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POLAND’S parliament has agreed to back down over scandalous government legislation that would have jailed anyone implicating Poles in nazi Germany’s Holocaust.
The clerical-conservative Law & Justice government had claimed to be protecting historic truth about Poland, but suspicion was widespread that the true intent was to suppress free inquiry into the entire period.
The ruling party had said it needed a tool to fight back against foreign media and politicians’ use of the expression “Polish death camps” to refer to German-run camps in occupied Poland.
Parliamentary speaker Marek Kuchcinski said amendments proposed by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to drop prison terms of up to three years for falsely and intentionally accusing the Polish nation of Holocaust crimes were carried by 388 votes to 25, with five abstentions.
Polish authorities had insisted that nobody would be punished for any statement backed up by facts and that there would be no criminal punishment for discussing individual cases of Polish wrongdoing.
The law nonetheless sparked anger among Holocaust survivors and led to a major diplomatic crisis with Israel.
The United States warned it threatened academic freedom and would harm Poland’s “strategic position.”
Kiev was also opposed because the law made it a crime to deny atrocities committed by Ukrainian nationalists against Poles during and after the war.
Stefan Niesiolowski of Civic Platform called the original law “idiocy” while Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz of the Modern party questioned why it had taken the ruling party six months to U-turn on a decision that harmed Warsaw’s most important international relationships.
“Why so late? Why did so much have to be broken?” she asked.
Nationalist MP Robert Winnicki opposed the PM’s amendments, accusing him of caving in to Jewish interests.
Leslaw Piszewski, the head of Poland’s Jewish community, said that scrapping criminal provisions in the law would help restore Poland’s relations with the Jewish diaspora, with Israel and with the US.
And World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder voiced pleasure that the Polish government “is now taking appropriate steps to amend one of the most problematic and dangerous clauses and remove the criminal penalties imposed by the law.”
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