History professor and holder of the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies at IWP Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz has contributed a chapter to a Festschrift for Poland’s former Prime Minister, Jan Olszewski.
Jan Olszewski (b. 1930) is the descendant of Stefan Okrzeja, a famous nineteenth-century Polish insurrectionist against Russian rule executed by the Tsarist authorities. Olszewski was raised in the traditions of Polish patriotic socialism of the Piłsudskiite variety. He was an anti-communist and participated actively in the anti-regime opposition during the Soviet occupation (1944-1992). As an attorney, Olszewski defended quite a few political prisoners. Following the implosion of the USSR, he served as Poland’s PM between December 1991 and June 1992.
During his short term as the head of the country’s cabinet, Olszewski and his Interior Minister, Antoni Macierewicz, attempted to come to grips with Poland’s recent totalitarian past by vetting some of the top politicians and publishing a few of the names of those who had collaborated with the communist secret police. Aside from the ethical dimension of the problem of unpunished crimes by the informers, Olszewski feared that a continued secrecy would constitute a national security threat by providing the Kremlin the means to blackmail many important personages in post-communist Poland. Furthermore, the PM labored to see the Red Army occupation forces to finally leave Polish soil. Accordingly, he rejected a Russian proposal, supported by President Lech Wałęsa, to establish Polish-Russian joint venture companies on the sites of former Soviet bases.
Olszewski’s policies provoked the fury of the post-communists and the liberal forces hostile to decommunization. His push to reveal the names of secret police assets culminated in the overthrow of his government through the joint efforts of President Wałęsa and politicians from across the political spectrum, the center-left in particular. As a result, the post-communists maintained their strong influence on the life of democratic Poland.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, „Transformacja – przekształcenie ku ocaleniu” [“Transformation: A Transition Toward Salvation”], in Racja Stanu. Janowi Olszewskiemu [Raison d’etat: Dedicated to Jan Olszewski] (Poznań, Poland: ZYSK I S-KA, 2011).
PM Olszewski with the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski