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April 21, 1996 No 16 (391)

The Warsaw Voice - News


Rally Rights Restrictions Mulled

Officials consider: Should controversial marches be banned at sites of martyrdom? Or should fascist groups be banned outright?

A week after far-right demonstrators marched through the Auschwitz concentration camp museum carrying anti-Semitic banners, the government has proposed legal restrictions on the right to demonstrate.

The Polish PEN Club, the European Congress of Jews, the Polish Union of Jewish Students (PUSZ) and the National Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations all protested the march, which was organized after the government refused developers the right to build a supermarket next to Auschwitz.

The government announced on April 10 that it would submit a draft law to the Sejm to establish "protective zones" in places like the Auschwitz museum, making it illegal to organize political rallies there.

Opposition deputies charged that the government would seize on the opportunity to restrict the right to demonstrate in general. To placate them, Council of Ministers head Leszek Miller said, "Such zones would not apply to the Presidential Palace or Council of Ministers' Office (URM), because they aren't sites of martyrdom."

The following day, Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said he would not fire Bielsko-Biala Governor Marek Trombski, who had given protesters permission to demonstrate at Auschwitz.

Miller agreed with the decision. "There's no legal reason to sack the governor," he told the Sejm.

Trombski said he allowed Boleslaw Tejkowski's ultranationalist Polish National Fellowship to demonstrate because its activists had threatened to disrupt the March of the Living, an event in which thousands of Jewish students from around the world march from Auschwitz to the crematorium in Birkenau.

"A state official cannot give in to blackmail," Cimoszewicz said after the meeting with the governor.

"The problem isn't even the consent given for the demonstration, but rather the fact that Tejkowski's Nazi organization can operate legally in Poland," says Michal Chain, a PUSZ leader.

Chain says Trombski should have refused Tejkowski's party permission to march simply because of its history. The party is openly anti-Semitic.

"Poland's problem is not anti-Semitism, but rather Poles' passivity toward it," Chain says.

Longin Pastusiak, deputy chairman of the Sejm's foreign affairs committee, says the incident is hurting Poland's image abroad. "Poland has always been perceived as an anti-Semitic country in which pogroms were organized," he says. "For historical reasons, every incident is inflated and given prominence by the international media."

PUSZ is demanding that Poland's new constitution ban fascist organizations and activities. The current constitution contains a ban on fascist political parties, but parties can easily circumvent it by simply keeping anti-Semitic slogans out of the statutes they present to courts when registering themselves. The current law does not state precise criteria for making a party illegal, or information on who can apply to have a party delegalized.

Kuba Spiewak

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