Minister replies to French counterpart's letter over Holocaust conference

Polish Deputy Prime Minister, Science and Higher Education Minister Jarosław Gowin replied on Monday to a letter sent on Friday by his French counterpart, Frederique Vidal, concerning "anti-Semitic interferences" at a Paris conference on the Holocaust.

The French government on Friday demanded that Poland distance itself from what it described as "highly regrettable anti-Semitic interferences" at a recent international Holocaust conference in Paris.

In the letter to Gowin, Frederique Vidal complained that the Paris meeting, held in Paris's School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) on February 21-22, had been interrupted "in a very organised manner" by activists connected to Poland's right-wing Gazeta Polska weekly.

According to the French AFP news agency, a group of about 30 people "repeated traditional anti-Semitic slogans," hissed and booed, and distributed leaflets saying "Gross lies," in reference to Polish historian Jan Tomasz Gross, known for his criticism of the role played by Poles during the Holocaust and present at the Paris meeting.

In her letter, Vidal observed that a representative of Poland's Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) attending the conference had failed to react to the interruptions, which "gave the impression that (they - PAP) had the support of Polish state representatives."

Observing that the incident had evoked strong emotions in the French academic milieu, Vidal demanded Gowin declare the Polish government's clear distancing from "these regrettable interferences."

Gowin replied on Monday. "A letter was sent today to the Polish embassy in Paris, and was subsequently forwarded to the French Ministry of Education," the ministry's spokesperson told PAP.

In his letter, Gowin wrote concerns that the Polish government could have limited the freedom of research were groundless and unnecessary.

Gowin agreed with Vidal's opinion that "the freedom of academic discourse should not be undermined and an academic conference is a platform for discussion and expressing different opinions and views. Any disruption of academic debate is improper, so if there had been emotional exclamations made by a part of the public during the conference that disturbed its normal course, they should not have taken place."

"However, it should be pointed out that some speakers voiced critical comments against the Polish authorities, which departed from the subject matter of the conference, and this did not meet with any reaction from its organisers," the Polish deputy PM noted.

"It is difficult for me to clearly determine whether there were anti-Semitic expressions at the conference. From the accounts collected so far I gather that there were no such words. However, if offensive words of an anti-Semitic nature had been uttered behind the scenes against the speakers, then such behaviour is obviously unacceptable," Jarosław Gowin added.

On Sunday, Gowin said in Kraków (southern Poland) that he had consulted with the Polish ambassador to France over the issue. "He categorically denied the minister's theses that any anti-Semitic accents had occurred there," Gowin told journalists.

IPN President Jarosław Szarek in turn announced that he had requested from the organisers a recording of the conference. "We will take further action appropriate to what is on the recording," he stated.