In the Free Market of Names: Polish Secret Service Files and Authoritarian Populism

Saygun Gökarıksel

Abstract


Abstract: This paper analyzes the public life of a highly contested list of names, the “Wildstein List,” leaked from the former secret service archives in early 2005 in Poland. Concentrating on the contentious debates on historical truth, transparency, victimhood ethics, and problems concerning public access to the archives, I examine the conjuncture of neoliberal transformations and the kind of lustration (verifying one’s past links with the former secret service) proposed by nationalist-conservative groups. By highlighting the role of “scandal,” I aim to show how the Wildstein List has generated a popular desire for lustration and “obligation” to know the truth to be revealed by the archives; how lustration has become an integral component of a politics of fear and suspicion propagated by the Polish nationalist-conservatives; and how the legitimacy crisis of post-89 liberal nation-state building project and class dispossession, the “dual crisis of labor and popular sovereignty” (Kalb 2009), is articulated to the “authoritarian populism” (Hall 1988) of nationalist-conservative groups that largely draw on Margaret Thatcher’s (and Ronald Reagan’s) neoliberal authoritarian policies (deregulation, privatization, “tough on crimes and corruption,” moral policing). Finally, I reflect on the social consequences of this permeation of neoliberal ideology into conservative historical truth and justice projects – the social and legal effects of this populist authoritarian reconstruction of the socialist past.

Keywords: Secret Service Archives, Neoliberalism, Authoritarian Populism, Transparency, Scandal, Poland


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