Poland relaxes controversial anti-defamation law

29 Juin, 2018, 19:09 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Poland relaxes controversial anti-defamation law

Besides Israel's strong rejection of the Polish legislation, US condemnations hit Warsaw policymakers especially hard.

Polish government denied that the law was an attempt to restrict free speech or to rewrite history.

Poland's president has signed into law amendments which abolish the threat of prison for anyone who blames Poland for Nazi Germany's Holocaust crimes.

Lawmakers in Poland's right-wing dominated lower house of parliament voted 388 in favour of the amendment, with 25 against and five abstentions.

In caving in to worldwide and domestic pressure, Poland's right-wing Law and Justice party is taking a political gamble. However, Law and Justice also risks losing some support from its nationalist voters.

The original law, passed earlier in this year, had strained ties with the United States and Israel.

Poland will continue to "fight for the truth" about the Holocaust, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday, despite plans in parliament to eliminate jail penalties for suggesting the nation was complicit in crimes against Jews.

"But we operate in an global context and we take that into account", he said. "One can not change history and the Holocaust can not be denied".

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A picture of the main gate to the German Nazi Auschwitz death camp, made with some of the names of the Holocaust victims who died there.

The bill was created to protect Poland's image and show it was a victim of Nazi Germany's aggression. Exempted from such penalties were scholarly studies, discussions of history, and artistic works.

Poland was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939, but unlike in other European countries, there was no collaborationist Polish government. During the war, nearly 6 million Polish citizens were killed - 3 million Jews but almost as many Christian Poles.

Throughout years of Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945, a number of Polish underground movements resisted the Nazis. There was widespread suspicion that the true intent was to suppress free inquiry into a complex past, and the law was compared by some to history laws in Turkey and Russian Federation.

The controversial legislation triggered an unprecedented diplomatic spat between Poland and Israel, especially after Morawiecki said "there were Jewish perpetrators" of the Holocaust as there were Polish perpetrators. Critics also said that the legislation was mainly meant to fuel nationalistic sentiments in the country. The ruling Law and Justice party said it was trying to stop the use of expressions like "Polish death camps" for Nazi camps on occupied Polish territory during World War II.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the amendments and issued a conciliatory joint statement with Morawiecki late Wednesday that expressed a common desire for dialogue and acknowledged many of Poland's positions.

The strong reactions eventually resulted in less outspoken Polish defences of the law itself, even as the government has stood by its reasoning to pass it. Other Israeli officials even compared the legislation to Holocaust denial.

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