Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Report: Late Polish author Kapuscinski wrote reports for communist-era spy agencies

Poland is planning new ways to screen public figures for links to the communist-era security services, an issue highlighted by a newsmagazine that said a prominent author wrote intelligence reports during travels abroad decades ago.

The report about Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died in January, comes as Poland continues to wrestle with its communist past, under a conservative government that has launched a renewed push to purge collaborators from jobs involving the public trust.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Monday his Law and Justice party will present a new proposal "very soon" after the country's highest court gutted his controversial new law requiring that up to 700,000 Poles — including teachers and journalists — be screened for past collaboration.

Kaczynski is now taking a different approach to the problem: he wants to open the former secret police archives to the public, although some information — such as health histories and sex partners — could be blacked out to protect people's privacy.

Kaczynski has not spelled out what action would be taken if someone was found to have collaborated. The rejected law required people to make a declaration on whether they had collaborated, subject to a 10-year ban on work in their profession if they were later found to have lied.

Journalists and historians had some limited access to the files until the tribunal's decision, which blocked that. Lawmakers are also drawing up amendments to restore that access.

The Polish edition of Newsweek reported that Kapuscinski, who worked as a foreign correspondent for communist Poland's official state news agency PAP in the 1960s and 1970s, wrote analyses for the Polish intelligence service under the code name "Poet" and later "Vera Cruz" from 1967-1972.

The weekly bases its report on documents it says it found in the former secret police archives, held by the state-run Institute of National Remembrance.

During the communist period, Poles who wanted to travel abroad often had to agree to cooperate with the authorities as the price of permission to leave the country. The magazine quotes a secret police document from 1981 from Kapuscinski's file as saying the journalist "did not pass on any essential material the secret police was interested in."

Institute spokesman Andrzej Arseniuk confirmed that it had made the files available to Newsweek, but declined further comment. Kapuscinski's family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Poland's intelligence agencies tasked Kapuscinski with collecting information on American companies and citizens, as well as intelligence agencies of the U.S., Israel and West Germany, Newsweek says.

For instance, in 1970, Kapuscinski wrote a five-page report on the general situation in Latin America, with a focus on Cuban foreign policy and a three-page report on the political situation of Mexico, Newsweek says. He also wrote three character profiles of people he met while abroad.

In 1972, he returned to Poland and his file was closed, according to Newsweek.

Marek Zakowski, whose Czytelnik publishing house issued many of Kapuscinski's works, said he knew nothing of the writer's alleged ties to the intelligence agencies.

"He was always a wonderful man and a wonderful writer," said Zakowski, who knew Kapuscinski for more than 30 years. "It has absolutely no bearing on his work as an author."

Kapuscinski gained international acclaim for his books chronicling wars, coups and revolutions in Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

He was often mentioned as a likely contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. His most famous book, "The Emperor," chronicled the decline of Haile Selassie's regime in Ethiopia, but was widely interpreted by Polish readers as a criticism of Poland's communist regime.