Hate Speech

Poland's Holocaust Bill Is a Hate Speech Ban

The bill's backers say talking about Polish complicity in Nazi genocide is a form of group defamation.

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In Poland, as in several other European countries, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust. Soon, thanks to a bill that was approved by the lower house of the Polish parliament on Friday, it may also be a crime to discuss the Holocaust too frankly.

The pending ban on references to Polish complicity in Nazi genocide, which has provoked outrage in Israel and around the world, may seem inconsistent with the ban on Holocaust denial. But the two taboos are of a piece with each other and with Poland's prohibition of ethnic insults—a fact that should give pause to American fans of European-style speech regulation.

The Polish bill makes it a crime, punishable by fines and up to three years in prison, to accuse "the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich." The legislation was motivated largely by anger at the common use of phrases like "Polish death camps," which could be read to mean that the war crimes committed by Germans in occupied Poland were a project of the Polish government.

"German Nazi crimes are attributed to Poles," Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki complained last week. "And so far the Polish state has not been able to effectively fight these types of insults to the Polish nation."

Some of these "insults" happen to be true, since part of "the Polish nation" was "complicit in the Nazi crimes." Poles saved Jews, but Poles also murdered Jews, under Nazi instruction and on their own initiative.

Acknowledging that complicated and troubling reality could expose people to criminal liability under the proposed law, notwithstanding its focus on statements "contrary to fact" and its exemption for people engaged in "artistic or scientific activities." The bill, which applies to mistakes as well as deliberate misrepresentations, charges the government with determining what is true and whose motives are elevated enough to shield them from prosecution.

The impact of such a system goes far beyond the people who are actually fined or imprisoned, since the possibility of an investigation encourages self-censorship. The result—people afraid to speak their minds, lest they attract unwanted attention from the government—hardly seems consistent with the "freedom to express opinions" and "disseminate information" guaranteed by the Polish constitution.

The same could be said of the Polish laws that make a criminal out of anyone who minimizes or denies Nazi war crimes or who insults or incites hatred against people based on their nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion. These are fuzzy categories that invite arbitrary and unpredictable enforcement, chilling speech that might offend the sensibilities of protected groups.

The proposed ban on charges of Polish complicity in the Holocaust is similar in logic as well as impact, since it criminalizes "insults to the Polish nation," a kind of group defamation. The same principle that is aimed at protecting minorities from verbal oppression can be easily adapted by majorities seeking to suppress speech that makes them uncomfortable.

We need not look abroad to see how slippery the concept of hate speech can be. Last year Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, argued that the University of California at Berkeley's decision to cancel a speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter did not raise any constitutional issues because "hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment."

Dean was wrong about that, since "hate speech" is not a legally relevant category in the United States, and his loose use of the phrase demonstrated why making it so would be dangerous. Why bother to argue with your opponents when you can have them arrested?

The Polish legislators who want to criminalize speech that offends them are trying the same shortcut. The only way to close it off is by rejecting, once and for all, the illiberal idea that people have a right not to be offended.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Why are we supposed to worry about legislative proposals in foreign countries? Don’t we have a full o,ate here in the US?

    1. No and it’s about time we export our VALUES to other countries instead of arms.

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    2. Why are we supposed to worry about legislative proposals in foreign countries?

      Because Democrats and progressives are frequently proposing other countries as models for the US. That’s true for free speech restrictions for “protecting minorities”, healthcare, welfare, unions, worker protections, enironmentalism, etc.

      Of course, the people proposing this usually don’t have the slightest clue of how such laws work in Europe or what their actual content or effect is.

      1. Those of all stripes propose illiberal ideas on a regular basis. While the mainstream left is embracing the idea of anti-constitutional speech regulation, Trumpians really love the “unbelievable job” Duterte is doing in the Philippines, where his people act as judge, jury and executioner in their murderous rejection of due process.

