Logo Polskiego Radia

Poland’s controversial historical institute gets new president

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 10.06.2011 13:31
MPs in Poland's lower house of parliament have voted in a new president for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), set up in the late 1990s to investigate past crimes against the Polish nation.


IPN's previous president, Janusz Kurtyka, was among the victims of the Smolensk air disaster in April 2010. Since then, his second-in-command, Franciszek Gryciuk, has held the reins as an intermediary chief.

Lukasz Kaminski, a 38-year-old doctor of history who has already served as head of the institute's educational department, was put forward by the IPN’s council, emerging as first choice from among four candidates last Tuesday.

Today, MPs voted in favour of the appointment, with 356 backing Kaminski, with just eight against, and with eight abstentions.

Nevertheless, some members of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which was created from the ranks of the Polish United Worker’s (communist) party in 1989, boycotted the vote, as the party has repeatedly called for the abolition, or reform, of the institute, saying that it has been used as a political tool by right wing politicians, particularly those associated with the Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Critics say that the institute is not just the documenter of crimes against Poland during Nazi occupation and communist rule after WW II, but has also the power to investigate alleged collaboration with communist-era security services.

Thousands of previously classified files are at IPN's disposal.

By law, politicians and civil servants are obliged to confess if they worked for the communist secret services via the so-called 'lustration', or vetting process. Likewise, leading clergymen, artists and other public figures have been 'outed' by the institute, leading to much heated debate in the press.

Many innocent people have also been accused of collaboration, say critics, as communist secret service files are poor evidence of any involvement with past regimes.

In 2009, Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned IPN must remain politically neutral or face closure.

“The Institute will survive only if it maintains political and ideological neutrality. If it continues to display one-sided views publicly, it will be forced to close,” Tusk said.

The new president's candidacy will now have to cleared by the Senate.

In contrast to SLD, Dr Kaminski has no doubts about the necessity of IPN, over 20 years after the fall of communism.

“The institute is needed, as the process of accounting for the past in Poland has yet to completed,” he said. (nh/pg)

Copyright © Polskie Radio S.A About Us Contact Us