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How did Polish decommunization policy from the late 90s became a “Holocaust Bill” in 2018?

February 8, 2018 - by Iryna Matiyenko, Uniiversity of Victoria

No, there is no “Holocaust bill” in Poland, however international media have put it this way. What happens in Poland today needs a clarification because the focus of the United States and Israel media and public officials are shifting global attention away from the process of anti-democratization that is happening in Poland since 2015. The new changes will not only impact Holocaust survivals, the most importantly, it will severely restrict political competition in Poland and quality of its democratic institutions. The ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS) is cementing its future victory in the next Parliamentary and Presidential elections. They have updated a tool, The Law on the Institute of National Remembrance, which historically happened to manipulate political competition.

In 1998, Polish government established a public institution, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), to address the crimes of the communist regime and prevent individuals, who were cooperating with a regime secret police, from holding public offices in democratizing Poland. The initial goal of this policy was the process of decommunization through the political lustration. However, since the beginning, the mandate was broader and included prosecution of crimes against Polish nation during occupations by Nazis and Communist. As a result, Poland established a “Ministry of Memory” a government-affiliated research institution, an archive and an educational center with prosecutorial powers, which practically, became an antidemocratic tool involved in numerous political provocations, scandals and diplomatic crisis .

In 2015, not only the Law and Justice (PiS) won the majority of seats in Polish Parliament, but also an unprecedented right-wing populist non-partisan political movement Kukiz’15 took 42 seats and initiated changes to IPN that according to them should protect Polish nation from growing antipolonism and polonophobia. The initial policy justification to review mandates of IPN was not a problem with the international usage of the “Polish concentration camps” terms. The problem, according to the Kukiz’15 policy agenda, was in Ukraine and its nationalistic anti-Polish policies. In fact, Ukraine was developing its own public institution for the decommunization in 2015 and reexamining truth about the past, particularly the role of Stepan Bandera in country’s independence movement during WWII. The diplomatic crisis between Poland and Ukraine due to the different interpretation of the war events resulted in the Parliamentary resolution in 2016 about Volhynia events in 1943 as a genocide on Poles, making Stepan Bandera and Ukrainian Uprising Army (UPA) responsible. The issue became urgently popularized, within months there were movies and educational events and TV programs about Ukrainian threat for Polish memory. The need to change the law on IPN found a growing popular support and entered policy agenda.

On February 6th 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed amendments to the law on Institute of National Remembrance and new provisions are targeting any allegations that Poles or Polish state bear any responsibility for the crimes of WWII that would be now punishable by a fine or imprisonment. Particularly, the mentioning of the “Polish death camps”, “denial of crimes of Ukrainian nationalists and military formations” and other attempts to review the historical events through the perspective of the antipolonism can be interpreted as a criminal offence and prosecuted beyond the territory of Poland. This law can be used to control any individual or political movement that criticize the ultra-right and populist values and actions of the current government and political movements in power. Another dangerous outcome would be a growing racial and xenophobic hatred towards immigrants and minorities that could be interpreted by certain groups as justified through the perspective of the law.

A new government for Germany? Close but not quite...

February 7, 2018 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria

After months of uncertainty, a failed attempt to form a broad coalition that included the Green Party, and a controversial push towards a renewal of the Grand Coalition, Germany has moved a decisive step closer to forming a new government. On Wednesday, after weeks of tough negotiations, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed on a coalition contract and the distribution of ministerial responsibility among the parties of the Grand Coalition.

Some of the central elements of the agreement have become known to the public over the past weeks but indeed another 24-hour marathon of negotiation to complete putting together the program for the next four years of CDU/CSU and SPD government under the chancellorship of Angela Merkel. The completion of the coalition agreement gives a first indication of how this iteration of the Grand Coalition might be different from its predecessor: As it currently stands, the Social Democrats (SPD) will take control of six ministries, among them critical ones like Labour and Social Affairs, Finance, and Foreign Affairs, The fact that the SPD is slated to take over the Minister of Finance is likely a signal that the future German government  will loosen its austere spending policy and invest some of the record surplus in the public coffers on public initiatives and social programs. Another news that surprised the German public in the wake of announcing the agreement is that the current leader of the SPD, Martin Schulz, will step down in March (probably staying in the new government as foreign minister) and be replaced by former Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Andrea Naples. She would be the first woman to lead the Social Democrats in the 155-year history of the party.

The announcement of the successful completion of the coalition negotiations will likely end months of uncertainty in German politics. There has been growing impatience domestically regarding the failure to form a government after last September's elections. Similarly there is a great sigh of relief palpable in Europe where French President Macron is waiting for his German partners in order to push his ambitious agenda for the European Union.

Yet, there still is one decisive hurdle for the Grand Coalition before it can embark on a renewed four-year term. The 460,000 members of the SPD still have to agree to the coalition agreement (the results of this consultation are expected to be on March 1st). There is a massive opposition within the SPD to join the Christian Democrats under Chancellor Merkel again. At a recent party congress, only 56% of the delegates agreed to the coalition negotiations. The main concern is that another four years in the Grand Coalition would be politically disastrous for the SPD. Already in 2017 the Social Democrats only received a bit more than 20% of the popular vote, the worst showing of this party since 1949. Given the great reservation in particular of the leftist wing of the SPD, the new iteration of the Grand Coalition is not a done deal yet.

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