Polish President signs anti-defamation bill, causing international protests

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks on the decision to sign the amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance during a press conference in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, 06 February 2018. [EPA-EFE/RAFAL GUZ POLAND OUT]

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed on Tuesday (6 February) the controversial IPN Act, while at the same time referring it to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling. US officials have expressed disappointment over the Polish step, Ukraine lambasted the law and Israel declared it counts on “changes and amendments.” EURACTIV Poland reports.

Under the revised act on the government-affiliated Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), anyone who publicly or against the facts states that the Polish nation or state is responsible [or co-responsible] for crimes committed by Nazi Germany or other crimes against humanity will be subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.

Duda: Defending the good name of Poland and the Polish people

“I have decided to sign this bill into law but at the same time… I have decided to send it to the Constitutional Court to have Article 55a examined in terms of its conformity with the Constitution,” Duda announced in a press statement. The Court will examine whether the new legislation unduly restricts the freedom of speech as well as the issue of the so-called specificity of legal provisions.

According to Duda, the “good name of Poland and of Polish people needs to be protected,” because “we also have the right to our own sensitivity. We also have the right to historical truth. And we also have the right to be judged based on facts and in truth.”

Polish lawmakers back Holocaust bill, drawing Israeli outrage, US concern

Polish lawmakers approved a bill yesterday (1 February) that would impose jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, drawing concern from the United States and outrage from Israel, which denounced “any attempt to challenge historical truth”.

Duda assured that, “we all know what anti-Semitism has led to” and highlighted that “we all know it must not recur, never in history.” He  pointed out “there was no systematic complicity, either on the part of the Polish state, the state which was non-existent then, or on the part of any Polish institutions, in the German annihilation industry.”

Duda stressed that Poland – unlike other European countries – did not cooperate with Nazi Germany and also has the largest number of Righteous Among the Nations in the world (an honorific title bestowed by Israel on those who struggled to save Jews during WWII).

US disappointed over IPN law signing

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned in a special statement that the implementation could have an adverse impact on freedom of speech and research: “The United States is disappointed that the president of Poland has signed legislation that would impose criminal penalties for attributing Nazi crimes to the Polish state.”

Tillerson reaffirmed that “terms like ‘Polish death camps’ are painful and misleading” and stated that “such historical inaccuracies affect Poland, our strong ally, and must be combatted in ways that protect fundamental freedoms.”

But he said that “open debate, scholarship and education are the best means of countering misleading speech”.

In reaction, Duda’s chief of cabinet, Krzysztof Szczerski, declared: “We are ready for this dialogue with both Israel and Washington, and we are open to it.” He emphasised that the Polish president’s decision to combine the signature with the referral to the Constitutional Court creates an “instrument for conducting such a conversation.”

Israel counts on “changes and amendments”

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs still counts on the introduction of “changes and amendments”. The ministry said it had “expressed concerns” in connection with the amendment but added that “Israel is still in touch with the Polish authorities”.

Observers, however, predict that signing the amendment to the IPN Act will probably deepen the crisis between Israel and Poland because both countries had agreed to set up joint working groups to discuss the law but Duda’s signature now makes these discussions pointless.

Disrupted relations

Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, will not come to Warsaw for talks on the IPN Act with Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin. “The Polish government cancelled my visit because I spoke about these crimes. I feel honoured,” Bennet wrote on Twitter.

“The blood of Polish Jews screams from this land and no law will silence it,” an AP statement quoted him as saying.

“Yes, death camps in Poland were built by the Germans, but many Poles throughout the country contributed to the death of at least 200,000 Jews during and after the Holocaust. Only a few thousand Righteous Among the Nations risked their own lives to prevent it,” the Israeli minister said.

Commenting on the case, Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, said that in the last 20 years Poland has managed to build “normal, natural Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli relations.”

However, he emphasised, “it will be a great sin if we allow it to let even such a difficult and important dispute break our relationship.”

The day before, the rabbi argued on Polish television TVN24 that there is a duty to tell the truth and fight against the lie, but a solution must be found. Schudrich admitted that it was sad for him to “listen to folly from both sides” and explained that, both on the Polish and Israeli side, “we have heard untrue and false things.”

Ukrainian parliament condemns IPN Act

The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine also condemned the new legislation. In an adopted statement, the parliament in Kiev called on Duda and both chambers of the Polish parliament to restore the balance of Ukrainian-Polish relations.

Ukrainian MPs are afraid that the amendment to the IPN Act, which according to them contains a “distorted notion” of Ukrainian nationalism, will make it possible to manipulate this term and strengthen anti-Ukrainian sentiments in Poland.

The document issued by the Ukrainian parliament “categorically refuses and rejects the policy of double standards and imposing the idea of collective responsibility and attempts by the Polish side to equate all fighters for Ukraine’s independence with the crimes of two totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, Nazi and communist.”


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