Sunday, February 4, 2018

Anti-Semitism, Poland's New Speech Law, Team Trump and Whataboutism

I first traveled to my parents' homelands in Eastern Europe in the 1970s. I met some card-carrying communists. 

If I said to them, "You don't have freedom of speech in this country," they'd say something like, 

"Oh yeah? In your country, Negroes are lynched." 

This rhetorical technique, whataboutism, was everywhere, including in the press. 

Anytime anyone pointed out the failings of life in the Soviet Empire, and the successes of capitalism, a commie would say, "What about American racism? What about American pollution? What about American crime?" 

Whataboutism is a way of avoiding discussing a topic, changing the subject to another topic, and accusing the person or entity accusing another person or entity. 

Simple-minded people's brains are shut down by whataboutism. 

Whataboutism has had a grand resurgence among followers of Donald Trump. You can read more about that at NPR, here. "Trump Embraces one of Russia's Favorite Propaganda Tactics: Whataboutism."

Blog reader Michal Karski calls out "whataboutism" re: Poland's new speech law that criminalizes speech about the Holocaust. 

Those supporting the law say, "What about laws criminalizing Holocaust denial?" 

That's a good question. And it should be addressed. And it is addressed, at length, in any number of venues. 

So. Allow people addressing Poland's new speech law to stay on topic. If you want to talk about laws criminalizing Holocaust denial, go do that, and let those of us concerned with Poland's new speech law remain on topic. 


  1. Sixteen European countries, including Poland, as well as Israel, have laws that criminalize public denial of the Holocaust. Poland’s law criminalizes public declaration that Poland committed Nazi crimes. Both laws criminalize public misrepresentation of historical fact, yet some on the Jewish side have challenged the legitimacy of the Polish law.
    Radio Poland is now reporting that “Israeli MPs have announced that, if a new Polish Holocaust bill is signed by the Polish president, the Knesset will amend its own law from 1986 -- the result would be that the Polish move will be considered as a measure supporting ‘Holocaust denial’”.
    The temperature of the discourse appears to be rising.

    1. Gene, thanks for keeping us up to date.

      I personally don't see the point of bringing up laws criminalizing Holocaust denial.

      If you want you can explain it to me.

      First, the two are separate, and bringing one in does not illuminate the other.

      Second, I support free speech, so that means that I don't support laws criminalizing Holocaust denial.

      Third, denying the Holocaust and making it almost impossible, in Poland, to produce histories of the Holocaust strike me as very different enterprises.

      The Holocaust did happen. Denying it is to tell a lie, an important lie.

      Some Poles did cooperate with German Nazis. Those who turned in Jews for a reward, for example. To criminalize mentioning those Poles is to attempt to erase history on an important matter.

      Also, laws against Holocaust denial don't do Israel or Germany any harm.

      A law criminalizing honest speech about the Holocaust will certainly do Poland harm. It is doing much harm already.

    2. Danusha,
      A couple of points to help clarify my comment.
      The pending law excludes academic research, which would allow honest speech, and excludes artistic activities, which would allow free speech. The law applies to public lies against the Polish state and nation as a whole, and would not apply to individuals citing Poles who turned in Jews for a reward. Polish leadership has consistently confirmed historical fact by stating publicly that some Polish individuals committed heinous acts. Polish leadership has also consistently confirmed historical fact by stating publicly that there was no systematic complicity in the Holocaust on the part of Poland as a state or non-existent state.
      My point about the pending Polish law and Holocaust denial laws is that both criminalize falsification of historical fact. Like you, I don’t support either. I would prefer an academic environment in which honest discourse is supported by empirical evidence and would hopefully bring both sides closer together, particularly in the areas of actions done for and against each other.

    3. "The pending law excludes academic research"

      Putting faith in such a proviso is comparable to putting faith in Santa Claus.

      People who outlaw speech are not going to respect speech.

    4. “Putting faith in such a proviso is comparable to putting faith in Santa Claus.” We’ll see. I’m one for not jumping the gun.
      “People who outlaw speech are not going to respect speech.” Looks like we agree to disagree. What’s outlawed is speech publicly proclaiming that the Polish state was systematically complicit in the Holocaust. If that were the case, I would think empirical evidence of state-sponsored complicity would have emerged by now.

    5. As far many Polish academicians, maybe a majority, attack the government. They are able to propagate their opnions in Poland and around the world.

      Poland needs Holocaust research rather than irresponsible speech. Holocaust studies are dominated by sociologists, cultural anthropologists rather than professional historians. The researchers in Poland poorly cooperate. There is a general problem in Poland that academicians don't write rewiews of books, don't criticize errors. Polish students obtain poor quality history manuals. Some lecturers inform about the errors, some don't.

  2. Jan Peczkis I deleted your post. You made a lengthy series of accusations, apparently against Jews, and you included not one single citation to support any of these accusations. I don't want uncontested accusations against Jews on the blog.

  3. Jan, as previously mentioned, I choose not to post links to the group that is asserting that Jews are involved in some kind of international conspiracy to "humiliate" Poland. Please don't attempt to post any more links to the group asserting this alleged Jewish conspiracy. Thank you.

  4. Jan your post makes a series of accusations with no citations to support any of them.

    You are putting words in other peoples' mouths with no quotes from the people in question.

    Not fair. Won't post that. Thanks.

  5. The most accused are poor peasants from the former Russian division of Poland. Many of them were guilty (Podlasie), many weren't (a village where Kosiński used to hide). Their ancestors were enslaved till about 1863, many peasants were still illiterate during WWII. Many peasants considered they were oppressed by the Polish state till 1939.
    Lanzmann showed such people in his "Shoah".


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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