A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism by Slavenka Drakulic

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Authors: Slavenka Drakulic
has told me often enough. I believe that to try him or not was a major dilemma, because it had to do with the attitude of your society toward the Communist past in general. Seeing that there was no consensus on how to proceed, your office dragged its feet until very recently. After all, life is what happens precisely in between these (or any other) two extremes. Again, as the General himself said: “History and the question of who is right are complicated and cannot be seen in terms of black and white.”
    I am sure that you, Sir, with your experience in such matters, would agree with me that truth and justice are brother and sister—but sometimes it is hard to maintain an equilibrium between them without causing even more harm to society. After all, a courtroom should deal not with moral issues, but with individual guilt proved by evidence. The important question in the General’s case is: What values do you want to promote: retaliation or social consensus; further conflict or reconciliation? That is my understanding, although Napoleon claims that this trial has nothing to do with either truth or justice, but only politics. Well, perhaps he overheard somebody saying this; I cannot imagine that he deduced it on his own . . .
    The General is, as they say in the media, a “divisive figure” in Polish society. There is no doubt about the controversy he has been provoking for almost two decades now, long before I was even born. (Please note, Mr. Prosecutor, that I am being very honest with you, to the point of even admitting my age, which a lady cat should never do!) So, the controversy, which everybody knows about by now, is that the General claims he declared martial law in order to save Poland from Soviet invasion. In short, he saved lives in an act of patriotism. For twenty years, the General has been consistently defending his decision: “We were threatened with fratricidal conflict, and we could have inflicted on ourselves incalculable tragedy.”
    Today, in spite of this controversy, the General’s public standing is better than the president’s brothers’! For years, opinion polls about whether the Poles believe his justification for martial law have been roughly split down the middle, suggesting that at least one half of Poland’s citizens accept it. They don’t think that it is necessary to put the General on trial. After all, although most Poles did not choose to live under Communism, they just went along and lived under Communism, accepting the military regime as reality. It is not in their interest to go back and wash their own dirty linen. The other half of Poles, however, would like to “purify” society of its Communist remnants. They prefer a fresh start, a sharp division between past and present, between totalitarianism and democracy. For such purists , Poland was divided into Communist supporters and the opposition, with nothing in between. To them, the trial of the General represents an act of revenge. “A traitor is not a victim of circumstances,” they say. But this is a moral statement, and it is not helpful with the trial. I personally would hesitate to belittle the possibility that the General was acting out of patriotism—but I might be prejudiced about him. Because I ask myself, Does the fact that he was a Communist exclude his patriotism? I think not.
    â€œDown with the enemy!” barks Napoleon incongruently when I—out of sheer pity—tell him about the pros and cons of the trial. Sometimes, as an intellectual, I do feel the responsibility of keeping him informed. But what can such a poor creature think when I ask him, Who are them ? except that I am showing off.
    The truth about the General is that he did indeed proclaim martial law on December 13, 1981. The truth is that, as a consequence, the Solidarity movement was banned, its members were persecuted and jailed, censorship was introduced, freedom suspended, and

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