Sunday, April 11, 2010

Poland / Russia / Katyn Massacre

Shadow of Katyn Still Haunts Poland's Relations with Russia
By Luke Harding
The Guardian, April 11, 2010
"The death of Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash on his way to Katyn came at a time when Poland and Russia were taking tentative steps to move on from what happened there 70 years ago. The facts are no longer in dispute: in April 1940 Soviet secret police executed more than 20,000 Poles in a forest in western Russia. The victims included military officers, policemen and intellectuals, shot on Stalin's orders. Between 5,000 and 6,000 perished in the village of Katyn, near the border with Belarus, with the rest shot at two other camps. For almost 50 years the Soviet Union insisted it was the Nazis who had committed the murders -- with Poland's communist leaders colluding in the lie. Only in 1990, after the collapse of communism, did Mikhail Gorbachev admit the Soviet NKVD secret police had killed the PoWs. Despite this, Katyn remains a source of conflict between Moscow and Warsaw. The Poles claim Russia has refused to declassify all documents relating to the massacre, especially about Polish PoWs who were taken to the Soviet Union and then disappeared. Russian historians seek to justify Katyn by citing the forgotten fate of 80,000 Russians captured during the 1920 Polish-Soviet war. Around 18,000 died in Polish camps.
Additionally, some 640,000 Red Army troops perished in Poland fighting the Nazis during the second world war. 'The Russian-Polish Soviet-Polish story doesn't start with Katyn and doesn't end in Katyn,' said Dr. Valentin Falin, a historian at Russia's presidential academy of state service. 'Our history has very many black stains.' Falin said that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's decision to invite his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk to Katyn last week to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre was a genuine step forward. Putin was the first Russian or Soviet leader to hold a joint ceremony. Previously Poles have held semi-private memorial events. [...]"

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