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Now Solidarity has a martyr.

The historic trial of the secret-police assassins of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko has ended. Police Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, who had, with no expression of remorse, confessed to beating the priest to death, received a twenty-five-year prison sentence, instead of the death penalty the prosecution had requested. His immediate superisor, Col. Adam Pietruszka, who authorized the crime and then vainly sought to cover it up, received the same sentence. Two lower-level accomplices, Leszek Pekala and Waldemar Chmielewski, received fifteen and fourteen years, respectively. Although the sentences are severe, there is widespread suspicion that the policemen will go free long before their terms are served.

The trial did not produce any surprises or implicate any high-level officials, but it did provide a rare glimpse into the workings of the Polish secret police. As the defendantse described the alternatives they had considered for silencing Father Popieluszko--planting illegal material on him; forcing vodka down his throat, stripping him and leaving him in a "compromising location"; spreading rumors that he was having an affair with a woman--their arrogant assurance that they could act with impunity emerged with chilling clarity. By exposing the secret police as violent and corrupt, the trial confirmed what the underground press had been saying for years.

In his summation, the prosecutor stated that the trial had failed to establish the existence of a wider conspiracy. Neither the prosecution nor the judge had been inquisitive on that score. Polish politics are not played out in public. As far as the government is concerned, the internal shake-up (or at least the first one) took place one week after the murder, when a key rival of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Gen. Marian Milewski, was removed from his job as party secretary in charge of internal security and replaced by the Polish leader himself. The trial was largely symbolic, intended to demonstrate to the people that the government is law-abiding, and to the police that they do not run the country. Press coverage of the proceedings was unprecedented. Warsaw Radio issued hourly bulletins, quoting liberally from the testimony but omitting any evidence that might point to a wider conspiracy.

Captain Piotrowski spoke in defense of the police. In a strong, confident, sometimes angry voice, he described his colleagues' resentment of the government's kid-glove treatment of its critics. He evoked the sense of betrayal that the secret police's department for church affairs had felt a year before, when Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the Minister of Internal Affairs, forbade them to arrest Popieluszko. He recited a litany of "illegal acts" allegedly committed by priests, then he turned to the courtroom full of police officers and asked, "How can all this be borne with calm?"

But what was not said at the trial was more revealing than what was said. The Polish Communist Party was never mentioned, even though the defendants had been members until their arrests. The crime, the prosecution repeatedly stressed, was a crime against the state. Two of the defendants admitted to being "unpatriotic"; not one of them was called on to confess to being "antisocialist." In 1980, the government required the Gdansk workers to pay homage to the party's political hegemony as a condition for the legalization of Solidarity. In 1985, however, the prosecutor didn't even ask the defendants about their loyalty to party policy or what the members of their former party cells would think about their actions. The media assessed the implications of the murder for the government, the police, the people and the church, but said hardly a word about its impact on the party.

The party has alwasy been merged with the state in Soviet-type societies, but in Poland, the state has been emerging as the clearly predominant element ever since the imposition of martial law, in December 1981. The party is not on its way to extinction, but its ideological character is withering away. This "de-ideologization" process makes the party an increasingly possible partner for the Catholic Church. Despite the effect of Popieluszko's murder, Jaruzelski and Jozef Cardinal Glemp are striving to continue the church-state rapprochement that was well under way at the time of the crime. A month after the murder, Glemp demonstrated his opposition to militant priests by issuing a special order banning another radical priest, the Rev. Stanislaw Malkowski, from preaching outside his parish.

During the trial, the defendants admitted they had also plotted to abduct Malkowski. In his order, Glemp stated, "Some priests let themselves be influenced by worldly sentiments and, instead of preaching divine truths, indulge in nontheological polemics which, moreover, have nothing in common with patriotism." Determining theological questions is the function of the Catholic hierarchy, but defining patriotism, surely a "worldly sentiment," is normally a secular issue. Glemp himself raises this "nontheological" issue to indicate his acceptance of the government's position on the activities of the militant priests. In return, Jaruzelski pledges to continue the policy of church-state cooperation which has so outraged the police and the party hard-liners. There has been a boom in the construction of new churches as a result of this policy.

Glemp's conciliatory line has angered many priests, particularly the young ones. (Father Popieluszko, whom Glemp censured two years ago for speaking out in church on controversial political issues, belonged to the latter group.) They have not challenged Glemp's authority, however; nor are they likely to. The Polish church prides itself on its rigid adherence to doctrine, including the central tenet of unquestioning obedience to the hierarchy. Even though a significant number of priests oppose Glemp, they would be reluctant to form an organized opposition similar to the liberation theology movement in Latin America.

