Vetting? What Vetting?

Poland in crisis?I have specifically, in premeditated fashion, avoided making any entries on my blog this week in order to avoid becoming too embroiled in the political crisis that has been unfolding around the ruling of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal concerning the constitutional nature of the much-maligned Vetting Act.

Now that all the hoohah’s finally come to a (judicial and legislative) end, I have decided to comment on the bizarre goings-on. It all started when parliament, including ruling coalition and the majority of opposition Civic Platform (PO) MPs, decided to pass an amendment to the (anti-communist) Vetting Act which widened its jurisdiction to encompass, amongst others, journalists and academics who might have collaborated with the Communist Secret Police (SB).

The ramifications of the new Act became apparent to all and it meant that those touched by the Act would have had to submit vetting declarations to the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in order to obtain a certificate of ‘moral health’. In practical terms, this meant that almost a quarter of a million (!) people would have had to submit these declarations and then have to wait for the IPN to verify them. By all accounts, the IPN would have been hard pressed, working flat out, to get through all of these declarations in little over ten (!) years.

In real terms, this puts a shadow over Poland’s ability to deal with its communist past. All the former communist states, seem to have dealt with their shady history by simply opening up their archives to all. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent this from happening and many believe the archives of the IPN are in their hands and are being used for political ends.

To illustrate the political machinations of PiS let us look at the week’s events. The deadline by which all vetting declarations were to be made was May 15th. The Constitutional Tribunal, as the primary authority responsible for ruling on questions of the constitutional (i.e. legal) nature of legislation, promised to rule on whether the Vetting Act is in accordance with the Constitution by the 11th May for the good of the people, so that the quarter of a million people affected (and confused) by it would know whether or not to submit these declarations.

Ludwik Dorn, Speaker of the House (and therefore supposedly objective) called for the Constitutional Tribunal to not rule on whether the Vetting Act was in accordance with the Constitution so soon. No clear reasons were given. After the Tribunal ignored his pleas, PiS played their ace card and submitted a petition stating that information on two of the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal had been found in the archives of the IPN; the idea being that they collaborated with the Secret Police. When pressed by the Tribunal, the PiS MP responsible for the petition crumbled but a shadow of doubt was cast on these two judges who had to be suspended for the time of this ruling. An hour later, their IPN files were found to be cleaner than clean. How the PiS MP got his hands on these files so quickly is still a mystery to many.

Even with the loss of two judges, the Tribunal was able to conclude their ruling and as the black clouds thickened and the heavens opened above Warsaw the judges declared that nearly half of the regulations in the Vetting Act were not in accordance with the Constitution. President Kaczyński and PM Kaczyński were quick to point out their displeasure. However, in all of this it has become apparent that this is more than just a battle for the realisation of one party’s vision of vetting but a power struggle on the future of Poland’s legislative system.

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