U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002 - Poland

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; however, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and much smaller Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim congregations meet freely.

According to the 2001 Annual Statistical Yearbook of Poland, the following figures represent the formal membership of the listed religious groups, but not the number of actual persons (for example, the actual number of Jews in the country is estimated at between 10,000 and 30,000). There are an estimated 34,608,697 baptized Roman Catholics in the country; 509,500 Orthodox Church members; 123,000 Greek Catholics; 122,575 members of Jehovah's Witnesses; 87,300 Lutherans (Augsburg); 24,445 Old Catholic Mariavits; 23,031 members of the Polish-Catholic Church; 19,840 Pentecostals; 9,942 Seventh-Day Adventists; 4,367 Baptists; 5,433 members of the New Apostolic Church; 5,123 members of the Muslim Religious Union; 5,043 Hare Krishna; 4,367 Methodists; 3,593 members of the Church of Christ; 3,610 Lutherans (Reformed); 2,610 Catholic Mariavits; 1,222 members of the Union of Jewish Communities; 982 members of the Eastern Old Ceremonial Church; and 160 members of the Karaims Religious Union. Each of these religious groups has a relationship with the State governed by either legislation or treaty, with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses, the New Apostolic Church, the Church of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna), and the Church of Christ.

According to an April 2001 poll, approximately 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 34 percent declared that 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 52 percent of the latter. Farmers are the most religious occupational group, with 69 percent attending church regularly. No figures are available on the number of atheists in the country.

Foreign missionary groups operate freely in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Criminal Code stipulates that offending religious sentiment through public speech is punishable by a fine or up to a 3-year prison term. The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant religion in the country.

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; however, they are not required to do so and may function freely without registration. According to 1998 regulations, 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. No new religious communities registered during the period covered by this report. 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.

Foreign missionaries are subject only to the standard rules applicable to foreigners temporarily in the country.

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 may 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.

Five Catholic religious holidays (Easter Monday, Corpus Christi Day, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, All Saints' Day, and St. Stephen's Day) are national holidays.

In 1998 the Concordat, a treaty regulating relations between the Government and the Vatican that was signed in 1993, was ratified by Parliament, signed by the President, and went into effect. 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. Since 1998 the Government and the Catholic Church each have established groups which meet regularly to discuss Church-State relations.

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 generally good relations with international Jewish groups; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs largely is responsible for coordinating relations between the Government and these organizations, although President Aleksander Kwasniewski also plays an important role. 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 Government is drafting legislation that is expected to grant all affected religions an additional 2-year period to file claims.

The time limit for applications by the Catholic Church expired in December 1991. As of May 2002, 2,693 of the 3,051 claims filed by the Church had been concluded, with 1,282 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; 507 claims were rejected; and 17 cases were likely to go to court. Claims by the local Jewish community (whose deadline for filing claims under the 1997 law expired on May 11, 2002) number approximately 5,200. The Commission on Property Restitution considered 1,136 cases; 211 were closed – 109 by a financial agreement between the parties and 72 with ownership transferred. A total of 25 cases were discontinued. As of May 2002, Lutheran claims for 1,200 properties had resulted in 583 cases being closed with the return of the properties in question (the deadline for filing such claims was July 1996). A total of 120 claims were filed with the Commission for the Orthodox Church, of which 49 were closed by agreement as of May 2002.

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.

In the case of other cemeteries, progress was made. In October 2001, as the result of cooperation between local officials and Jews from several countries, the Jewish cemetery in Ozarow was reconstructed and rededicated.

Efforts by local and central government authorities resulted in the closing of a brothel in Slubice located on the grounds of a former cemetery that had been destroyed by Communist authorities in the 1970's and the recovery by the local Jewish community in Pobiedziska of a cemetery after the end of the period covered by this report.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. In March 2001, the Government established a department within the Ministry of Interior to monitor the activities of "new religious groups" and "cults". In April 2002, the Government closed the department; however, there still is a person in the Interior Ministry's Public Order Department who monitors religious movements.

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.

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 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.

