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The criminalisation of symbols of the past: expression, law and memory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2014

Agata Fijalkowski
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University Law School, UK. Email: a.fijalkowski@lancaster.ac.uk.
Corresponding

Abstract

This paper examines the criminalisation of symbols of the past. It considers the 2011 judgment of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. In this compact and well-ordered decision, the Tribunal, with reference to key European examples, assessed critically the constitutionality of criminal law provisions that prohibit the dissemination and public use of symbols of the past pertaining to fascist, Communist or other totalitarian content. Its ruling, which found amendments to the law in Poland that tightened up restrictions on the use of totalitarian symbols to be unconstitutional, is considered within three important contexts: first, the broad European context, where the concept of totalitarian crimes has become subject to EU human rights legislation relating to the freedom of expression; second, the context of post-dictatorial Europe, where specific states have addressed the use of totalitarian symbols in their respective criminal laws; and finally, the context of transitional justice, where criminalising symbols of the past has become a central and permanent feature in European narratives about justice. Significantly, these cases reveal the temporal element of transitional justice. The paper discusses the two case-studies most relevant to Poland, namely those in Germany and Hungary. Reference is also made to the Baltic States, which, together with Poland, have made a concerted effort to bring the notion of totalitarian crimes and histories to the attention of Europe. The paper concurs with the contention that cases concerning the use of symbols provide an excellent illustration of where memory and law intersect. Using historical, comparative and contextual methodologies the paper demonstrates the legal and philosophical complexities of criminal uses of symbolism, the political realities, and the key dimension of transitional justice and its relationship to expression, law and memory.

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Articles
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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