Polish Christians face moral dilemmas of communist era

By Ecumenical News International
13 May 2007

Polish Reformed Christians have criticised current preoccupations with the screening of possible former communist collaborators in their country in a process known locally as "lustration", and they urged an end to a system they say is more abusive than just writes Jonathan Luxmoore for ENI.

"In very few cases has lustration proved an effective means of establishing the genuine responsibility of people who inflicted misfortune on others by co-operating with the security apparatus," the Reformed church synod said in a statement.

It continued: "Much more often we see an attempt to find useful material in the archives for stigmatising particular people … Such activity is based on a moral falsehood and deeply damages the whole national community."

Former foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, a prominent member in the 1980s of the Solidarity trade union, which opposed communist rule, has refused to comply with the law, describing it as an "abuse" of legislative culture. The government has threatened to strip him of his post as a member of the European Parliament, and on 7 May removed him from an official advisory committee, Poland's PAP news agency reported.

The church statement, published on its Web site, said attempts to evaluate the communist-era role of Polish citizens represented "one of the most important moral dilemmas". It noted that it had also led "most often to false or very unclear accusations", as well as to "divisions between people, shame and suffering".

"General lustration is having a destructive impact on ever wider social groups, since it injects into Pharisaic souls the temptation to prove their own innocence by throwing accusations against others," said the synod, which represents 3000 Reformed, or Calvinist, Christians in Poland.

The statement was issued as 700,000 Poles prepared to submit declarations by 15 May 2007 to the official National Remembrance Institute (IPN), stating whether they collaborated, at the risk of being excluded from their jobs for a decade.

Politicians and commentators are deeply divided over the purging law drafted by Poland's governing Law and Justice party, which applies to journalists, lawyers, head teachers and company directors born before 1972.

Several organisations, including Warsaw University and the mass-circulation Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, have threatened not to submit declarations, which experts say could take IPN officials a decade to verify.

The Reformed church synod said the search for scapegoats would "deprive society … of any capacity to think critically about itself, admit its faults and take responsibility". It noted: "Forgiveness is a harder choice than condemnation and rejection. But we think forgiveness will provide stronger proof of our strength as a national community."

Clergy from Poland's predominant Roman Catholic church are exempted from the new legislation, despite controversy following the January resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw after he admitted contact with communist era secret police.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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