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Poland


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, sporadic incidents of harassment and violence against Jews and occasional desecration of Jewish and, more frequently, Catholic cemeteries continued, mostly by skinheads and other marginal elements of society.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. U.S. Embassy and Consulate General Krakow officers actively monitor threats to religious freedom and seek to further resolution of unsettled legacies of the Holocaust and the Communist era.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 120,725 square miles, and its population is an estimated 39 million. More than 96 percent of citizens are Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and much smaller Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim congregations meet freely.

According to the Annual Statistical Gazette of Poland, the following figures represent the formal membership of the listed religious groups, but not the number of actual persons (e.g., the actual number of Jews in the country is estimated at between 10,000 and 30,000). There are an estimated 34,603,600 baptized Roman Catholics in the country; 561,400 Orthodox Church members; 123,052 Jehovah's Witnesses; 110,380 Uniates; 87,300 Lutherans (Augsburg); 25,549 Old Catholic Mariavits; 22,088 members of the Polish-Catholic Church; 19,410 Pentecostals; 9,303.

Seventh-Day Adventists; 4,238 Baptists; 5,433 members of the New Apostolic Church; 5,123 members of the Muslim Religious Union; 5,043 Hare Krishna; 4,359 Methodists; 3,943 members of the Church of Christ; 3,610 Lutherans (Reformed); 2,738 Catholic Mariavits; 1,222 members of the Union of Jewish Communities; 951 members of the Eastern Old Ceremonial Church; and 150 members of the Karaims Religious Union. All of these religious groups have a relationship with the State governed by either legislation or treaty, with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Uniate Church, the New Apostolic Church, the Church of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna), and the Church of Christ.

According to a 2001 poll, some 58 percent of citizens actively participate in religious ceremonies at least once per week; a 1999 poll found that 8 percent declared that they have no contact with the Catholic Church. An estimated 32 percent declared they attend church irregularly or sporadically. An estimated 3 percent declared themselves to be nonbelievers. The survey found women to be more religious than men, with 64 percent of the former attending church regularly, compared with 51 percent of the latter. Farmers are the most religious occupational group, with 68 percent attending church regularly. No figures are available on the number of atheists in the country.

Foreign missionary groups operate freely in the country and are subject only to the standard rules applicable to foreigners temporarily in the country.

Section II. Status of Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

There are 15 religious groups in the country whose relationship with the State is governed by specific legislation and 141 other religious communities. The legislation outlines the internal structure of the religious groups, their activities, and procedures for property restitution.

Religious communities may register with the Government, but they are not required to do so and may function freely without registration. According to regulations effective as of June 1998, registration requires that the group have submitted the names of at least 100 members as well as information regarding the group itself. This information on membership (i.e., signatures) must be confirmed by a notary public, although the registration itself often appears to be a formality. Two new religious communities registered during the period covered by this report, the Independent Hebrew Religious Community in Poznan and the Church of the Mercy of Jesus. All churches and recognized religious groups share the same privileges (duty-free importation of office equipment, reduced taxes, etc.).

Citizens enjoy the freedom to practice any faith that they choose. Religious groups may organize, select, and train personnel, solicit and receive contributions, publish, and meet without government interference. There are no government restrictions on establishing and maintaining places of worship.

The law places Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish communities on the same legal footing, and the Government attempts to address the problems that minority religious groups may face.

Although the Constitution gives parents the right to bring up their children in compliance with their own religious and philosophical beliefs, religious education classes continue to be taught in the public schools at public expense. While children are supposed to have the choice between religious instruction and ethics, the Ombudsman's office states that in most schools ethics courses are not offered due to financial constraints. Although Catholic Church representatives teach the vast majority of religious classes in the schools, parents can request religious classes in any of the religions legally registered, including Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewish religious instruction. Such non-Catholic religious instruction exists in practice, although it is not common, and the Ministry of Education pays the instructors. Priests and other instructors receive salaries from the State for teaching religion in public schools, and Catholic Church representatives are included on a commission that determines whether books qualify for school use.

In January 1998, the Parliament ratified the Concordat, a treaty regulating relations between the Government and the Vatican, which was signed in 1993. The vote came after years of bitter disputes between Concordat supporters and opponents over whether the treaty simply provides the Catholic Church's rights or blurs the line between church and state. Subsequently signed by the President, the Concordat took effect in April 1998.

The Government continues to work with both local and international religious groups to address property claims and other sensitive issues stemming from Nazi- and Communist-era confiscations and persecutions. The Government enjoys good relations with international Jewish groups. The Government cooperates effectively with a variety of international organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, for the preservation of historic sites including cemeteries and houses of worship.

Progress continues in implementing the laws that permit local religious communities to submit claims for property owned prior to World War II that subsequently was nationalized. A 1997 law permits the local Jewish community to submit claims for such property, which mirrored legislation benefiting other religious communities. The laws allow for the return of churches and synagogues, cemeteries, and community headquarters, as well as buildings that were used for other religious, educational, or charitable activities. The laws included time limits for filing claims; in several cases the deadlines have expired, and no additional claims may be filed. However, restitution commissions (composed of representatives of the Government and the religious community) are continuing adjudication of previously filed claims.

