Sitting on a chair in the Warsaw law office of Marek Malecki is a famous and formerly banned work of protest art, made in 1983 by a dissident artist, showing a cartoonish pig wearing dark sunglasses.
It is instantly recognizable as a caricature of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the military leader who imposed a decade of fearful and impoverishing martial law on Poland after he crushed the Solidarity union in 1981. His stern and shaded visage still haunts the dreams of Mr. Malecki, who purchased the painting.
"Nobody from Canada can imagine it. When you entered a shop, there was absolutely nothing on the shelves," Mr. Malecki says, remembering his teenage years under Gen. Jaruzelski's rule.
Today, though, as he does at least once a week, Mr. Malecki will travel to a distant Warsaw neighbourhood to visit the old general, now 86 years old, who still wears the trademark dark sunglasses. They will sit, talk and scribble notes.
Marek Malecki has become one of the communist leader's defence lawyer, joining a large population of liberal-minded Poles, including Solidarity founder and former president Lech Walesa, who defend the former dictator against charges that he "directed an armed criminal organization," the army, to impose martial law and crush Solidarity.
It forms the heart of a debate, sweeping across Eastern Europe 20 years after the communist regimes collapsed, over whether their surviving leaders and officials should be treated as organized criminals guilty of atrocities, or simply as political leaders who embraced unpopular ideologies.
The Polish trial, launched in earnest three years ago by a conservative government bent on bringing the former communist regime to justice, is opening deep scars in Polish society that many believed had healed years ago. When it resumes in a few weeks, accusations of betrayal will once again dominate the news.
As with most communist governments in Europe, Poland's had two faces: It was both the repressive, censorious regime that brought in tanks to crush opposition in 1981, and also the regime that agreed to hold elections and hand over power to Solidarity in 1989. Depending on your perspective, Gen. Jaruzelski was either a tyrant or a brave reformer, or possibly both.
For most of the past 20 years, that has resulted in something of a social contract, in which former communists have been allowed to slip back into public life with impunity. In the 1990s, ex-communists governed Poland for a number of years, transforming themselves into moderate Scandinavian-style social democrats.
But as a second generation entered power, politics became more polarized. The trial was launched by Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, a body loyal to the Law and Justice party, whose identical-twin leaders, Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, served as president and prime minister of Poland in the middle years of this decade. (Lech Kaczynski is still President.) In 1989, the Kaczynskis sat at the Round Table talks that negotiated the handover of power from Communists to Solidarity. In the two decades since, the anti-Communist movement has become divided, with the conservative and nationalist movement led by the Kaczynskis arguing that the divisions of the Communist years should be reopened.
The Kaczynskis and their backers argue that only a criminal trial and conviction will give Poles a sense of justice after decades of suffering under communism.
"I think that it is common that, for example in Spain, in Germany, in Chile, after a period of quiet after the dictatorship, society starts to think about the past in a more moral way," says Leszek Skiba of the Sobieski Institute, a right-wing think tank that serves as a policy arm of the Law and Justice Party.
"I think that young people start to ask in different ways than was done in the past, because they grew up in a more moral atmosphere."
At the centre of the trial is the question of whether Gen. Jaruzelski only imposed martial law in 1981 in order to prevent Poland from being invaded by Moscow's tanks - as had happened when reformist regimes took power in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 - or whether he was acting criminally, in his own interests.
Historians are divided on the question, though it is clear on one hand that the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, in which Moscow pledged to resist any turn away from communism in its satellites, was in effect. And it is equally clear that Gen. Jaruzelski ruled as a dictator for far too long, and far too brutally, to justify that rationale.
But most of the main Solidarity leaders who were driven underground by the general's tanks in 1981 and negotiated with him in 1989 are taking his side, including Mr. Walesa, who testified in the general's favour at a trial involving his soldiers' firing on striking mine workers in 1970, arguing that the communist system, not any individual in it, was guilty. Mr. Walesa had opposed the trial.
"I see how many mistakes we made, how many sins we committed - that I committed, too," Gen. Jaruzelski told an interviewer this year. "But we've been pushed into a position in which we say it was all bad, that we moved from a country of absolute evil to a country of absolute universal good. … Not everything was bad then."
The Kaczynskis, in transforming the political past into the criminal present, managed to polarize Polish society in surprising ways. By opening up secret-police files, they revealed respected Solidarity members to have been spies at one time. The trial has opened questions of whether people co-operated with the regime.
Guilt and recrimination united the other parties against Jaroslaw Kaczynski, causing him to be voted out of power in 2007. But his trial against Gen. Jaruzelski keeps rolling along.
"They managed to mobilize quite a lot of people behind this, but they also united all the other parties against them," says Jacek Wasilewski, a sociologist who surveys Polish public opinion. "People didn't care about this, not at all. It was just for politicians. None of the ordinary people want to return to this past. It's over."
First in a series
POLAND: Doug Saunders visits the surviving participants of the Round Table talks, innovative and risky discussions in Warsaw that became a template for Europe's non-violent transition back to democracy.
Follow Saunders through Europe as he heads to Berlin on Nov. 9