Orthodox religious officials reported anecdotal accounts of discrimination towards the Orthodox community. There were reports of less than proportional funds for cultural events associated with the Orthodox community, layoffs in which Orthodox employees were the first dismissed, and an attitude in the local press associating Catholicism as being necessary for true citizenship.

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, which 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 Holocaust, of the extent of Jewish cooperation with Soviet occupation forces, 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 held a ceremony of reconciliation on the 60th anniversary of the killings in July 2001. The National Remembrance Institute continued to investigate all circumstances surrounding the Jedwabne incident through April 2002.

On March 1, 2002, the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), which was created to provide access to Communist-era secret police files and provide an accurate history of the Communist period, released its first annual report. During the debate, one Member of Parliament criticized the report for devoting too much time to the July 1941 killing of Jews in Jewabne and introduced a motion to reject the report; he made remarks that some observers interpreted as anti-Semitic. The case was referred to the ethics committee; however, there were no reports of an investigation at the end of the period covered by this report. A group of well-known politicians, scientists, clergymen, artists, and businesspersons signed an open letter of protest against the verbal attacks on the IPN Chairman.

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 the past several years show a continuing decline in anti-Semitic sentiment, and avowedly anti-Semitic candidates have won few elections. However, some far-right Members of Parliament made anti-Semitic remarks in a parliamentary debate over the activities of the IPN.

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.

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 tableau was removed after the local archbishop ordered it removed; however, anti-Semitic literature is available for purchase in the church bookstore. Religious and political leaders strongly criticized the tableau's construction in the church.

On November 11, 2001, during Polish Independence Day, approximately 400 Polish ultra-nationalists chanting anti-Semitic and anti-European Union slogans marched through the heavily industrialized city of Katowice. The march culminated in a rally at which the demonstrators burned the Israeli and U.S. flags.

In April 2002, during the 14th March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau to honor victims of the Holocaust, several hundred citizens joined 1,500 marchers from Israel and other countries. Government officials participating in the march included the Minister of Education, the province's governor, and Oswiecim's mayor and city council chairman. Schoolchildren, boy scouts, the Polish-Israeli Friendship Society, Polish survivors of Auschwitz, and the Polish Union of Jewish Students participated in the march. The Israeli Minister of Education also participated in the march.

On April 22, 2002, members of the Polish Council for Christians and Jews commemorated the 59th anniversary of the 1943 anti-Nazi uprising in Warsaw's Jewish Ghetto with visits to memorial sites connected with the city's former Jewish quarter.

A dispute between Gdansk's local Jewish community and the leadership of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, involving accusations of mismanagement of community funds, continued. The Gdansk Jewish community split into two organizations over this issue. On May 6, 2002, the District Court in Gdansk presided over an agreement between the two sides in which they agreed to use a professional mediator registered at the Ministry of Justice to try and resolve the conflict. If the mediator does not broker a settlement within a month, the case returns to the court. After an unsuccessful mediation, in May 2002, the Gdansk group filed a motion with the Interior Ministry to register a new organization, the Jewish Religious Union.

There is some public concern about the growth of groups perceived to be "sects" and the influence of nonmainstream religious groups, especially during the summer travel season when young persons travel to camps and other gatherings. Articles have appeared in the press and on the Internet reporting the involvement of "sects" in disappearances.

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 a majority of 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 also work to facilitate the protection and return of former Jewish cemeteries throughout the country. The Embassy and the Consulate General 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. Although the agreement subsequently collapsed, it was revived in September 2001. As a result, in January 2002, the foundation began operation and was registered formally in April 2002.

Embassy and consulate representatives, including the Ambassador, also regularly meet with representatives of major religious communities, including leaders of the Jewish community, both in the capital and during 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. The Embassy supported a local nongovernmental organization sponsored event, "Days of Tolerance," in Kolobrzeg that brought together youths of various religious and ethnic backgrounds.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State, with the assistance of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, shall transmit to Congress "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." This Annual Report includes 195 reports on countries worldwide. The 2002 Report covers the period from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002.

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