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4 Feb, 2018 15:59

Polish ruling party leader calls on president to sign ‘misunderstood’ Holocaust-related bill

Polish ruling party leader calls on president to sign ‘misunderstood’ Holocaust-related bill

The leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said President Andrzej Duda should sign the controversial bill that criminalizes public statements blaming Poland for Second World War crimes.

The bill, which was passed by the Polish parliament this week, would make public statements suggesting that the Polish nation is responsible for Nazi atrocities a crime, punishable by up to three years in jail. Death camps established under the Nazi occupation on Polish territory were used to kill millions of people, many of them brought from other European nations. Warsaw’s attempt to distance itself from those events criminalizes among other things the expression “Polish death camps,” which it considers an implication that the Polish nation was complicit in the extermination program.

Several international rights organizations as well as the governments of Israel and the US voiced concern that the bill infringes free speech related to the Holocaust. Some critics said Warsaw wants to whitewash crimes committed by Polish nationals during that dark period of history and deny the fact that some Poles collaborated with the Nazis. But Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party believes the government’s intention has been interpreted by foreigners in a way that is “totally wrong.”

The bill, he told Poland’s state radio Jedynka, covers accusing Poles as a nation but not “someone who says that somewhere, in some village, some place, a Jewish family or one Jewish person was murdered.”

“We must talk to our allies in a way that would allow them to understand that we have no intention of renouncing our dignity,” Kaczynski added.

President Andrzej Duda has less than three weeks to either sign the bill into law or bounce it back to the parliament or the Constitutional Tribunal to seek the judiciary’s opinion on its constitutionality. His office indicated that he would sign it.

Some critics of the Polish government believe the bill would fuel anti-Semitism in the country. The Israeli embassy in Warsaw said it has received “a wave of anti-Semitic statements” in the past week amid the debate over the bill.

READ MORE: Holocaust bill row: Angry Israel calls off visit by Polish security chief

Of the 3.2 million Jews who lived in Poland before World War II over three million were killed under the Nazi regime. At least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were killed by the Nazis as well. Some people in Poland believe that the narrative focusing on the Holocaust as a tragedy of the Jewish people sidelines the non-Jewish victims.

A related row over the bill also pitted Warsaw against Kiev. The Polish legislation outlaws the Ukrainian nationalist ideology of Stepan Bandera and criminalizes the denial of crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists against Poles during the war. The current government in Kiev considers Bandera and other figures in the nationalist movement heroes and freedom fighters and tends to brush aside the mass killing committed under the banner of Ukrainian nationalism.