Warsaw, Poland — Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, has signed a bill outlawing speech that blames Poland for Nazi Germany’s war crimes against the Polish in WWII. Though Duda has already signed it, it still has to pass Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal before it can take effect. The law permits authorities to imprison anyone for up to three years for blaming the Polish for any part in the Nazi’s crimes, an effort to quell confusion on exactly what happened.
However, this decision has drawn criticism on the international stage, particularly from the United States and Israel. They fear it is a serious breech of the freedom of speech, and that such a breech threatens open discussion about the Holocaust. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said,
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 … We understand this law will be referred to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry.”
This is not to be confused with laws regarding the denial of the Holocaust. Outright Holocaust denial is illegal in 16 European countries, and also in Israel. Poland already outlaws Holocaust denial; Luxenbourg carries an 8 day – 6 month imprisonment followed by a fine. Israel’s sentence carries up to five years. Consider this law in Switzerland:
Whoever publicly, by word, writing, image, gesture, acts of violence or any other manner, demeans or discriminates against an individual or a group of individuals because of their race, their ethnicity or their religion in a way which undermines human dignity, or on those bases, denies, coarsely minimizes or seeks to justify a genocide or other crimes against humanity […] shall be punished with up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine.”
Groups have attempted to get such laws passed in the United States and the U.K., but they infringe upon the right to free speech. Even compared to the more liberal countries, the United States is relatively unregulated when it comes to speech. This is all covered under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Holocaust denial is common among anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists alike. They either deny that the Nazi extermination of the Jews happened at all, or that it is grossly exaggerated. One such prominent Holocaust denier would be the former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when he said, “They have created a myth in the name of the Holocaust and consider it above God, religion and the prophets.”
Approximately six million Polish citizens were killed over the course of WWII, making up a fifth of the country’s population before the war started. About half of those were Jews that were killed in the Holocaust — just under three million people killed in death camps.
In an effort to quell any confusion or misinformation, President Duda has signed this new bill that seeks to punish anyone placing any blame on the Polish for the acts of WWII. Holocaust scholars and organizations have also opposed the bill alongside Israel and the U.S., saying that such a law would be easy to abuse.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.