Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Witch-hunt in Poland and Polish treason?

Ignacio Ramonet editorialist of the “Le Monde Diplomatique” criticizes the new Polish Lustration law (see). Namely, in March 2007 the controversial law went into effect and it is judged that it goes further than anything similar in the region, requiring hundreds of thousands of citizens in positions of authority, including academics, journalists, teachers, and state company executives, to declare in writing whether they cooperated with the communist secret services -- or risk losing their jobs.

Polish lustration law differs from those of the rest of Europe for it does not narrow itself to vetting people who hold public office -- MPs, ministers, directors who pursue national interests – but it aims at a much wider group of people.

Ramonet argues that in comparison to the Polish Lustration law McCarthyism in US seems as “amateur anticommunism”. The Polish law requires hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to officially respond to the question, “Did you secretly and consciously collaborate with the old communist secret service agencies?” After filling in the form responding to the question the individual has to submit the answer to his hierarchical superior at work and this one will in turn send the information to the Institute of Memory in Warsaw. There the information will be checked and subsequently a certificate of “political purity”, as Ramonet puts it, will be issued to the individual under scrutiny. In the case of proved cooperation, journalists for example, will be automatically fired. If an individual refuses to respond or lies risks a prohibition to exercise their profession for 10 years.

Many argue that the law is a result of the ferocious anti-communism of the conservative twin brothers Kaczynski, President and Prime Minister. Opponents of this law say that the law is unconstitutional because a citizens is asked to prove something he did not do. The Polish Constitutional Court will pronounce itself on the law at the beginning of May.

It is undisputable that this law is to say the least problematic. The communist-era secret police harassed large numbers of people, forcing many to sign loyalty declarations or to collaborate. Most people lied, signing the declarations but not really spying. The 2000 verdict of the Polish Supreme Court decided that such people are not to be considered collaborationists. The new law legislates differently. A group of journalists from "Gazeta Wyborcza," which is one of Poland's most influential newspapers and was created by anticommunist dissidents, has announced it is boycotting of the law. The country's largest academic institution, Warsaw University, called on March 22 for the suspension of the new law.

For Ramonet the controversial lustration law logically fits into the nature of policies of the new Polish government. He underlines the example of Roman Giertych, vice-premier minister of Poland and Education Minister from the right-wing League of Polish Families who is famous for his outrageous homophobic policies, as well as anti-Semitist pronouncements of the ministers’ father Maciej Giertych, who is also the member of the European Parliament. The later is on the contrary famous for ambiguous statements that can certainly be branded as anti-Semitic.

From there Ramonet stretches his argument in an interesting fashion. He argues that all these measures constitute an attempt of the ruling Polish elite to return to a pre-communist moral order, a “sick nostalgia” for the pre-WW II period when racism was “proudly displayed”. He argues that certain do not even hesitate to glorify collaboration with Hitler’s Germany against the Soviet Union. At the end of his article Ramonet makes a geopolitical conclusion arguing that the above mentioned political spirit in Poland manages to present Putin’s Russia as the old Soviet Union, which in turn facilitates political moves such as the Polish government accepting to install on its territory the US anti-missile system that is perceived by Russia as a direct threat to its security – despite the opposition of the major EU states. For Ramonet all this “demonstrates how in politics, paranoia, can lead not only to spiritual atrophy, but also to a certain form of treason”.

Although I can fully subscribe to Ramonet’s criticism of the controversial Polish lustration law I consider his later geopolitical argument a simplification. It is more probable that the rationale behind the lustration law can be explained through the logic of Polish internal politics (see)

A malicious reader of Ramonet’s article could conclude that, “alas, non-ideological interpretations are impossible and that Ramonet’s article is also marked by the spirit of paranoia – Communist paranoia”, but this is a malicious reader, I limit myself to ignoring the concluding remarks of his article and accept the critique of the Polish lustration law in an openhearted fashion. It is certainly an interesting reading.

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