The commemoration ceremony at Katyn was intended to symbolize not only Russia’s honest reconciliation with its past crimes, but also the healing of historic resentments of Moscow’s brutal dominance of central and eastern Europe. The Polish president’s airplane tragedy will have far reaching consequences that are still early to foresee.
The actual slaughter of the Polish officer corps in April of 1940 by NKVD troops is just one aspect of Poland’s deeply felt animosity towards the Kremlin’s duplicity in its relations with Warsaw. Poles knew the truth but were warned up until 1990 when the Kremlin half-heartedly admitted to its role, not to reveal the real story about Katyn and the events surrounding it. In fact the monument at Katyn, in 1990, still blamed the Nazis for the atrocity.
In fact, as recently as 2008, Kremlin minded newspapers Rossilskaja Gazeta and Komsomolskaya Pravda still inferred that Germans had perpetrated the massacre. In April 1940 the Germans were very far from Katyn. On March 5, 1940 the Politburo of the Communist Party of the USSR signed an order to kill 25,700 Polish “nationalists and counter-revolutionaries”. Starting on April 3, at least 22,436 prisoners died. They included not only officers but also professors, physicians, engineers, teachers, writers, journalists and pilots. Only 395 escaped death.
The prologue is equally damning for Russia. As a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia invaded Poland and destroyed the country in less than one month. The Soviets took 230,000 Polish war prisoners. About 125,000 were locked up in NKVD (the precursor of the KGB) prison camps and 43,000 were handed over to the Nazis (a stark example of Berlin-Moscow co-operation). Higher Polish officers were held near the town of Katyn. They were to be shot.
The destruction of the Polish people was not limited to Katyn. Of the over 1,500,000 Poles deported by the Soviets from areas they occupied, most perished.
One may ask whether Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s unprecedented recent placement of a memorial wreath at the Katyn memorial was a sincere acknowledgement of Soviet Russia’s role in the Katyn atrocity? At a press conference after the ceremony, Putin explained that Stalin gave the order to kill the Poles in payback for the death of Red Army soldiers in Polish prisons in the 1920’s, the implication being that Stalin had good cause for his actions and took personal responsibility for it. Putin stressed, no one else, no other institution was to be blamed. There was no remorse, contrition or apology forthcoming.
A similar scenario is being played with the commemoration of the May 9th WWII Soviet Victory in Moscow. World leaders are expected to attend this 65th anniversary. In order to avoid international embarrassment, federal authorities, who are the event organizers, have refused to fund placement of large Stalin’s pictures at prime locations around Moscow. But city officials backed by nationalists, veterans will place the pictures on their own authority.
One may legitimately ask: with the considerable power vested in both the prime minister’s and president’s positions it’s difficult to accept that Stalin’s image could not have been by-passed. It’s not unrealistic to assume that the Kremlin was more concerned with keeping good relations with Stalin idolaters than worrying about the international media’s temporary scorn.
Is it really no to Stalin and yes to Katyn? Not really.
Yes to Katyn commemoration, no to Stalin’s pictures – it seems (8)