The time limit for applications by the Catholic Church expired in December 1991. As of the summer of 2001,

2,572 of the 3,041 claims filed by the Church had been concluded, with 1,219 claims settled by agreement between the Church and the party in possession of the property (usually the national or a local government), 866 properties were returned through decision of the Commission on Property Restitution, which rules on disputed claims, 471 claims were rejected, and 16 cases were likely to go to court. Claims by the local Jewish community (whose deadline for filing claims under the 1997 law expires in May 2002) are being filed slowly, in part because ongoing disputes between the local Jewish community and representatives of international Jewish organizations have prevented reaching an accord between the two groups that could provide needed resources to the local community. By the summer of 2001, 659 claims had been filed. Of the 659 claims, the Commission on Property Restitution considered and closed 162 cases; 84 of the 162 cases were closed by an agreement between the parties. As of early 2001, Lutheran claims for 1,200 properties had resulted in 505 cases being closed with the return of the properties in question (the deadline for filing such claims was July 1996).

However, the laws on religious communal property do not address the private property of any group. In February 2001, the Parliament passed a reprivatization law that included controversial provisions requiring claimants to have held Polish citizenship as of December 1999. President Aleksander Kwasniewski vetoed the bill in March 2001, citing the likely cost of the proposed bill, as well as the need for any reprivatization law to be inclusive and eschew citizenship requirements. Claims continue to be filed and property returned throughout the country through an ad hoc process of local court rulings and private arrangements among contending parties.

The laws on communal property restitution also do not address the issue of communal properties to which third parties now have title, leaving several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. In a number of cases over several years, buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries that were destroyed during or after World War II. For example, a school for disabled children now stands on the site of a completely destroyed Jewish cemetery in Kalisz. The existence of the school complicated the issue of returning the cemetery to the Jewish community. Efforts continued during the period covered by this report to reach a resolution acceptable to all concerned.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion. However, the Government established in March 2001 a department within the Ministry of Interior to monitor the activities of "new religious groups" and "cults". As of June 30, 2001 the new department had not become active.

 Although the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state, crucifixes hangs in both the upper and lower houses of Parliament, as well as in many government offices. In June 1998, a provincial court decided that a crucifix hung in the meeting room of the Lodz city council in 1990 could remain, denying the complaint of a city resident. An atheist complained that the crucifix threatened religious freedom and discriminated against him.

State-run radio broadcasts Catholic Mass on Sundays, and the Catholic Church is authorized to relicense radio and television stations to operate on frequencies assigned to the Church, the only body outside the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council allowed to do so.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to religious freedom; however, sporadic incidents of harassment and violence against Jews and occasional desecration of Jewish and, more often, Catholic cemeteries continued, mostly generated by skinheads and other marginal elements of society.

During the period covered by this report, Polish-Jewish relations were complicated by a controversy that arose over revelations regarding the 1941 massacre of the Jewish population of the northeastern town of Jedwabne. The publication of a book that alleged that the killings were perpetrated by the town's ethnic Polish inhabitants, and not by the occupying Germans as stated in a monument at the site, led to considerable discussion of the Polish role during the Nazi occupation, of the extent of Jewish collaboration with the former Soviet Union, and of Polish-Jewish relations in general. The Government moved quickly to address the problem, removed the inaccurate monument, began an investigation of the Jedwabne events, and prepared to hold a ceremony of reconciliation on the 60th anniversary of the killings in July 2001.

Anti-Semitic feelings persist among certain sectors of the population, occasionally manifesting themselves in acts of vandalism and physical or verbal abuse. However, surveys in recent years show a continuing decline in anti-Semitic sentiment and avowedly anti-Semitic candidates won few elections.

Sporadic and isolated incidents of harassment and violence against Jews continue to occur in the country, often generated by skinheads and other marginal societal groups. Occasional cases of cemetery desecration, including both Jewish and, more frequently, Catholic shrines, also occurred during the period covered by this report. Government authorities consistently criticized such actions and pledged to prevent similar acts in the future, for example, by increased police patrols around Jewish sites.

In September 2000, dignitaries from Poland, Israel, the United States, and other countries (including Prince Hassan of Jordan) gathered in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) to commemorate the opening of the refurbished Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue and the Auschwitz Jewish Center. The synagogue, the sole synagogue in Oswiecim to survive World War II and an adjacent Jewish cultural and educational center, provide visitors a place to pray and to learn about the active pre-World War II Jewish community that existed in Oswiecim. The synagogue was the first communal property in the country to be returned to the Jewish community under the 1997 law allowing for restitution of Jewish communal property.

In October 2000, extreme nationalist Kazimierz Switon, who during the period 1998 to 1999 was responsible for the controversial raising of several hundred protest crosses at a gravel pit outside the former Auschwitz death camp, was acquitted of distributing leaflets alleging that some politicians were of Jewish origins and appealing for their removal from public life. The court ruled that the 1995 distribution of such leaflets did not incite ethnic strife.

