Poland’s president signs controversial Holocaust bill into law

Poland's President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018 in Warsaw to announce that he will sign into law a controversial Holocaust bill which has sparked tensions with Israel, the US and Ukraine. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2018

Poland’s president signs controversial Holocaust bill into law

WARSAW: President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday signed into law a controversial Holocaust bill intended to safeguard Poland’s image abroad but which has instead triggered an unprecedented diplomatic row with Israel and tensions with the US and Ukraine.
Duda also said he would send the legislation, which now comes into force, to the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on whether it conforms with guarantees for freedom of speech.
The law sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone ascribing “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich — or other crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
The main aim is to prevent people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau as Polish, simply due to their geographical location.
Israel has expressed deep concerns that the legislation could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.
But Duda and other Polish leaders insist the law does not limit freedom of speech on Holocaust issues that are based in historical fact.
“I have decided to sign the law but also to send it to the Constitutional Tribunal,” Duda told reporters in Warsaw on Tuesday.
He said the decision “preserves the interests of Poland, our dignity and the historical truth” and also “takes into account the sensitivity of those for whom the question of historical memory of the Holocaust remains exceptionally important, especially those who have survived and who, as long as they can, should tell the world about this past and their experience.”
Israel said Tuesday it still hoped that “we will manage to agree on changes and corrections,” adding that it “continues to communicate with the Polish authorities.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared last week Israel had “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth and rewriting history or denying the Holocaust.”
Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari said Monday that after Poland’s Senate adopted the bill last Thursday she “had signals” she may be withdrawn.
Analysts say that the legislation has isolated Poland from Israel, a key ally of the United States and neighboring Ukraine.
The US State Department warned last week that the bill could have “repercussions” on “Poland’s strategic interests and relationships — including with the United States and Israel.”
According to Polish security analyst Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas the statement was the “strongest” made by the US toward Poland since the Cold War.
He told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily the tensions could potentially affect Warsaw’s talks with the US on an unprecedented multi-billion dollar defense purchase of a US-made Patriot anti-missile defense system.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has described the tensions as a “temporary weakening of relations with Israel and the USA” but added that he hoped for an improvement soon after Poland explained its position.
Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said Monday that Poland was open to amending the law but insisted that Israel’s criticism was “due to a misunderstanding” and “over-interpretation.”
Jewish organizations from across the globe have also expressed deep concern.
European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin said in a statement Tuesday his organization would challenge what he described as the “flawed” law in Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.
“It seems inconceivable that an EU member state can be permitted to whitewash history by imposing draconian legislation that can imprison people for holding an alternative view on what happened during Europe’s darkest days,” Margolin added.
Ukraine has also slammed the law with President Petro Poroshenko protesting against “absolutely biased and categorically unacceptable” articles that allow for the prosecution of anyone denying the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists committed between 1925 and 1950.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said “there is not the slightest doubt about who is responsible for the extermination camps, who made them work to kill millions of European Jews: namely the Germans.
“It was our country that organized these mass murders and no one else. The existence of certain collaborators does not change anything,” Gabriel said.
“Poland can be certain that any distortion of history such as the notion of ‘Polish concentration camps’ will be clearly rejected and firmly condemned.”


Five dead from strong quake in southern Philippines

Updated 5 min 56 sec ago

Five dead from strong quake in southern Philippines

  • More than 200 aftershocks from the 6.3 magnitude tremor have also been recorded
  • Another 5.3 magnitude quake rocked Davao Oriental around 4:53 a.m. on Thursday  

MANILA: Five people were reported killed and dozens injured after a strong 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Philippines Wednesday evening, sending people scurrying out of their residences, buildings and shopping malls.

Information released by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) showed the shallow quake of tectonic origin occurred 7:37 p.m. 22 km southeast of Tulunan town in North Cotabato.

It was felt at intensity 7, described as destructive under the Phivolcs Earthquake Intensity Scale (PEIS), in Kidapawan City, and in Tulunan and M’Lang towns, North Cotabato.

Intensity 6 was reported in Digos City, Davao Del Sur; Sto. Niño, South Cotabato; and Tacurong City.

President Duterte’s home city of Davao experienced intensity 5, as well as, in Alabel and Malungon, Sarangani; Lake Sebu, Palomok, Tampakan and Tupi in South Cotabato; Koronadal City; Roxas and Pikit in North Cotabato; General Santos (GenSan) City; and Kalamansig, Lebak and Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.

Intensity 4 was felt in Sarangani, Agusan Del Sur, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Cotabato City, and Maguindanao; intensity 3 in Iligan City and Dipolog City; intensity 2 in Butuan City and Zamboanga City; and intensity 1 in Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur.

Reports showed the fatalities, three of them children, were from Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, M’lang in Cotabato, and Magsaysay town in Davao del Sur.

The victim from Datu Paglas was a young girl who died due to injuries sustained when the wall of their house collapsed and hit her. In M’lang town, Cotabato, a man succumbed to heart attack, while a two-year-old boy, who was then sleeping, was killed after a block of cement from a fallen wall hit him.

At a far-flung village also in Magsaysay town, a mother and her nine-month old son were killed after an earthquake-induced landslide buried their house.

The mother was reported to be still cuddling her infant when their bodies were retrieved. Rescuers managed to save the father and the couple’s two other children.

While authorities continue to assess structural damage caused by the earthquake, reports placed the number of injured at around 60, many of them hit by falling objects and debris.

Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said over the radio it felt like a steamroller was passing by when the quake struck. He described the shake as very strong.

Evangelista said he has ordered the forced evacuation of residents at a village situated at the foot of Mount Apo following reports of landslides and rockslides.

Patients in hospitals in some of the affected areas were also evacuated, while some residents, still shocked and traumatized by the strong quake, have chosen to temporarily stay by the roadside outside their homes.

Schools have been shut in the damaged areas, which are being seen unsafe for use. Many houses and government buildings were also severely damaged by the strong quake.

In General Santos City, firefighters continue to battle the fire that hit the Gaisano Mall after the earthquake struck. 70 to 80 percent of the mall have already been gutted by the fire, according to the Bureau of Fire Protections.

Some 2,000 employees of the Gaisano mall now fear losing their jobs due to the blaze, according to reports.

Meanwhile, another earthquake with 5.3 magnitude rocked Davao Oriental around 4:53 a.m. Thursday. No damages or casualties have been reported so far, but aftershocks are expected.

More than 200 aftershocks from the 6.3 magnitude tremor have also been recorded.

In the wake of the strong earthquake, the country’s chief state seismologist Renato Solidum said this should serve as a “wake up call” to local government units that do not take earthquake drills seriously.

These drills, he said, are intended to orient local government what to do when a big earthquake occurs.

Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, as it is located along a typhoon belt and the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”