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2009 | 4 | 47-58

Article title

OPERATION 'SPOTLIGHT' IN THE VOIVODESHIP OF CRACOW (1955-1956) (Operacja 'Spotlight' w województwie krakowskim (1955-1956)

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In November 1954 a session held by the Central Party activists in Warsaw criticised the PUPW leaders for the abuse of power within the security offices. Consequently, on 7 December the Council of State issued a decree dissolving the Ministry of Public Security, replaced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Committee for Public Security. A certain impact was also exerted by one essential fact - the escape in December 1953 to West Berlin of Józef Swiatlo, vice-director of the Tenth Department of the Ministry of Public Security, who handed himself over to the American authorities. The information disclosed by Swiatlo proved powerful and was used in the broadcasts of the Polish section of Radio Free Europe as 'Józef Swiatlo speaking' (the first in the series was heard on 28 September 1954). The confessions albeit sometimes rather distant from the truth, became an accusation of the communist system. It was precisely thanks to these broadcasts that transformations affecting Polish domestic policies rapidly assumed an outright avalanche-like form. The range of the impact of Swiatlo's public admissions was enhanced by operation 'Spotlight' prepared by the Free Europe Committee. This was the outcome of a new approach of the United States towards the USSR and Eastern Europe, expressed in the liberation doctrine. One of its purposes was propaganda, whose objective was to support the schism within the satellite states. The campaign, realised by, i. a. resorting to balloons carrying suitable material, mainly Swiatlo's book 'Za kulisami bezpieki i partii', began on the night of 12 February 1955 and lasted until 20 October 1956 when the Eighth Plenum of the PUWP elected Wladyslaw Gomulka for the Party First Secretary. Fearing the outcome of the propaganda leaflets the Polish authorities deployed civic military detachments and secret services for seizing the balloons. On the other hand, they applied a 'stick and carrot' policy vis-a-vis society by presenting financial awards to persons who delivered the balloons and the material contained therein, and imprisoning those who read or distributed the leaflets. Alltold, 20 000 leaflets were amassed in the brief period from January to August 1956. Considering the mass-scale character of the balloon campaign (more than 400 000 leaflets were placed in the balloons on the single night of 10/11 May), the outcome of the 'preventive' steps taken the authorities appear to be exceedingly modest. The 'balloon war' disclosed their weakness and accelerated processes that resulted in the transformations of October 1956.







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  • Tomasz J. Biedron, Uniwersytet Pedagogiczny im. Komisji Edukacji Narodowej w Krakowie, ul. Podchorazych 2, 30-084 Karaków, Poland.


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