December 21, 2014 01:50


Editorial: Closing Katyn

16.04.12 23:04    By editorial

Russia wont pay damages in this case

Russia won't pay damages in this case   Photo: AFP


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Russian authorities may consider European Court of Human Rights sentence for Katyn case favorable. But Russia has no grounds to consider it a political victory. Repentance and disclosure of all secret files is needed not only by the Polish, but by the Russians, too.
European court was trying a case of the relatives of Polish officers who were executed in Katyn during the Second World War against Russian Government under article 2 (right to live) and article 3 (prohibition of inhumane treatment and torture) of the European Convention of Human Rights. The complainants claimed that Russia didn't duly investigate the execution and reacted to the claimants' appeals inappropriately, infringing on the norms and proper procedures. The court stated that the article, forbidding inhumane treatment, was partly infringed, but decided that discussing Russia's infringement of the Polish officers' right to live is outside of the court's competence. The court refused to make decision on the officers relatives' complaint about Russian investigation's ineffectiveness. Meanwhile, the court decided that the Russian government failed to provide all the necessary evidence for the case and was surprised by the denial by Russian authorities of the reality of the Katyn Massacre.

Neither Poles nor Russians are going to deny the court decision. But for our country, the fact this trial existed at all is shameful. We could have avoided it if our authorities were able find the strength for penance in themselves and provided the Polish with all the necessary documents on Katyn.

The first step for the repentance was made in the 90's when Boris Yeltsin publicly admitted Soviet responsibility for polish officers' executions in Stalin's prison camps.

Earlier, Soviet propaganda called the massacre a crime committed by Germans, which was convenient: any rime could be attributed to Hitler's regime.

But constant delays with the investigation of Katyn during Putin's era, and the unwillingness to close this page once and for all during Putin's presidency, both caused Russians to have contorted opinion on Katyn, or no opinion at all. A sociological poll done by Levada Center in March 2010, some time before 70 year anniversary of the tragedy, showed that only 43% Russians have heard about it, 47% haven't, 10% were at a total loss. Only 19% called Stalin's government the organizers of the massacre, 28% said the crime was committed by Germans, 53% were at a loss. 15% called it a genocide, 38% called it a crime but not a genocide, 14% justified it since it was committed in times of war, 33% had no answer.

Only 18% answered that Putin needs to apologize, 46% said he didn't.

There were two main reasons for not apologizing: the crime was committed by the Germans (47%), Russia is not responsible for Stalin's actions (34%).

As opposed to the citizens, the authorities know well that Soviet government bears the responsibility for the massacre. It should be easier for them to apologize and distance themselves from Stalin's crimes.

On April 7, 2010, Vladimir Putin met Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in the Smolensk oblast and said that to forget what happened in Katyn would be hypocritical, that "we must keep the memory of the past however bitter the truth is."

He also called on the Polish to stop the endless settling of scores and understand their shared history together.

On April 10, 2010, a plane with Polish president Lech Kaczynski and almost all of the Polish government crashed near Smolensk when they went to commemorate the anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. This tragedy influenced the way the Russians feel about Katyn.

In April, 2011, the Levada-center conducted another poll and the quantity of Russians who consider the execution the crime committed by Stalin's regime increased to 34% and the percentage of those who attributed it to Hitler fell to 24%. 42% still have no opinion on the issue.

The refusal to condemn the Soviet crimes in Katyn make contemporary Russia its successor in consistent denial. That made this trial in European court possible.

It's clear that the sentence gives Russian authorities an ace in the hole that allows it to forget this shameful page in the history for good. And we also don't have to pay damages to the relatives of the executed. But only Russia can really put an end to the tragedy. To keep silence about tragic and sorrowful moments in Russian History, or attempt to whitewash Stalin's regime, harms the development of our country and the creation of citizens' nation that can not only be proud of its history but also feel shame when needed.

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