On April 25, 2023, it was reported that Polish Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek had threatened to withdraw funding from the Polish Center for Holocaust Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) in retaliation for remarks that the Center’s founder and director, Barbara Engelking, made during a television interview.
On April 19, 2023, the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Engelking participated in an interview on TVN, a Polish television channel. During the interview, she criticized the Polish response to the Holocaust, including a failure to support Jews living in the country.
Following the interview, Engelking and TVN faced a significant backlash from the Polish government and pro-government media. Prime Minister Mateausz Morawiecki tweeted that Engelking’s comments were “anti-Polish,” and Education Minister Czarnek called her remarks “scandalous” and referred to her behavior as “insolence.” Czarnek also announced that he would cut state funding for the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, noting that, while the government does not intervene in academic matters, it also does not have to fund “activities that harm Poland.” The Polish broadcasting regulator also launched an investigation into TVN.
Czarnek’s threat was widely condemned by the academic community. Several academic organizations, including the Scientific Council of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at PAN and 11 leading Israeli Holocaust institutes, wrote statements in support of Engelking. Monitor Akademicki, a group of academics associated with the University of Warsaw founded to support university autonomy and academic freedom in Poland, wrote a letter in defense of Engelking. The letter was signed by over 2,750 Polish academics. On May 9, Czarnek stated in an interview on Polskie Radio 24, a national public radio station, that he would investigate the academics who had signed the letter.
In the weeks following, Czarnek’s threat to cut funding from the Polish Center for Holocaust Research appeared to be borne out. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on May 21, Engelking reported that the Polish Center for Holocaust Research had not received $191,000 that it was supposed to. The director of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at PAN likewise reported that his Institute, which employs Engelking, was one of two institutions that had not received increased state subsidies to cover the salaries of its employees.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the withdrawal of public research funding from an academic institution in retaliation for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom. Government authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such financial penalties undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.