Hero or Villain? New Movie ‘Jack Strong’ Reopens Debate on Poland’s Cold War CIA Spy Ryszard Kukliński

A new film from director Władysław Pasikowski has reopened a debate in  Poland about a spy who passed secrets to the USA during the Cold War.

Colonel Ryszard Kukliński’s story is told in the movie Jack Strong – his undercover name – starring Marcin Dorociński and Maja Ostaszewska. It presents Kukliński as a hero, who directed his actions against Communist Poland, and finally defected to the CIA on the eve of the declaration of Martial Law in Poland, in 1981.

Leading politicians in government and opposition are broadly in agreement that the heroic sentiment is warranted. Adam Hofman, Law and Justice party (PiS) spokesman, said that he tried to help Poland – which was at the time a satellite of Moscow rather than a sovereign state. President Bronisław Komorowski added that he was considering conferring a posthumous honour on Kukliński to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism, in June this year. Polish Radio reports the president as saying that Kukliński deserved to be ‘remembered gratefully’.

Public opinion, in some quarters, is also ranged behind Kukliński. A Facebook group has appeared calling for memorial to the Cold War spy to be erected in Warsaw.

Trailer for Jack Strong, on general release in Poland now:

However, Polish Radio reports that an ex-head of Poland’s former intelligence agency has branded Kukliński a traitor. Gromosław Czempiński said it was not important what kind of rule Poland was under during the Cold War, and that in passing some 35,000 pages of Soviet secrets to Washington, Kukliński had betrayed his nation.

There are some sections of society in Poland that appear to agree with Czempiński’s view. In 2011 and 2012 a monument to Kukliński in Kraków was vandalised – and the words ‘traitor’ and ‘death to the USA’ were scrawled across it.

 Picture: Hero or villain? Kulkiński’s vandalised monument in Kraków, and Marcin Dorociński in the movie Jack Strong.