Protesters carrying posters of Lech Walesa and white-and-red Polish flags demonstrated against what they see as a government smear campaign to undermine the icon of the country’s 1989 switch to democracy.
Documents recovered by a government agency last week, which Walesa says are forged, show the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was a paid secret informant in the 1970s, before he led the Solidarity union uprising against the communist regime. Walesa wasn’t among the roughly 80,000 people who attended the march, according to estimates by the Warsaw mayor’s office, but said in a letter read out to the protesters that he never collaborated with the dreaded communist-era secret services.
Officials from Poland’s ruling Law & Justice party, whose leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a former political opponent of Walesa, have argued that the new files taint their predecessors as corrupt and undermine the idea that Poland really won freedom 27 years ago. Walesa, now 72, may have been a “puppet” of the communists, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said last week.
“In my worst nightmares, I couldn’t have predicted this,” Walesa said in his letter. “After years of repressions” by the communists, “it would be the democratic state that would hit us dissidents.”
The European Union last month started an unprecedented probe into whether Poland’s new government was eroding the rule of law after the ruling party overhauled public media and the constitutional tribunal, making it more difficult for its justices to block new rules. Law & Justice says it’s carrying out the will of the Polish people, who gave them a mandate for change in last year’s elections.