The Reliability of “Files” and Collaboration with the Security Service (SB) in Poland: An Attempt at a Methodological Analysis
Over the course of the last decade, the disclosure in Poland of information regarding the secret collaboration of public figures with the Security Services (SB) has triggered emotional discussions on the reliability of the archival records stored in the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). Analysis of these discussions enables one to draw a distinction between two opposing views. According to the first, documents stored in the archives of the IPN are incomplete and devoid of accurate information. According to the second, documents produced by the repressive apparatus of the communist state constitute a new type of historical source and contain reliable information.
However, these discussions concerning the reliability of “files” lack methodological rigor and precision. I consider the reliability of the “files” in the light of Gerard Labuda and Jerzy Topolski’s concepts of historical sources. According to this analysis, the “files” do not constitute a new type of historical source requiring a radical rethinking of existing classifications and new interpretive methods. However, one precondition of an adequate interpretation is the acknowledgment of the purpose for which they were created and the functions they played in the communist state. The repressive apparatus collected, selected and stored information on society if they considered this information useful in the maintenance of political control over society. Ignorance of or failure to acknowledge this specific social praxis (and its different forms: manipulation, disintegration, misinformation, etc.) performed by the secret political police is one of the reasons for methodical and heuristic errors committed by historians: the uncritical application of the vision of social life and processes presented in these sources for the construction of the historical narrative.