Friday, May 11, 2007

nemo tenetur seipsum accusare

After the fall of communism in 1989 Poland made a big mistake of not opening its secret service archives (unlike Germany or Czech Republic). This mistake is now exploited by the current governing party (Law and Justice) to eliminate political opponents.

In March this year they introduced the law (“the spy law”) according to which all teachers, academics and journalists were required to disclose if they had collaborated with the secret police. The person that would refuse to provide such statement (or would lie) would be barred from working for any public company for 10 years.
This law caused uproar in Poland for several reasons. First (and in my opinion the most important one) is that nobody should be forced to confess its own guilt. Most civilized countries have laws which protect people from self-incrimination (e.g. In the US the right to silence is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment). Second problem associated with this law is that it still does not open the archives of Polish secret services to the public. That means that even tough you are forced to state what was the status of your contacts with the secret police, you are not allowed to see what files they have on you. Moreover, in case it would be decided that you lied in your statement (let's sat you claim that you did not collaborated with the secret service, whereas according to their files you did), not only you loose your job, but also YOU have to go to court and prove that you are innocent and you never collaborated with them. Isn't it outrages?

Now it becomes even better. In response to that law, Polish left-wing, post-communist party publicly asked for the secret service archives to be opened and also asked the constitutional court to determine if this law conforms to Poland's constitution. The governing party refused to open the archives (as then it would not have a chance to manipulate their content) and did everything possible to delay the constitutional court from working on that law. Finally, when the court was ready to start working on it, one of the members of Law and Justice party stated publicly that two (out of 15) of the members of the court "were registered" in the archives of the secret services and, therefore, should be excluded from the court. Regardless of the fact that Polish Constitution guarantees complete independence and autonomy of the constitutional court (and its members) those two judges got removed (at least temporary) from the court!!! (But luckily the remaing thirteen judges still decided that the law in question indeed violates Poland's constitution. See a BBC article. I just found this NYT article which is better. Note however that both of these articles wrongly refer to the constitutional court as "the highest court".)

You might think that there is nothing wrong with excluding somebody who is registered by the secret service from one of the most important courts in the country. But here is a trick: the file of one of the excluded judges was only created AFTER Poland became independent from the communist rule in 1989, and the file of the other contains a sentence: "refused to collaborate". Clearly, Law and Justice does not want to use the secret service archives to cause chaos in the country and eliminated political opponents.

PS There is an excellent recent movie about German secret police called "The lives of the others" (Das Leben der Anderen). You should definitely see it.