Poland’s president approves clampdown on communist symbols

By Monika Scislowska, AP
Friday, November 27, 2009

Poland clamps down on communist symbols

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president has approved legislation that allows for people to be fined or even imprisoned for possessing or buying communist symbols, two decades after communist rule ended.

The new law says that people who posses, purchase or spread items or recordings containing communist symbols could be fined or be imprisoned for up two years.

The new law has drawn criticism from left-wing lawmakers and other observers who say it is ill-defined and will be hard to implement. The law does not list the banned symbols and it also exempts from punishment their use for artistic, educational or collectors’ purposes.

The legislation was initiated by Law and Justice, a right-wing opposition party that President Lech Kaczynski helped found and which has sought to purge Poland of the legacy of four decades of communist rule. The law was also supported by the governing Civic Platform party.

The law expands on legislation that already made it a crime to promote Nazism or other totalitarian systems. Communist symbols, however, were not specifically named in the earlier legislation.

A Law and Justice senator, Zbigniew Romaszewski, said the law was needed because the atrocities committed by communist regimes are being forgotten, allowing the flourishing of businesses that sell images of Soviet leaders, state symbols like the hammer and sickle and the red star.

“Communism should be treated just like Nazism,” Romaszewski, who promoted the legislation, told The Associated Press.

“The numbers of their victims are comparable, taking into consideration the famine in Ukraine under Stalin and deportations to Siberia” that caused tens of millions of deaths, including Poles, he said. “We in Poland lived between these two extreme systems and we know what they were.”

Communism was imposed on Poland after World War II and overthrown peacefully in 1989.

Marcin Krol, a prominent historian and philosopher with Warsaw University, said he believes scientific research or widely accessible information about the communist era would be more effective in keeping alive the memories of communist crimes.

He said the law would be hard to implement, given the imprecise definition of communism and the numerous exemptions it grants.

“The cruelty of that reality should be clearly described to the wide public, but banning and punishing seems artificial and ineffective,” Krol said.

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