"You campaign in poetry but you must govern in prose"
Mario Cuomo - former governor of New York.
By Ignacio Ramonet
The Poles call it the law of lustration, a term meaning ritual purification; the word has strong connotations of repentance and penitence in Poland, where history and Catholicism are so closely intertwined.
Under the law, which was passed last October and entered into force on 15 March this year, 700,000 Poles are required to confess any collaboration with the communists between 1945 and 1989. All senior civil servants, university professors, lawyers, headmasters and journalists born before 1972 must now confess their past sins by 15 May.
They must all fill in a form and answer the question: “Did you secretly and knowingly collaborate with the former communist security services?” The forms must be handed to their immediate superiors, who will forward them to the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, which will check its records and issue a certificate of political purity. Journalists employed in any public service will be dismissed automatically if they collaborated. Anyone who refuses to answer the question or who is proved to have lied may be banned from their profession for 10 years.
This mad law, which is causing uproar in the European Union, makes the McCarthyites of the United States in the 1950s look like amateurs at the practise of anti-communism. It is the main feature of a witchhunt launched by the authorities after the conservative president, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother, prime minister Jaroskaw Kaczynski, came to power in Poland in October 2005.
Many Poles consider the law to be unconstitutional because it requires citizens to prove that they did not do something. It may be quashed by the Constitutional Court, which will deliver its verdict in May.
The ruling rightwing, Catholic and nationalist coalition (the Kaczynski brothers’ Law and Justice party, the agrarian Self Defence party and the League of Polish Families) is pursuing a disturbing policy of tough enforcement of moral values. Roman Giertych, deputy prime minister, minister of education and leader of the League, has just tabled a homophobic bill, causing more international uproar and protests from human rights organisations. Under the bill, which could be presented within a month, any person disclosing their homosexuality “or any other sexual deviation” in a university or scholastic establishment would be liable to a fine, dismissal or a term of imprisonment.
The minister’s father, the League MEP Maciej Giertych, caused protests in February when he published an antisemitic pamphlet, paid for by the European parliament and issued under its logo, containing such statements as “the Jews create their own ghettos” and “antisemitism is not racism”.
These anti-communist purges and attempts to reimpose an authoritarian moral order in Poland — and also to some extent in Ukraine, Lithuania and other countries formerly in the eastern bloc — conceal a worrying nostalgia for the period before the second world war, when racism was blatant. Some of those caught up in the current wave of revisionism go as far as extolling collaboration with the Third Reich against the Soviet Union.
The idea, so popular with the media, that Putin’s Russia is merely a covert extension of the old USSR inspires the spirit that prompted Warsaw to agree to instal on Polish territory the anti-missile shield designed by the Pentagon to protect the United States. It did that without deigning to consult its partners in the EU and Nato. Which goes to show that paranoia in politics can lead not only to spiritual atrophy but also to a special form of treachery.