The Polish Senate this week passed a controversial law on the Institute of National Remembrance, which punishes those who blame Poles for Nazi war crimes. It also prohibits the “Bandera ideology” associated with Ukrainian nationalists, who were responsible for the 1943-1944 Volyn massacre.
The law sparked controversy not only in Ukraine, but amid other countries, including the United States and Israel. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the bill punishes those who support Ukrainian nationalism.
Polish political commentator Wojciech Przybylski said there are a number of question surrounding the wording and technical aspects of the law.
Hromadske spoke to Andriy Portnov earlier, a Ukrainian historian, to find out how memory politics affect the relationship between Ukraine and Poland today.
READ MORE: Ukraine, Poland and Remembering History
“And then there is a specific problem... that the law [has] not apparently went through the proper procedure of agreeing on that through the MFA, through diplomatic channels, and the state of Israel,” he said.
The bill is currently awaiting the signature of Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Hromadske spoke with Wojciech Przybylski to find out how the law work in practise and what effect it will have on the relationship between Ukraine and Poland, as well as other countries.
My first question is about this new law on the institute of the remembrance in Poland. Could you please explain the key points of that, for example, about the terms of Polish concentration camps and Ukrainian nationalism.
Yes, well I don't know where to start because the term “Polish death camps” is not part of the amended law on the institute of Polish remembrance. The amendment that caused so much interest and also a diplomatic clash it concerns defamation, it tries to put a mechanism that is known from the civil code, from civil law, of possible defamation of a person into a possibility of defaming a Polish nation where it is, against the fact, accused of being implicated in the Holocaust.
So this is the clue, the main point of the law, is... whenever it's... as part of a public debate in which the Polish nation is somehow being implicated against the facts, intention to portray it as a part of the Holocaust, then the Polish state would have – if the President signs it and the law is enacted – the possibility to penalize it, to put a person in jail or demand a fee, a penalty fee, from those who would do that. That seems to be excluding the artistic debate, or kind of artistic performances, but it's not sharp, it's not specific what is artistic and what is not artistic, and it specifically says that the scientific research debate is excluded from that law. But again, the wording of the law and the technical aspects of the law put lots of question marks, as many as the intention of several MPs, who already started to imagine those who would be penalized under the law, the symbolic others, symbolic enemies, of this political camp. And that is the biggest controversy, this is the biggest problem from a general point of view. And then there is a specific problem, specific outside circumstances when the law has been adopted, that the law [has] not apparently went through the proper procedure of agreeing on that through the MFA, through diplomatic channels, and the state of Israel, and the US Department of State already issued severe warning, warning against pursuing this legislation in unchanged form, and, basically in diplomatic language threatening that strategic relationship between and the two important allies might suffer because of this law.
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Do I understand correctly that there are two different amendments on this Polish concentration camps and on Bandera ideology, right?
No, I was focussing on the implications in the Holocaust. I was not referring to anything else. And again, the law is not specific in, you don't have the wording “Polish concentration camps” or “concentration camps” as such, this is about defamation, a defamation according to the legal experts that I've been reading, I'm not one of them, applies usually to a person. However, the specific law intends to give the same qualities as a natural person has – you, me, anyone perhaps watching this – to a bit of an abstract term: “Polish nation.” Nobody knows what “Polish nation” is and how can you have insulted the memory of it, therefore.
Could you explain more, do Poles understand how this law will work and who will decide on these kind of wrong statements? Will there be some special commission or something, or will it be the Institute of National Remembrance?
There are no specific plans. I mean, you cannot... First of all, the law has not been signed by the President. It may be signed any moment now, or it may be signed in three weeks, he can also veto that, however, that is unlikely. I cannot imagine how the law would be processed basically because, well, anyone can report an incident. In a specific case, a prosecutor would need to investigate and perhaps prepare a case for such a law, or, if someone go in public as a private supportive accusation, bring supportive accusation to this case. These details are not set. I don't see it again and I cannot comment as a lawyer, that would be something I'm not qualified to do, to see the legal procedure. However, again, the most striking issue here is that the courts would have problems to determine what is the Polish nation and what is not.
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My final question is: how do you think this case, this law, will influence relationships between Poland and Ukraine and Poland and Israel?
Well, I keep fingers crossed that it is not enacted, however, the likelihood, or the probability that it will be is quite high and that the President will sign the deal rather quickly. The big problem, I believe, is with the state of Israel, where the reaction to the law went beyond the expectations of those who proposed it. And to my mind, it shouldn't be so surprising because the draft has been adopted by the lower chamber of the parliament only a day before the International memorial day of the Holocaust. And then the reaction from the state of Israel might involve also the campaign, the political campaign in the state. Regardless of these facts, there is no doubt that there is no easy way out of this situation at the moment also because, from the Polish side, there is no recognition that there is something wrong in the law itself, in the construction, in the technical aspects, so the room to negotiate, the room to manoeuvre, the room to compromise, is small. That said, you have to also see that there is now a special commission that has been called upon with the agreement of two Prime Ministers of Poland and Israel and this issue will be on its way to be somehow resolved hopefully in way of a dialogue and then some sort of a compromise or a way out where two parties somehow would agree to the final assessment. But to my mind, at the same time, I have not seen any specific forms of dialogue or the request or harsh response from the Ukrainian side, at least from the Polish side there weren't too many, or I haven't seen a report on that. So answering your question regarding Ukraine, I would not expect some serious difficulties on this issue and if there are, we already have ways to resolve it like with the case of the new law on education that Ukraine has adopted and the Polish side was in serious, high-level dialogue about specifics and then changes perhaps adopting to this new law. So Ukraine and Poland have been going through this process and I believe it's not the first and the last time when such issues of the past will be addressed and somehow resolved between the states without major crisis.
/Interview by Liuda Kornievych