Saturday, June 28, 2008

Government to clampdown on ‘politicised historical institute’?

The governing coalition in Poland wants to amend the Act on the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), accusing it of acting as a an organ of ‘political revenge’.

The political turmoil following the publication of a controversial biography of Lech Walesa, Communist services and Lech Walesa: A contribution to a Biography by two historians from the Institute of National Remembrance has inspired the government to consider making changes to the law regulating the powers of the IPN, a historical institute set up to investigate crimes against Poland during the Nazi and communist period, though its critics say that it has a radical rightwing political agenda.

Coalition politicians are said to have already commissioned expert opinion regarding a possible direction for making amendments to the existing law.

“We want to make the law more consistent, so that there are no more publications aimed at political revenge,” Stanislaw Zelichowski from the junior coalition partner, the Polish Peasant’s Party (PSL) told the TVN24 news channel.

Zelichowski refused to reveal if the new draft amendment would strip IPN of its investigative powers regarding the vetting procedure of politicians and public officials and reduce it to merely a national archive and historical research institute.

Politicians from the senior coalition partner, Civic Platform (PO), are also convinced that IPN should undergo reform.

“IPN has failed in its current form. Its role is to study history and not to pass judgments. Changes in IPN are inevitable,” said MP Grzegorz Dolniak (PO).

If a new law is to be passed by the Lower House, the ruling coalition will have to count on support from the opposition, leftwing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) in order to overrule a likely Presidential veto.

“If the changes go in the right direction, we will support [the government in parliament],” Ryszard Kalisz (SLD) told TVN24.

Michal Kaminski, minister from the Presidential Chancellery, told Polish Radio this morning that President Lech Kaczynski would indeed veto any move to strip IPN of its investigative powers. He claimed that the government was the one trying to politicise the institute, not politicians loyal to Kaczynski and the largest opposition party, Law and Justice.

But the government and opposition parties from the left argue that the allegations made against Lech Walesa in the book released yesterday, claiming that the ex-Solidarity trade union leader collaborated with communist secret services, is merely an attempt to discredit him in a revenge attack by politicians loyal to the Kaczynski brothers, who, though also from the Solidarity movement, have been at loggerheads with Walesa since he was president in the first half of the 1990s..

The Institute of National Remembrance - Commission of the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN) was established by the Polish Parliament on December 18, 1998 and began to operate in July 2000. The Institute is headed by a Chairman whose post is independent of the state authorities. The IPN Chairman is elected for a five-year term.

According to IPN’s statute, its primary mission is to preserve the memory of the losses suffered by the Polish Nation during WWII and the Communist era, as well as Polish citizens' efforts to fight for an independent Polish State, in defence of freedom and human dignity.