And what of the impact of the priest's murder on Solidarity--both as a symbol of democratic opposition to the regime and as an underground institution? A recent issue of Tygodnik Mazowsze, the leading underground newspaper, provides a clue: "Father Popieluszko is a Solidarity martyr in the most profound sense--by his death he has made it into a truly sacred cause. And this has put an entirely new complexion on things." The murder of a priest who repeatedly praised Solidarity from the pulpit identifies the union with the church more closely than ever. Until Popieluszko's death, Solidarity lacked a martyr. No matter that the was not a member. Since December 1981 Solidarity has been more a symbol than an organization. In a country that considers itself the Christ of nations, sacrificed at the altar of Eastern barbarism in order to spare Europe, what better icon for a symbolic struggle than a priest? His martyrdom binds Solidarity to the church in the public mind. It becomes more a religious organization and less the secular, independent trade union it really was.

The myth of a holy Solidarity contradicts history, but myths are more attractive than banal facts, especially when political reality blocks any encouraging concrete developments. The underground Solidarity is at a turning point. It can go along with the growing connection to the church or it can maintain the independence that has frustrated all attempts to quiet it. At present, other than calling for public defense of persecuted oppositionists, it has nothing concrete to propose. It denounces the government's lawlessness but can't bring itself to reproach the church. It does criticize Glemp, but that is a different matter: he is chastised for abandoning the church's true principles.

Solidarity has been reluctant to speak out in the long-running controversy over the presence of crucifixes in the schools. Initially, the government tried to forbid the crosses; now there is a stalemate, the regime agreeing to tolerate some crosses but urging the church to be "reasonable" and not demand more. Cardinal Glemp is willing to be reasonable, but every once in a while a group of students or local priests decides to put up more. If the school administrator demands the crosses' removal (some don't), another "crisis" develops, which is settled by a new compromise.

While most prominent dissidents say privately that they oppose the crosses in public schools, they are reluctant to oppose them publicly. Prominent KOR theorist and Solidarity adviser Adam Michnik told a recent visitor that he accepts the crosses as a symbol of resistance to the Communist dictatorship. Presumably in a democratic Poland he would favor taking them down. The problem, of course, is that in a democratic Poland, the people might not let the "democrats" remove what even the "Reds" permit, especially if the democrats don't argue their position today.

Is democracy the future of Poland? More and more, it appears that Jaruzelski seeks to usher in a benign corporate authoritarianism, something like that of Spain twenty years ago, buttressed by a compliant Catholic Church and a non-ideological party that continues to call itself Communist but emphasizes patriotism and militarism above ideology. In such a state the party would not monopolize public life, only set the limits on the activities of semi-independent social groups. Cardinal Glemp would certainly be amenable to that solution. More important, many of his clerical opponents would be receptive as well, for it would entail the cessation of much of the societal repression and would leave them. as priests, in highly influential positions in society. The proposal for Christian trade unions, in place of Solidarity, that has been in the air since the imposition of martial law would be appropriate under a corporate state.

The main opponents of th corporatist idea would be Solidarity, because of its democratic ideals and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the party hard-liners and the police, who oppose close ties with the church. However, as Solidarity's new martyr exerts an influence on the movement greater than any living person could, the union may lose the primarily secular and democratic identity that until now has preserved it from being co-opted by the state.

If so, the only other potential opponents (the Soviet Union is likely to go along with the idea for want of an alternative) are the hard-liners and the police. Perhaps the trial of the secret policemen was the first part of Jaruzekski's strategy: Discipline them; then win them over. While the trial was certainly a rebuke of the police, the government had the prosecutor denounce the murdered man as well, perhaps to appease the hard-liners.

The latter's importance in Polish society was demonstrated last November by the startling announcement that Kazimierz Mijal, the die-hard Stalinist who fled to Albania in the 1960s, had been arrested in Warsaw. Before he went into exile, Mijal had accused the Polish government, even when Wladyslaw Gomulka was in power, of "betraying the socialist revolution" by failing to collectivize agriculture, tolerating the Catholic Church and practing "revisionism," a charge he also leveled at the Soviet Union. He carried on a private war via Polish-language broadcasts over Radio Tirana. Mijal returned to his homeland in the summer of 1983 and spent more than a year living underground, aided by the Albanian Embassy and, in all probability, Polish Marxist-Leninist hard-liners. Significantly, the government has refused to dispel speculation that he was involved in Father Popieluszko's murder.

When Mijal was caught, he was distributing pamphlets denouncing the regime as a military dictatorship tied to the church and "other right-wing forces." That was not an accurate description, but the defeat of hard-liners like Mijal, Milewski and Piotrowski, combined with the subordination words, Francoist Spain might yet be the model for Poland's political future.
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Title Annotation:Jerzy Popieluszko
Author:Ost, David
Publication:The Nation
Date:Mar 2, 1985
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