Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Katyn Massacre 70th Anniversary

Putin avoids apology, blames totalitarianism for massacre

Deutsche Presse 7 April 2010

Katyn, Russia - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk marked the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre in a historic ceremony which saw no apology from Moscow but marked efforts to warm up relations.
The Russian leader's speech did not include an apology - which many Poles hoped for - but said both Russians and Poles were victims of a regime that killed regardless of one's upbringing, race or religion.
Putin said the Katyn earth held Russian and Polish soldiers 'who were killed at (Soviet dictator Josef) Stalin's orders,' and that the two nationalities died 'like brother with brother' as victims of totalitarianism.
'No matter how bitter the truth, it is not up to us to change what happened in the past,' Putin said at the ceremony, adding that 'we don't have the moral right to leave the next generation distrust.' Polish and Russian historians were working to uncover the truth.
The killings had only one logic, Putin said: 'to awaken in people their lowest instincts, to point them against each other and force them into blind obedience.'
The two leaders listened to Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayers for the dead at a monument in the Katyn forest, western Russia, where the Soviet secret police shot some 22,000 Polish officers of all faiths in 1940 and buried them in mass graves in an atrocity that continues to strain relations.
After World War II, when Poland was lead by a Kremlin-backed communist regime, Soviet authorities blamed the massacre on Nazi Germany and suppressed historical evidence. Russia only acknowledged responsibility for the mass killings in 1990.
'Each name, each piece of information, each witness is so important to us,' said Tusk at the ceremony, saying its important to Poles to not leave their dead on the battlefield but honor them in memory. 'Even when it was spoken about Katyn in a whisper, we knew we were not defeated. It became a symbol of an independent Poland.'
Putin is the highest-ranking Russian official to attended such ceremonies, which were first held after communism collapsed in 1989. Analysts called Putin's attendance a symbolic gesture that could signal a breakthrough in relations.
Commentators said the visit shows Russia values Poland as a strategic partner, and acknowledges Warsaw's growing influence in the European Union, which it joined in 2004.
But commentators were also critical that Putin avoided an apology, and blamed 'totalitarianism' and not 'Stalinism' for the deaths, reported Polish broadcaster TVN 24.
The prayers were followed with a military salute, laying of wreaths and playing of the Polish national anthem. Putin and Tusk later walked down a pathway lined with the names of victims in the forest.
They also listened to Russian Orthodox prayers in the Russian part of the cemetery, which holds an unknown number of victims of the Soviet Great Purges of the 1930s.
Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was also in attendance, along with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first non-communist prime minister.
In nearby Smolensk, a Polish-Russian group created in 2002 to deal with controversial matters in Polish-Russian history was to present its latest findings to Tusk and Putin.
Poland wants Russia to release the documents it holds on the Katyn massacre, which Warsaw says it needs as proof to bring the perpetrators of the killings to justice.
The victims at Katyn were prisoners of war who were taken by Soviet troops after the Red Army invaded Poland in September, 1939, in an attack that came weeks after the Nazi invasion that sparked World War II.
The victims included an admiral, two generals, hundreds of captains and about 80 lieutenants in what was Stalin's attempt to squash 'enemies of the state' and those thought likely to want to against the Soviet government.
The majority were Polish Catholic, but there were also Polish Jews, Muslims from the country's tiny Tatar minority, Orthodox Christians and Protestants that represented the country's intellectual class.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski was to mark the anniversary in a separate ceremony at Katyn on Saturday.
Events in Warsaw are set for April 13, officially recognised in Poland as a Day of Remembrance for the victims.
An international conference will be held at the United States Library of Congress on May 5, and is set to include a speech by former presidential national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk remember Katyn massacre victims

On the orders of Stalin 22,000 Polish officers were murdered in Katyn forest

Tony Halpin

Times 7 April 2010

In the first joint commemoration of one of the darkest chapters in their history the Russian and Polish prime ministers will pay tribute today to 22,000 Polish military officers massacred by the Soviet secret police in the Second World War.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk are to mark the 70th anniversary of the slaughter in the forest at Katyn. For half a century the Soviet Union blamed the crime on Nazi troops who revealed the mass graves to the world in 1943.
It was only in 1990 that Mikhail Gorbachev, then the Soviet President, acknowledged that the NKVD, the forerunner to the KGB secret police, had carried out the killings on the orders of Joseph Stalin in April 1940.
Mr Putin said in a Polish newspaper article last year that Russians “fully understand the sensitivities of Poles about Katyn . . . Together we must keep alive the memory of the victims of this crime”.
However, Russia’s refusal to declare Katyn a war crime continues to anger Poland and Soviet documents on the massacre remain classified. The Kremlin rejects criticism of any Soviet action that it believes sullies the Red Army’s victory over Hitler.
Many Russians continue to believe that the Nazis carried out the massacre. Experts view Mr Putin’s attendance at the ceremony as an important symbol in correcting the record.
“Putin in Katyn will cut short these lies,” said Slawomir Debski, the director of the Institute of International Affairs in Poland. “The words of a former KGB agent ... will be weighty in the debate slowly opening in Russia about the role of Stalin.”
In what was interpreted as a gesture of government goodwill, Russian state television screened Katyn, a film about the massacre, for the first time on Friday. Its Polish director Andrzej Wajda, whose father was killed at Katyn, said: “I never anticipated this day.”
Mr Tusk and Mr Putin will also pay homage to thousands of Soviet victims buried at Katyn. Andrzej Przewoznik, the head of a state council that commemorates the Polish war dead, said: “NKVD executioners who, in April 1940, executed these Poles with a bullet to the neck, were well trained after killing thousands of Russians.”

