Civic Issues #2: Poland’s Controversial New Law
This past Thursday, the Polish Senate had passed a bill which would make any public speech suggesting that their nation was guilty of executing people as part of the Holocaust illegal. If their president, Andrzej Dula, agrees to sign this into law, even referring to the likes of Auschwitz as a “Polish death camp” could get one thrown in prison. While finding these terms offensive is a very popular opinion in modern-day Poland, as with many things deemed offensive, the debate lies within whether or not it should be labeled as “hate speech”, and in turn banned.
Poland’s controversial proposal has not only sparked debate between supporters and those opposing of the bill, but has also put them at odds with other nations, namely the United States and Israel. The latter’s Prime Minister to Poland has spoken out against such a law, stating concerns that it could be a precursor to Holocaust denial. Israel has even delayed a diplomatic visit from a Polish official in response. Similarly, the U.S. has also denounced the legislation, believing it goes against the core principles of democracy.
My thoughts on all of this? Although I am non-practicing and admittedly a religious skeptic, I am ethnically Jewish. Naturally, as most others should be, I fully condemn the actions of the Nazis against not just my people, but many other innocent civilians as well, and can only hope that something as atrocious as the Holocaust never happens again. I am also an unabashed supporter of Israel, believing that the Jews have every right to their own state and territory. However, above all else, I am a proud American, and a strong believer in the Bill of Rights. As such, I cannot condone what the Polish government is currently trying to do.
While I am aware that Poland was invaded and controlled by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, I will own up to being somewhat unsure on how much involvement the Polish themselves had on orchestrating the Holocaust, other than the fact that several concentration camps were stationed there. If others are similarly uncertain about who is truly guilty here, I can definitely understand why this would be an incredibly hot-button issue in Poland. However, regardless of how little or how much a role the Poles played in the extermination of Jews, it still does not change my mind on my staunch opposition to their President signing the Senate’s proposed bill.
From a practical standpoint, a law criminalizing this type of speech is simply incompatible with a twenty-first century democracy. When one looks at totalitarian nations such as North Korea, they often hear horrific stories of citizens being executed for stepping even slightly out of line. Although I am aware that “slippery slope logic” is fallacious, and that the signing of this legislation would not necessarily mean Poland will become the next crazy dictatorship, the idea of imprisoning someone over referring to Auschwitz as a “Polish death camp” is quite disconcerting to me. I mean, imagine if someone got in trouble for saying something like that by accident in a speech? Sure, people may be offended, but in my opinion, that is not nearly enough to warrant years of one’s life being taken away by a prison sentence.
Even in the scenario that the Polish were indeed responsible in aiding the Nazis in the Holocaust, I would still oppose the proposal to ban speech suggesting their involvement. True, the government wants to protect the country’s reputation, but this may only be a short-term solution, quickly putting a band-aid over potential slander. In the long run, however, Poland could severely damage their relations with other countries for erasing any mention of their involvement in such a horrific event. This has already been seen with the responses of both Israel and the United States, and I can only imagine how much further things will be strained between Poland and those two if their President actually signs the bill.
Whether it be an individual or an entire country, no one likes to admit that they made a poor choice or involved in a wrongdoing, but the reality is, everyone makes mistakes, and nobody is perfect. The level of overall Polish involvement in the Holocaust may indeed be up for debate, but debate is a key component of a free, democratic society, even if it means disagreement. In discussing such a touchy topic, rather than suppressing it, Poland can better learn from their potential missteps, just as an individual grows from their mistakes.