Poland's Communist scandal Jozef Oleksy: Prime minster steps down, denying he was a spy for Russia.

January 26, 1996

FREE MARKET REFORMS have been an economic success in Poland but a political liability. They brought victory in 1993 parliamentary elections to a coalition of former Communists and collaborators. Last March, the former Communist Jozef Oleksy became prime minister. He was poised to become even more powerful after a former Communist ally, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was elected president in November, ousting the anti-Communist Lech Walesa.

Instead, Mr. Oleksy has announced his resignation to fight charges of having been a Soviet and Russian spy up to last year. It is a political crisis for the coalition and for Mr. Kwasniewski. It is also a crisis for Russian-Polish relations, which had been slowly improving.

Poland's military prosecutor, Slawomir Gorzkiewicz, plans to investigate reports that Mr. Oleksy passed secrets to two Russian diplomats who are now identified as KGB officials. That is the proceeding before which Mr. Oleksy seeks exoneration. Mr. Kwasniewski is considering opening secret police files to public scrutiny, which is a frightening prospect to many people on all sides of public life.

In short, Poland's Communist past has come back to kick it in the face. Mr. Oleksy was ideological boss of the Communist Party central committee at the time he says he was friendly with one of the diplomats, but never betrayed a national secret. The contradiction between communism and patriotism is getting harder to deny the longer that era is in the past.

Western diplomats are not overjoyed at Mr. Oleksy's downfall. They found him a pragmatic manager who kept free market reforms in place. Nobody is quite sure how far the fallout from this case will spread.

Like the Czech Republic and East Germany, Poland finally is having difficulty coping with its past while moving forward. The dirty linen is getting washed, at least some of it. Meanwhile, growth, exports and foreign investment are up and unemployment, while cruelly high, is coming down. Not many Poles want that reversed.

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