        1. While the mainstream left is embracing the idea of anti-constitutional speech regulation,

          The “mainstream left” isn’t just embracing anti-constitutional speech regulation, it is lying through its teeth about the nature and benefits of progressive and “socialist” policies in Europe and introducing legislation based on European models in the US.

    3. Why are we supposed to worry about legislative proposals in foreign countries?

      Because no country exists in a vacuum. The world is more interconnected than ever before – economically, politically and socially. This magnifies developments like this.

      The assertion of illiberal, authoritarian impulses abroad are very bad for everyone.

      1. The assertion of illiberal, authoritarian impulses abroad are very bad for everyone.

        You don’t get out much, do you? The world is full of “illiberal authoritarians”. If you think that this Polish law is worth worrying about compared to all the other shitty laws in Europe, let alone the rest of the world, you must be ignorant beyond belief.

      2. The assertion of illiberal, authoritarian impulses abroad are very bad for everyone.

        You don’t get out much, do you? The world is full of “illiberal authoritarians”. If you think that this Polish law is worth worrying about compared to all the other shitty laws in Europe, let alone the rest of the world, you must be ignorant beyond belief.

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  2. I agree completely that this is a terrible law and will lead to false accusations and witch hunts and wars. Europe knows this well and each country has their own set of such laws and are adding more every day (e.g. Germany’s BDS bans and France’s ‘fake news’ laws).

    HOWEVER, Poland was squeezed on both sides by the Nazis and the Russians and fought valiantly against them and is rightfully resentful of our failure to appreciate their sacrifice. The first Auschwitz inmates were Christians leaders and politicians, not Jewish. Yes they were complicit in the Holocaust but guess what? So were the Zionists and the Marxists. If there is one good thing about this law, it will expose our mutual complicity as the parties retaliate against each other with mutual recriminations. If coupled with a new appreciation for free speech, we could actually see a reversal of this trend and progress towards peace.

    1. HOWEVER, Poland was squeezed on both sides by the Nazis and the Russians and fought valiantly against them and is rightfully resentful of our failure to appreciate their sacrifice.

      “Poland” is a country; it doesn’t have any feelings. Personifying countries in this way sometimes works as a shorthand, but here it doesn’t.The people in Poland who suffered under the Nazis or the Russians, who resisted fascism, and who resisted communism are almost all dead. So are the Polish Nazi collaborators, the Polish genocidal maniacs, and Polish anti-semites, and there were lots of those too.

      If you want to talk about “Poland” as a single political body, then its composition tends to result in government that is nationalistic and oppressive. Of course, in part that’s because any the intelligent, liberty-minded ethnic Poles left their shambles of a country long ago.

      1. While I thonk a law is beyond the pale, fighting the notion of collective guilt for the decisions of individuals is good, especially a group whose national government was in exile at the time these crimes happened.

        Never mind how the Western Allies screwed over Poland (for not unjustifiable pragmatic reasons) by abandoning them to Stalin’s tender mercies.

        1. Teaching people that “just doing your duty” is not a moral thing is one way to prevent future generations from making the same mistakes.

          I am not convinced about the collective guilt thing unless it is discussed that standing up for other people’s liberty is important. If you don’t you can be complicit in the tyranny that takes away that liberty.

          Socialists don’t want people to stand up for individualism or liberty and there are still a bunch of socialists around the World.

          1. At the point that we are talking about, Poland is conquered territory, whose population, as Slavs in the estimation of Nazi ideology barely worthy of more moral consideration than the Jews. They do not have any institution that can be said to speak and decide policy in their name.

            1. True but you can still fight.

              In 1939 there were ~35M people in Poland. ~24M of them were Poles. If every Pole killed 1 German, there would not have been enough Germans to do anything.

              Freedom and Liberty are never free. Sometimes you have to die to save a future for your future countrymen.

              1. Good point, but there were 87M Germans, and they were able to kill too.

            2. At the point that we are talking about, Poland is conquered territory, whose population, as Slavs in the estimation of Nazi ideology barely worthy of more moral consideration than the Jews.

