wednesday, 7 february of 2018

Polish pesident signs law to outlaw linking Poland with Holocaust

Polish President Andrzej Duda ratified a law making it illegal to blame his country for any part in the German Nazis’ systematic murder of millions of Jews during World War II, bowing to pressure from his ruling allies and amid rallies by far-right protesters.

Despite mounting international criticism, ruling Law & Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski urged Duda to sign the legislation. The president complied Tuesday, a day after dozens of activists chanted anti-Semitic slogans at a rally in front of his presidential palace in central Warsaw, with one banner reading: “Take off your yarmulke and sign the bill.”

Both Israel and the U.S. have called on Poland to halt the so-called Holocaust bill, which they say curbs free speech and may be an attempt to rewrite history. Duda said that while he approved the legislation, he’s also sending it to be vetted by the Constitutional Tribunal, a court that may ask lawmakers to change part or all of the legislation.

“This guarantees Polish interests, such as our dignity and the historical truth -- that we will be fairly evaluated in the world,” Duda told reporters in Warsaw, taking no questions. “On the other hand, my decision takes into account the sensitivity of people for whom the historical truth and the truth about the Holocaust is extremely important.”

‘Rewritten Narrative’

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that it hopes the tribunal’s pending review will allow it to work on amendments with Polish authorities.

The controversy represents the latest conflict for the Law & Justice party, which over two years in power has battled its partners in the European Union over allegations that it’s backtracking on democratic values. Once seen as a model of transformation from communism, Poland is “squandering the great gains” it has achieved since 1989, according to Judy Dempsey, a Berlin-based fellow at Carnegie Europe, a think-tank.

Poland’s main political objective since embracing democracy was to anchor itself in the EU and NATO, helped by “rapprochement and reconciliation” with Germany, Ukraine and Israel, Dempsey wrote on Tuesday. “But now, because of this legislation, the Polish narrative is being rewritten in a way that it is becoming seeped in patriotism, victimhood, and revenge.”

‘A Single Jew’

Poles say they’re unfairly held complicit in German Nazi war crimes during a period when their country was occupied and an estimated 2.7 million non-Jewish civilians were killed, including a large number of resistance fighters. Only 380,000 of Poland’s 3 million Jews -- Europe’s largest pre-war Jewish community -- survived the Holocaust, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

While some Polish civilians participated in the murder of Jews or turned them over to Nazis to avoid being executed for hiding them, others resisted. Yad Vashem has commemorated 6,700 Poles for rescuing Jews, the largest number of “Righteous Gentiles” in any country.

The law would impose fines or up to three years in jail for public claims that Poland or the Polish nation bears responsibility for crimes against humanity committed on its soil. Works of art and science are exempt.

“We don’t have any intention to prosecute someone who says that somewhere a single Jew or a family were murdered,” Kaczynski told public radio on Feb. 3. “Such events took place and we never denied this.”

Ukrainian Objection

Last week, Israeli legislators drew up a bill defining any attempt to deny or minimize the crimes of Nazi collaborators as Holocaust denial, which carries a five-year prison sentence in the Jewish state. It would provide state backing for any Holocaust survivor or educator prosecuted under the Polish bill.

Neighboring Ukraine also criticized the Polish law, which widened the government’s mandate to prosecute crimes committed by “Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian formations collaborating with the Third Reich” from 1925 to 1950. Lawmakers in Kiev passed a resolution Tuesday saying they were “deeply concerned” the law could pave the way for “the strengthening of anti-Ukrainian tendencies.”

(Published by Bloomberg - February 6, 2018)

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