WARSAW — For all that Poland has accomplished since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it has long resisted fully coming to terms with its Communist past — the oppression, the spying, even the massacres. Society preferred to forget, to move on.
So it may come as a surprise that Poland and many of its neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe have decided the time is right to deal with the unfinished business. Suddenly there is a wave of accounting in the form of government actions and cultural explorations, some seeking closure, others payback.
A court in Poland last month found that the Communist leaders behind the imposition of martial law in December 1981 were part of a “criminal group.” Bulgaria’s president is trying to purge ambassadors who served as security agents. The Macedonian government is busy hunting for collaborators, and Hungary’s new Constitution allows legal action against former Communists.
On Sunday in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel nominated as the next president a former pastor and East German activist, Joachim Gauck, who turned the files of the Ministry for State Security — better known as the Stasi — into a permanent archive.
“In order to defend ourselves in the future against other totalitarian regimes, we have to understand how they worked in the past, like a vaccine,” said Lukasz Kaminski, the president of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. Across Central and Eastern Europe, a consensus of silence appears to have ended, one that never muted all criticism and discussion but did muffle voices crying out for a long-awaited reckoning.