              And because of that, we should simply not mention the fact that Poland was a poorly educated, anti-Semitic, arch-Catholic country? That it had a culture that produced numerous Nazi collaborators and was incapable of defending itself?

              Poland as a country exists because it claims to have a separate and distinctive culture, and it does. Different cultures produce different economic, social, and political outcomes, and we can certainly judge a culture based on the outcomes it produces, both for people within that culture and people outside. When it comes to Polish culture, those outcomes have never been very good, and it isn’t just legitimate, it’s necessary for people to reflect critically on such issues.

    2. All of what you have said is irrelevant. A Polish law applies to its residents and citizens and thus doesn’t apply to us (you said “our”). But you know what? That doesn’t matter either, because banning any specific speech on any specific topic is wrong. There are specific laws against libel and slander in most countries– and probably Poland– and in the civil courts is where those issues can be taken up. Unpopular speech is the reason for even defending speech at all.

      1. All of what you have said is irrelevant. This Polish law applies INTERNATIONALLY.

  3. They just got tired of Polish jokes.

    Why wasn’t Christ born in Poland?
    Because they couldn’t find three wisemen and a virgin.

    1. Upvote (not supported on this site)

  4. These European countries are sick of people still bringing up the holocaust, all the revenge murders, and theft that took place by Europeans during WWII.

    This is their way of moving on.

  5. Some of these “insults” happen to be true, since part of “the Polish nation” was “complicit in the Nazi crimes.” Poles saved Jews, but Poles also murdered Jews, under Nazi instruction and on their own initiative.

    The link to ‘on their own initiative’ goes to a piece in which a child was used by the communist occupiers of Poland to instigate violence against the Jews of Kielce.

    Not quite ‘their own initiative’.

    1. The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman

      This book, an autobiography of a girl who survived the holocaust because a Ukranian woman hid her in a hole in the floor below her barn, is now a banned book in her own country. Why? because it showed many Poles supporting the persecution and turning over their neighbors, first to the Ghetto and then to the death camps. She explicitly stated that while some were to save their own skin, many others were willing participants.

      Now, if she were still alive, she could be imprisoned if she ever returned to her home country.

      And that’s despicable.

      1. Another book out, Behind the Fireplace, if memory serves, tells of a Dutch girl who worked with resistance fighters to Throttle The Accursed Hun. The story is intriguing to Gravity’s Rainbow fans as it tells of massacres of Dutch witnesses of rockets that broke down while being hauled enroute to launch sites from which they would be fired at England.

  6. The last refuge of democracy in central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, just lost that distinction as an election was won by a faction that had succeeded in jailing most of its opponents on charges of hate speech. Such laws are anathema to democracy, and can destroy it, as here.

  7. Fake news. The Polish bill is about criminalizing falsely attributing German atrocities to Poland. It’s not about criminalizing “discussing Holocaust too frankly”, it’s about lying and libel.

    1. Greg has doubtless read the NSDAP 25 points program penned in 1920. Hitler was indeed all worked up about the “conscious political lie.” But the guy was your standard European collectivist. They ALL thought that way then (coerce, censor, kill), and still do today. They’ve never seen any different ideas- Atlas Shrugged was only fairly recently translated into German, and there are two translations, each claiming to be “real.”

  8. Orwell was assigned to visit and write abt Germany right after the surrender. Arbeit Macht Frei morphed into his Freedom Is Slavery in 1984. But yes, there is reason to believe the whole war began because Polish chemists violated Bayer’s patent rights to acetylmorphine, just as the US produced acetylsalycilic acid without regard to Bayer’s claims during WWI. And yes there were collaborators in Poland like everywhere else. That war was between Christian National Socialists (conservatives) and atheistic “Internationale” socialists (commie progressives). To them, no third way was imaginable, and opiate markets were as good a reason to start a war in 1939 as in 1839.

    1. We come off as the more virtuous patent thieves here. Poland copied OPIATES, we copied ASPIRIN. USA! USA!

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