In reconciling its Communist past, Poland is divided anew

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GDANSK, Poland -- Almost two decades have passed since dictatorship gave way to democracy in Poland, but after years of burying memories and avoiding the subject, this country is finally grappling with its communist past.

On March 15, a controversial law went into effect requiring an estimated 700,000 civil servants, teachers and journalists to sign an oath declaring whether they collaborated with the communist secret police before the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Anyone caught lying, or who refuses to sign, is to be fired.

In January, the new archbishop of Warsaw quit after admitting he had been an informer. Since then, dozens of priests in this devout Catholic nation have likewise been outed as collaborators, shaking public faith in an institution that was long seen as the only reliable refuge from totalitarian rule.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are expected this spring to put on trial an 83-year-old man whose unsmiling visage and dark eyeglasses still symbolize the country's tribulations under communism. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's former military ruler, faces charges that he illegally declared martial law in 1981 to suppress the Solidarity labor movement that arose in Gdansk's shipyards.

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