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Poland: Parliament Formally Condemns Communism

Prague, 19 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Polish Sejm, parliament's lower chamber, yesterday adopted a resolution condemning "communist totalitarianism" as a system of government "imposed and maintained by force, lies and with the threat of Soviet intervention, that served foreign interests."

They resolution also said that the defunct Communist Party was "in the highest degree, to the very end, responsible for the continuation and the shape of the communist system in Poland, (the system) guilty of many offenses and crimes."

The vote was 250 to 150, with 31 abstentions.

Communism was imposed on Poland in the immediate aftermath of World War Two by the Soviet Union with the use of overwhelming force and with the willing cooperation of native communists.

Anti-communist opposition was subsequently either physically annihilated or forced into submission. The communists ruled with dictatorial methods. They imposed a social system rooted in the principle of class struggle and introduced an economic model based on central planning and command. The results were offensive to society and disastrous for the economy.

The ensuing decades of communist rule were marked by periodic upheavals -- in 1956, 1968, 1970, 1976 and 1980 -- followed by attempts by ruling communists to pacify society. These attempts were less and less successful.

In 1981 the communists were forced to impose martial law to put down a mass democratic movement centered on Solidarity, a labor organization independent of government control. This was the first such organization in history of communist-dominated Eastern Europe.

In 1989 the communists agreed to hold a relatively free parliamentary ballot -- they were guaranteed narrow majority -- following repeated strikes by workers and negotiations between the party leaders and Solidarity activists. The election showed Solidarity's popularity, a fact paving the way to the establishment of the first democratic government. The communist system effectively collapsed. Yesterday's resolution confirms that that development has become irrevocable.

In this move, Poland joins the Czech Republic as the only other country in Central Europe to issue a formal condemnation of communism. This demonstrates the difficulties in coming to terms with the system of government which, in the period of many years, clearly succeeded in profoundly affecting both thinking and behavior of the public and left ground for continuing political divisiveness.

Whether the resolution will clear the political air is far from certain. But it may help, and this hope was a major factor in the Polish vote.

The resolution came on the day when the Sejm passed a legislation making it easier to screen public officials for past ties with communist-era secret police.

Poland has not formally opened up communist police files, although several legislative proposals are awaiting parliamentary action.

Under the legislation adopted yesterday, those seeking elected positions or senior posts in the government, the judiciary and the media were required to declare whether they had worked for or cooperated with security police before 1989.

A declaration of cooperation would not automatically prevent them from holding those positions. But anyone who falsely denied such involvement was subject either to prison term or lasting banishment from the posts.

The legislation is the amended version of an earlier bill, which has never been implemented owing to the difficulty of establishing a special screening tribunal because no judge has volunteered to sit on such a tribunal. The new legislation authorized the sitting Warsaw court of appeals to do the job.

The legislation needs the signature of President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist, to become law.