The 1940 Katyn massacre has represented an open wound in Polish-Russian relations more than eight decades. And there are reasons for this.
Hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers stationed in eastern Poland were among those captured when Soviet forces invaded in September 1939, just two weeks after Nazi forces invaded from the west in keeping with a secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — a nonaggression agreement signed by the foreign ministers of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany.
“Stalin decided that the best way to solve the Polish problem was to behead it […] Lavrenty Beria, head of the NKVD, sent a memorandum to the Politburo on March 2, 1940, in which he enumerated 14,736 officers from three camps and suggested also killing 11,000 inmates held in different political prisons in Lviv, Minsk, and cities in occupied Poland,” said Historian Andrzej Nowak, a Jagiellonian University professor and member of Poland’s Academy of Sciences.
“On March 5…they signed the final decision to do what Beria proposed. They decided to shoot 22,000 people.”In a historic ceremony on 7 April 2010, the Prime Ministers of Poland and Russia (V. Putin) marked the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.
The belated gesture represented an unprecedented step towards a process of reconciliation between the two nations, one that would never have begun without an acknowledgment of Soviet responsibility for the atrocity. It seems very likely that the Kremlin viewed the need for such a confession as a sign of weakness. Weakness that needs to be responded to by force.
Three days later, the Polish President Lech Kaczyński died in a plane crash en route to the Polish-only commemorations in Russia, along with the last President of the Polish government in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, the President of the Central Bank Sławomir Skrzypek, the Chief of Staff General Franciszek Gągor, leading politicians from all main parties, journalists, religious leaders and families of the victims of the Katyn massacre.
The accident occurred in Smolensk – not far from the Katyn forest – and it wiped out Poland’s elite for the second time, making the symbolism of the crash site undeniable and deeply ironic.
Lech Kaczyński campaigned for Polish membership of the EU, brokered a deal on and subsequently signed the Lisbon Treaty, and even exerted influence on Czech President Václav Klaus to ratify it. Kaczyński advanced relations with Israel and pursued a policy of engagement with respect to Poland’s Eastern neighbors, in particular, Ukraine, Lithuania and Georgia.
Most importantly, President Kaczyński was of great personal integrity, a man who held fast to his convictions with little time for PR maneuvers. The death of the President, along with so many of the nation’s elite in such shocking circumstances on foreign soil, will undoubtedly have implications for Russia. Especially after the recent re-investigation of the plane crash.
It’s been 81 years but what is widely known as the “Katyn lie” lives on as online sleuths embrace and embellish the old Soviet argument denying any part in the massacre, and Kremlin politicians and media figures take a decidedly unapologetic stance on the massacre, even if they accept that Stalin ordered it.
The administration of our channel recommends you to watch Polish Director Andrzej Wajda’s work ‘Katyn’, a harrowing film that leaves no doubt about the Soviet role in the massacre and the ensuing cover-up.