A crowd spilled out of a Warsaw archive Monday as Poles tried to get a first look at recently discovered files that allege that Lech Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president, was a communist-era informant.
Multiple Polish broadcasters set up special programmes for the file's release while the 40 seats in the reading rooms at the Institute of National Remembrance were permanently filled.
The long-percolating rumours that Walesa, who rose to prominence in the 1980s as a civil society leader, also worked as an informant for the country's then-communist leadership threaten to tarnish his reputation as one of the people responsible for the fall of communism in Poland.
Walesa has fought off such allegations in the past. But the new information, found in the files of a recently deceased general who alleged working with Walesa, who operated as an informant under the code name Bolek, has put Walesa's legacy into question.
The files contain one document linked to Bolek with Walesa's signature. The authenticity has not been verified. The allegation is that he worked as an informant in the 1970s, before he rose to prominence as a union leader with the Solidarity movement.
"I never betrayed you. You betrayed me," Walesa wrote in an emotional post Monday denying the allegations. Since the archive's revelation, Walesa has only admitted to one mistake, while saying he would never reveal what that mistake might be because he swore secrecy to the other person involved.
He says he has appealed to the other person involved to come forward, so that Walesa might air the secret.
The personnel records for the documents in question were found in the home of former Polish general Czeslaw Jan Kiszczak, who died in November.
Following the death, Kiszczak's widow gave his private archive to the institute, including six packages of documents with handwritten notes, photos and typed texts.
The institute, which also functions as an archive, has the powers of the public prosecutor and is responsible for processing the country's communist past.
Walesa rose to prominence as the leader of the banned Solidarity union movement and was Poland's first democratically elected president after the fall of communism, from 1990 to 1995.