Putin and Poland
Russian acknowledgment of the Katyn massacre is belated but important

Times Editorial 7 April 2010

Even by the standards of wartime Europe, the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers by Soviet troops at Katyn in 1940 was distinctive in casual brutality. Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, will visit the site today with Donald Tusk, his Polish counterpart, to take part in a memorial service. Mr Putin’s attendance is symbolically important and welcome.
The victims at Katyn were, in the main, prisoners of war. Their murder appears to have been planned by Stalin with the aim of destroying any prospective movement for Polish independence. A mass grave was uncovered by German troops in 1943. The Polish Government in exile in London called for a Red Cross investigation, whereupon Stalin broke off relations with them.
For reasons of realpolitik, Britain and the US progressively made territorial concessions to Stalin, as their wartime ally — who insisted that the Katyn massacre was a crime of the Nazis. Only in 1990 did the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, accept responsibility for the mass shootings. Visiting Poland last September to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of war, Mr Putin further acknowledged the strength of Polish feeling on the issue.
These are words rather than restitution. Even then, they fall short of explicit contrition for a war crime and accountability for a cover-up. Yet their tone is altogether different from Mr Putin’s preposterous description in 2005 of the fall of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the last century. Poland has been the site of the greatest frictions and most appalling crimes of modern Europe. Mr Putin’s diplomatic gesture, while belated, bodes better for Central Europe.

Russian, Polish leaders to mark Katyn massacre of 1940

Justine Jablonska

Medill News Service 6 April 2010

WASHINGTON — A historic meeting scheduled for Wednesday between top leaders of Russia and Poland is expected to provide new details about Russia's mass execution of 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1940 and may pave the way toward improved relations between the two countries.
The mass slaying of the Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet secret police is one of the darker and less known chapters of World War II, said Kyle Parker, a Russian expert and policy adviser to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an independent U.S. agency that helps formulate American policy for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk — the Russian and Polish prime ministers — will meet at the execution site in Smolensk, Russia, to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre, which Russia blamed on Germany until 1990.
There's no longer any question about who did it. However, experts say that some important questions remain about the cover-up. Russia's answers to those questions at the meeting could help determine the future course of the key strategic relationship between the two countries.
Putin's presence at the ceremony is particularly significant, Parker said.
"There are incredible possibilities for forward movement and reconciliation in what he may say," Parker said. "Sincere, heartfelt, unequivocal remarks by Putin would mean even more . . . because Putin was the head of the successor agency of the NKVD," or the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the agency that killed the Polish officers in 1940. Putin headed the KGB before becoming Russian president and then prime minister.
"I understand that Russia will be turning over new documents and will be releasing some new information" that could shed light on the massacre's cover-up, Parker said.
In March 1940, Joseph Stalin signed an order for the mass execution of more than 22,000 Polish officers being held as prisoners of war. The April 1940 executions were systematic: Each officer's hands were tied behind his back, and each was shot with a single bullet through the base of the skull.
According to Poland's conscription system, the Polish officer corps included anyone with a university degree — Poland's intelligentsia.
"By murdering these people, the Russians created a leadership vacuum," said Alex Storozynski, the president of the Kosciuszko Foundation.
The mass graves were discovered in 1943 by the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, after their defeat at Stalingrad.
The discovery caused a diplomatic crisis, Storozynski said: The U.S. was allied with Russia against Germany. When Russia blamed Germany for the massacre, the U.S. stayed silent, Parker said.
"There are certainly good reasons one could argue for keeping a certain prudent silence on Katyn at the time," Parker said. "Certainly, the defeat of Nazism in Europe was a very important goal."
In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union prior to its breakup, admitted that it was the Soviet secret police who executed the officers.
"Was Gorbachev's admission in 1990 enough? No," Parker said.
It was, however, a good start: Memorials to the victims were laid, some archives were opened, and the Russians opened their own internal investigation into the initial cover-up. In 1994, the archives were closed, Parker said, and the internal investigation was closed a decade later, its documents classified.
Releasing those archives and documents from the internal investigation would shed new light on the Katyn massacre, Parker said.
In the U.S., Parker said he is working to find the few remaining American documents about Katyn that haven't yet been released, largely because of the difficulty of locating them. Those documents show "clear official efforts" to suppress that the U.S. knew the Soviets were to blame, he said.
"Does America owe Poland something?" Parker said. "That could be argued."
Allen Paul, the author of "Katyn: Stalin's Massacre and the Triumph of Truth," said the U.S. owes Poland an apology for its role in the cover-up.
Paul's book was re-issued March 15 with new details of the extreme measures taken by the Russians to cover up the Katyn killings, and he was invited to attend the 70th anniversary ceremonies by the Polish government.
He'll be part of the official delegation that accompanies Tusk, the Polish prime minister, to the ceremony, and was told by the Russian Foreign Ministry that he'll be the only American to attend, he wrote in an e-mail from Warsaw Tuesday.
"My new edition calls on the Russians to reveal all remaining facts to the Poles and issue a profound apology for the Katyn massacre," Paul wrote, adding that he's also called on the U.S. to release any remaining documents on Katyn.
Paul, Parker and Storozynski will take part in an international conference on Katyn scheduled for May 5.
Paul, the conference organizer, said it's "not so much about archival footage of bodies being exhumed," but about improving Russian-Polish relations in terms of cultural ties and political security.
The conference will take place in Washington at the Library of Congress. Scheduled speakers include Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Librarian of Congress James Billington; and Victor Ashe, U.S. ambassador to Poland under former President George W. Bush.

(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Jablonska, a graduate student in journalism from Chicago, covers foreign policy.)