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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Do Old Laws Still Apply in Ex-East Bloc?

LONDON -- I have no idea whether Jozef Oleksy, the Polish prime minister who was forced to resign last week, was a spy for Moscow or just an ordinary politician who happened to be a Communist in the bad old days and therefore had a habit of unwittingly socializing with Warsaw-based KGB agents.

However, when the allegations surfaced against Oleksy last month, I was reminded of a conversation I had more than two years ago with a high- ranking government official from a leading NATO country. It was in the run-up to the Polish parliamentary elections of September 1993, and it was beginning to look as if the Solidarity-based parties who had led Poland to freedom after 1989 were going to lose to the former Communists, who now officially embraced Western-style social democracy.

I remarked that perhaps it would not matter much if the former Communists won the elections, for the transformation of Poland into a democracy and market economy seemed to be going very successfully and could not be turned back. My friend replied, yes, that was probably so, but NATO might have to take another look at the desirability of incorporating Poland quickly into the Western military alliance. Evidently he knew or suspected something of which the rest of us were ignorant.

For the moment, of course, Oleksy deserves the benefit of the doubt. Polish military prosecutors have opened an investigation into the spying allegations. Oleksy firmly maintains his innocence while admitting that it was unwise of him to have befriended a man in the 1980s who claims to have been the chief KGB agent in Poland.

We must also consider the fact that the allegations arose from the political camp of Lech Walesa soon after the former Solidarity hero lost the Polish presidency to Aleksander Kwasniewski, another ex-Communist.

Walesa's defeat left the former Communists in control of the presidency, government and parliament, and it does rather look as if the release of the allegations against Oleksy was timed to create maximum havoc among the newly dominant ex-Communists.

But that cannot be the end of the story. It is common knowledge that the Soviet Union had well-placed agents throughout the Communist elites of Eastern Europe after World War II. In the early years, some East European Communists would even have regarded it as an "international duty" to supply information to the Soviet intelligence services.

In Oleksy's case, however, the most disturbing allegation is that he continued to spy for Moscow up to the time of his appointment as prime minister in early 1995 -- that is to say, for several years after the democratic renewals in Poland and Russia. It would be extremely damaging for the Russian authorities and the present rulers of Poland if it were proved that some things had not changed since Communist times.

With ex-Communists also in power in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, it becomes all the more important that the full facts of the Oleksy affair be unearthed and given to the public. But the emphasis needs to be on what may or may not have happened between 1989 and 1995.

Citizens in the new Eastern Europe need to have confidence in their governments and political parties. Public disclosure of murky events, however embarrassing, is essential.