On the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s decision to execute more than 21,000 Polish officers at Katyn and other places, the Memorial human rights group has urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to denounce that action as a crime against humanity and to ensure that those involved in that crime can be publically held responsible.
“The Katyn crime,” Memorial says, “is not only the murder in the spring of 1940 of almost 22,000 Polish citizens. It is also a half century of lies and falsifications during which the Soviet Union in spite of the evidence denied its responsibility … and tried to convince the entire world and its own citizens that the crime was the work of the Hitlerites.”
The rights group points out in its appeal that the situation in that regard began to change “only in 1990” when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev handed Polish leaders the names of those who had been killed and “certain other documents which showed that the operation of the destruction of Polish citizens was carried out by the NKVD of the USSR.”
That step forward, Memorial says, was extended in 1992, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin published documents which showed the involvement of the political leadership of the Soviet Union – including among others Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Mikoyan and Beria -- in the commission of this crime (www.memo.ru/2010/03/05/katyn.htm).
And a highpoint was reached in 2000 when memorial cemeteries were established at the sites of the executions, a moment at which it appeared to Russians, Poles and the entire world that “the lies and omissions on Katyn had come to an end and that there was no longer any basis for distrust toward our country.”
But then the situation changed, Memorial points out, and in a profoundly negative way. In 2004, Russia’s Chief Military Prosecutor ended the criminal case, and the Inter-Agency Commission for the Defense of State Secrets, under the direction of then-President Vladimir Putin, classified the relevant documents.
The classification of these documents, Memorial says, “violates the operative Russian law “on state secrets” which does not permit classifying documents if they concern “information about the violation of the rights of human beings and citizens and also the violation of the law by organs of state power and the officials in them.”
“Despite that,” Memorial continues, the two agencies it referred to have “refused to this day to change their decisions about the classification” of the documents concerning Katyn. In doing so, the rights group says, these government institutions have not only violated other Russian laws but retreated from the assessments of these crimes by Moscow in the past.
“From our point of view, the shooting of military prisons and civilians without trial must be qualified in correspondence with Points B and C of Paragraph Six of the Statute of the International Military Tribunal at Nurnberg as war crimes and crimes against humanity,” crimes for which there is no statute of limitations.
But in addition to these reasons for changing course, Memorial writes in its appeal to Medvedev, there is a practical one from the point of view of Russia: the continuing failure of the Russian authorities to recognize these crimes “is conceived by public opinion within the country and abroad as a turning away from the march toward the truth begun in the 1990s.”
Indeed, these “attempts to reanimate the Stalinist falsified version of the events are being undertaken not only in the yellow press but even from the tribune of the parliament.” And as a result, “the shadow of the crimes and lies of the Stalin regime continue to lie on present-day Russia.”
To change that, Memorial calls on the Russian president to declassify the Katyn documents, to renew the investigation of the Katyn case, and to rehabilitate by name “in correspondence with Russian law” all those who were shot by the decision of the Soviet leadership on March 5, 1940.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s appearance at the Katyn forest cemetery in April 2010 was a welcome step, but “all the same, considering the importance and neuralgic quality of the issue,” Memorial says, we consider the personal participation of the President of Russia to be a necessary step.”
According to Memorial, “a clear and unambiguous denunciation of the crime committed by the government organs of the Soviet Union by a decision of its leadership and a declaration about the steps it will take in order to pull ‘the Katyn case’ out of the dead end in which it is now could become a turning point in the relations between Russia and Poland.”
But more than that, the human rights organization says, “such a declaration is needed not only for the reputation of Russia in the world. Much more important, it is necessary for the successful future of our country which will be impossible without an honest assessment of the totalitarian past.