbol of Poland's struggle for freedom" — unless they show that his cooperation with secret police continued afterhe founded the Solidarity movement.

The seizure of these files comes as tensions are rising between Walesa and the ruling party of Poland, Reuters notes:

"The Institute of National Remembrance is close to the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and the new allegations against Walesa surfaced two months after he accused the conservative nationalist party of acting to undermine Polish democracy since winning an election majority in October.

"PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a former senior Solidarity official but he and Walesa have long been at loggerheads.

"Their conflict dates to 1990 when Walesa, soon after being elected president, dismissed Jaroslaw and his late twin brother, Lech, from positions in his office. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has since maintained that Walesa was once a communist collaborator."

Walesa has vowed to defend himself in court against the latest allegations, Reuters writes.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.