Poland’s constitutional tribunal on Friday partially struck down a so-called lustration law which forced people to confess whether they had been informants for the communist era secret police.
Jerzy Stepien, the tribunal’s presiding judge, said the law’s scope had been too wide and that lustration should only apply to senior officials. “Lustration cannot be used to punish people or as a form of revenge,” he said.
The court’s decision is a blow for the conservative Law and Justice party government, which pushed through the law in a campaign to root out ex-communist influence from public life.
Lech Kaczynski, Poland’s president, this week said that if the law was ruled unconstitutional, the government would make thousands of secret police files public. There are serious doubts as to the reliability of the files, which have been found to be fictional in several recent high-profile cases.
After learning of the tribunal’s ruling, Mr Kaczynski said: “This isn’t over.”
The law had dramatically widened the scope of lustration, which until now had been reserved for senior public officials.
It covered journalists, local and national politicians, lawyers, directors of public and private schools, board members and managers of publicly listed companies, and university professors born before August 1, 1972 – by some estimates as many as 700,000 people.
Most of those to whom the law applied had until May 15 to file statements on whether they had been informants. Those who failed to do so on time, or who lied, faced a 10-year ban from public office.
One of the highest profile victims was Bronislaw Geremek, a European MP, former foreign minister as well as an anti-communist Solidarity labour union activist, who refused to file a lustration declaration, leading the government to conclude he had lost his seat.
Poland has long grappled with the messy transition from communism, the result of a negotiated settlement 1989 that left many communists in public life while others made a swift transition to become part of the new business elite.