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Criminalizing History

Legal Restrictions on Statements and Interpretations of the Past in Germany, Poland, Rwanda, Turkey and Ukraine


Edited By Klaus Bachmann and Christian Garuka

Why do states ban certain statements and interpretations of the past, how do they ban them and what are the practical consequences? This book offers an answer to these questions and at the same time examines, whether the respective legislation was supply-or demand-driven and how prosecutors and courts applied it. The comparison between Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Rwanda and Turkey offers several surprising insights: in most countries, memory law legislation is supply driven and imposed on a reluctant society, in some countries they target apolitical hooligans more than intellectuals or the government’s political opponents. The book also discusses, why and how liberal democracies differ from hybrid regimes in their approach to punitive memory laws and how such laws can be tailored to avoid constraints on free speech, the freedom of the press and academic freedoms.

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Protecting the Nation’s Good Name: Klaus Bachmann


(Klaus Bachmann)

The controversies about the Polish “HolocaustLaw” of 2018

The emergence of legal restrictions on interpretations of the past in Poland has its origins in two separate developments, which took place in the beginning of the twenty first century. The first is the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross’ books “Neighbors. The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne,” first in English in 2001 and then in Polish in 2003.53 The second factor was the rising awareness among conservative, right-wing, and liberal circles in Polish media and politics of the notion of “Polish camps” in foreign media. Both together explain most of the motivation behind the legislation, which was enacted for the first time in 2006 and then for the second time in 2016 and 2018.

The Yale sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross was already a renowned scholar, whose books on Nazi occupation in Poland and the Sovietization of Poland’s eastern territories after 1939 were known and often quoted in the US as well as in Poland, when he published a strongly judgmental account of the mass murder of Polish Jews during the first days of the German-Soviet war in 1941 in the small north-eastern community of Jedwabne, where Polish citizens had taken part in the persecution, looting and ultimately burning of the local Jewry, which had been gathered in a wooden barn. German officers had been present and instigated the murder but local Polish residents had carried out the shooting, beating, looting and the...

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