After the Katyn delegation airplane disaster, Russia announced with due aplomb the release of previously sealed original documents about the Katyn massacre and related matters.
The director of the Russian governmental archives Rosarhiiv, Andrei Artizov stated that digital copies of pertinent archival documents were posted on the archives’ web site on the directions of president Dmitri Medvedev.
Amongst the material is a report from the head of the secret police of the time, the NKVD, to Stalin stating that the question of Poles imprisoned in prison camps in Byelorussia and Ukraine should be solved. Beria suggested that they be submitted to the most severe punishment and shot. Beria claimed that these Poles were counterrevolutionary and involved in anti-Soviet agitiation.
The released documents also show Nikita Kruschev’s proposal to the Soviet Politburo (the top communist party governing body) to destroy all documents related to the killings of the Poles.
Archival material pertaining to Katyn was handed over to the Polish government in 2008 and a year later Moscow and Warsaw agreed to create an investigative center to study all matters related to Katyn.
Throwing cold water on this latest announcement is Estonian historian David Vseviov, who claims that no new materials have been released. He says that this step is another, in a long series of steps, in which symbolic gestures are taken as changes of substance. “After viewing the material, there is nothing new I can discern. It’s all previously released information, in fact released a long time ago. Vseviov stated that it’s important to know the Soviet command structure, those the gave the actual Katyn orders and those that carried them out. But not a single name is released.
Russia has stated earlier that no individuals involved would be identified for fear of retribution. It seems that a principle hammered out at Nurnberg, that one cannot hide behind the old catch-all “but I was only following orders”, only applies to war losers.
A second development seeming to signal progress is the change in position of Moscow city authorities withdrawing approval for publicly exhibiting Stalin’s picture during the May 9th celebrations. Previously Moscow’s position was contra to that of the central authorities who disapproved of Stalin’s photos.
Actually the photos will be placed indoors at places where veterans will gather. City officials have said that the indoor locations are better suited for displaying Stalin and won’t be at the mercy of inclement weather. In addition veterans were worried about outdoor vandalism of Stalin’s image.
The third development is the recent statement of the Moscow-friendly recently elected Ukrainian president Viktor Janukovits, who stated that it is false to claim that the Ukrainian famine, the Holodomor, had deliberately targeted Ukraine. It was also occurring in Russian, Byelorussia and Kasahkstan. Russia has never recognized the Holodomor, which is the name given to Moscow’s policy to starve farmers and force them onto collective farms. In the early 1930’s millions of Ukrainian perished and historians have uncovered documents which prove the deliberate campaign was aimed at Ukrainians. It seems that Janukovits does not have the integrity to break with Moscow policy on this question.
Two out three developments on the road to progress and liberalization initially seem to be genuine shifts of basic entrenched Moscow policy. They have been given top PR treatment. But after a closer look are hollow and lack real content.
Although Russia signals changes about Katyn, Stalin, Holodomor, it still begs the question - how sincere, how genuine, how complete? (2)