In November 2000, under the auspices of the No to Europe Association (an anti-European Union organization), some 400 nationalists marched through the streets of Katowice, chanting anti-Semitic slogans and burning Israeli flags. The protest organizer told police investigating the case that only some 30 percent of the rally's participants were members of his organization.

In February 2001, 16 tombstones were desecrated in the Jewish cemetery in Wroclaw and, in April 2001, several tombstones were damaged in a Catholic cemetery in the town of Bartoszyce. Also in April, three other Catholic cemeteries were desecrated: Several hundred crosses and crucifixes were stolen from a Catholic cemetery in the Silesian town of Olawa, apparently in an attempt to steal and sell metal crosses; 60 tombstones were damaged in Markowice (southeastern Poland); and 57 tombstones were damaged in the central town of Siepc. Also in April 2001, 49 graves were damaged in the Pomeranian town of Bytow, allegedly by unemployed persons seeking to sell decorative metal features for scrap. In May 2001, the Jewish cemetery in Oswiecim was desecrated when 39 tombstones were knocked over by unidentified perpetrators. Later that month, a group of international and Polish students, who participated in the March of Remembrance and Hope, organized a clean up of the cemetery and restored the tombstones to their proper locations.

In March 2001, several thousand students, journalists, and politicians removed vulgar and racist slogans from walls in the central city of Lodz; they also were removed in 2000.

In March and April of 2001, several functionaries in the presidential chancellery were identified as having participated as students in the government-sponsored anti-Semitic campaigns of 1968. One of those accused subsequently resigned.

In April 2001, controversial Gdansk priest Henryk Jankowski created in his church a replica of the barn in Jedwabne in which members of that town's Jewish community were burned to death in 1941. A sign near the display accused Jews of having killed Christ and of persecuting Poles. The local archbishop ordered the tableau removed, and religious and political leaders strongly criticized its construction in the church.

In April 2001, during the 13th March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau to honor victims of the Holocaust, several hundred citizens joined 2,000 marchers from Israel and other countries. Government officials participating in the march included Members of Parliament, the province's governor, and Oswiecim's mayor and city council chairman. Schoolchildren, boy scouts, the Polish-Israeli Friendship Society, and the Jewish Students Association in Poland also participated in the march. In May 2001, several hundred students from around the world marched through the town in The March of Remembrance and Hope.

The Jewish community faced a continuing battle, which began in April 1999, between Gdansk's local Jewish community and the leadership of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland (ZGZ), involving accusations of mismanagement of community funds.

There is some public concern about the growth of groups perceived to be "sects" and the influence of nonmainstream religious groups, especially in the wake of press reports of the deaths of a few young persons in circumstances suggesting cult activity. For example, besides the annual report by the interministerial group for new religious movements on the activities of groups it considers to be "sects", informational training on such groups has been given to officials at the county level. Articles have appeared in the press and on the Internet reporting the involvement of "sects" in disappearances, such as the group Antrovis that teaches that extraterrestrials will evacuate its members from a meeting site on a southern Polish mountain in advance the impending destruction of the world. In Szczecin law enforcement authorities have linked Antrovis to the death of a man found floating in the Oder River.

Interfaith groups work to bring together the various religious groups in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Representatives of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate General Krakow continue to monitor closely issues relating to religious freedom and interfaith relations; for example, one officer devotes the vast majority of his time to questions of Polish and Jewish relations. Embassy and consulate officers meet frequently with representatives of religious communities, the Government, and local authorities on such matters as property restitution, skinhead harassment, and interfaith cooperation.

Embassy and consulate officers actively monitor threats to religious freedom. On a regular basis, embassy and consulate officials discuss issues of religious freedom, including property restitution, with a wide range of government officials at all levels. The Embassy and Consulate General work as well to facilitate the protection and return of former Jewish cemeteries throughout the country. The Embassy and the Consulate General also play a continuing role in ongoing efforts to establish an international foundation to oversee restitution of Jewish communal property. A U.S. Government mediator worked with the two sides (the Polish Union of Jewish Religious Communities and the World Jewish Restitution Organization) to resolve outstanding differences that have delayed establishment of such a foundation. In June 2000, the sides reached agreement. The agreement subsequently collapsed, although efforts are continuing to come to an accommodation, and the local Jewish community is continuing to file claims for the return of communal property.

Embassy and consulate representatives, including the Ambassador, also meet regularly with representatives of major religious communities in the country. The Ambassador holds regular consultations with Primate Glemp and meets with religious leaders, including leaders of the Jewish community, both in the capital and during his travels throughout the country.

The public affairs sections of the Embassy and the Consulate in Krakow provided continuing support for activities designed to promote cultural and religious tolerance. Such activities included providing a Democracy Commission grant to the Union of Jewish Religious Communities for use in building a database of claimable Jewish communal property; sponsoring a speaking tour by a visiting U.S. professor to lecture on tolerance; and continuing press and public affairs support for the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation's education project in Oswiecim.  



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