Poles snap up book claiming Walesa was communist spy

Warsaw  - Hundreds queued outside Warsaw bookstores Monday to snatch up copies of a new book claiming former Solidarity union leader and Nobel laureate Lech Walesa was a communist spy.

Lines formed before 8 am outside Warsaw's Institute of National Remembrance - a research centre that investigates Communist and Nazi crimes - for the release of Walesa and the Security Service.

Others tried their luck at the numerous bookstores that carried limited amounts of the 700-page volume.

The book claims to have new evidence that Walesa was an informer for Poland's communist-era secret service in the 1970s while working at the Gdansk shipyards and later, as president, removed archive documents that implicated him.

Walesa, 65, has denied the allegations and called the institute's authors "fanatics" with libellous claims. He has threatened legal action and said he will soon release his own book to tell his side of the story.

Although the rumours have circulated for decades, the book brought the debate to a head and sparked controversy in Polish politics.

A few joined the line outside the institute around noon when bookstores sold out. Many said they hadn't taken sides in the debate on Walesa's past, and hoped the book would bring them conviction and proof.

"If I only wait and listen to others' opinions, those are only opinions," said a woman who declined to give her name. "Here finally I hope to get closer to forming an opinion."

Walesa became an anti-communist hero worldwide after he led a strike at the shipyards against Poland's communist regime in 1980, helping bring down communism at the end of the decade. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

Walesa won a 2000 court ruling that said he was not a spy. But opponents, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, say they know he had worked for communists.

Many see the allegations as tactics used by right-wing politicians for political gain. In a recent survey conducted by the daily Dziennik, 43 per cent said they did not believe the former president worked with the secret police.

The book sparked wide public interest and dominated last week's newspapers and talk shows.

Outside the institute, the crowd grew frustrated when the 600 copies sold out at noon. An official tried calming impatient customers with promises that more copies would be available in two weeks.

Jan Baraniecki made it in time to get his copy, but said it wasn't a matter of finding proof of Walesa's innocence or guilt.

"For me it's not important if he was an agent or not. I want to read the book," he said.

"There's been too much discussion and only 4,000 books printed. Someone wants to hide something so Poles won't know the whole truth." (dpa)