WARSAW, Poland — Aides to Polish President Andrzej Duda have tacitly confirmed media reports that the president recently refused to accept a call from then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The news reports say Tillerson was calling to discuss with Duda possible US action over a new Polish law that makes it a crime to attribute the Holocaust crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation or state. The US, along with Israel and other countries, oppose the law over fears it could violate free speech.
Some days later, Duda endorsed the law, but also asked a top court to check if it complies with the country’s constitution. The verdict may take months to come.
Asked about the reports Tuesday, Duda’s top aide, Andrzej Dera, said that “according to diplomacy’s rules” an official holding the rank of a minister does not make calls to a president.
Another Duda aide, Pawel Mucha, also would not deny the reports but insisted that Poland-US relations are “strategically close.”
Tillerson was fired Tuesday by US President Donald Trump. He had been on a visit to Poland when the law first moved forward in the Polish parliament.
Last week Poland’s foreign minister largely confirmed another Polish media report that the US had informed Poland that its president and prime minister should not expect meetings with Trump or the US vice-president until the law controversy is solved.
Minister Jacek Czaputowicz described the US message as being: “It would be good if meetings at the highest level could take place in an atmosphere when these issues are resolved.”
He denied that diplomatic ties were somehow “frozen.”
Critics of the law include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it “baseless.” Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, warned it is detrimental to debate and research of the genocide. And Israeli politicians, including the opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid, said it whitewashes what they called Polish complicity in the Holocaust – allegations many Poles find offensive and the Polish government rejects.
The US Embassy in Poland last month warned that it was “concerned about the repercussions” for bilateral relations after the Polish Senate passed the legislation.
Later that month, Morawiecki suggested there were “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust, along with Polish, Ukrainian, and German ones.
Decried as a form of Holocaust denial or revisionism in Poland and abroad, his remark prompted an unusually harsh reaction from Netanyahu, who called Morawiecki’s assertion “outrageous.”
Led by the Polish deputy foreign minister, a high-level delegation from Warsaw was in Israel last week to discuss possible amendments to the law.
As currently written, the law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.
One key paragraph of the law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”