Death of the Pol­ish pres­i­dent sends a grim re­minder

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The tragic death of Pol­ish Pres­i­dent Lech Kaczyn­ski, to­gether with dozens of mil­i­tary com­man­ders, politi­cians and top ad­vis­ers, has fixed the spot­light on the Katyn mas­sacre of 70 years ago and the con­text in which it occurred. This will have a sober­ing ef­fect on Pol­ish-Rus­sian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion un­less all the facts about World War II are fi­nally ac­knowl­edged by leaders of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion — the le­gal in­her­i­tor of the Soviet Union.

While Rus­sian leaders cel­e­brate the 65th an­niver­sary of World War II Victory Day in Moscow on May 9, awk­ward ques­tions will be asked about the in­fa­mous Soviet-Nazi al­liance that made World War II pos­si­ble. In re­cent years, the Krem­lin, in claim­ing Rus­sia’s “great power” con­ti­nu­ity, has sought to down­play or dis­guise the ori­gins of the war. In­deed, of­fi­cial state­ments and his­tory books con­tinue to de­pict the Soviet Union as a vic­tim and vic­tor rather than as a co-con­spir­a­tor with Hitler when it in­vaded Poland in Septem­ber 1939, mur­dered tens of thou­sands of Pol­ish cit­i­zens and de­ported more than a mil­lion into Siberian ex­ile.

The air crash near Katyn will re­fo­cus Pol­ish-Rus­sian re­la­tions and give new ur­gency to re­cent moves by both cap­i­tals to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. In­deed, Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin had been lauded for invit­ing Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter Don­ald Tusk to a com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­mony in Katyn be­fore the fa­tal air crash, thereby ac­knowl­edg­ing its im­por­tance for the Pol­ish na­tion.

How­ever, Mr. Putin’s ob­jec­tive may not have been so clearcut. Plainly, the Krem­lin can no longer brazenly deny that the Katyn mur­ders were per­pe­trated by the Soviet se­cu­rity ser­vices. In­stead, it is seek­ing to con­tex­tu­al­ize them and thereby min­i­mize their sig­nif­i­cance. Rus­sia has avoided is­su­ing a for­mal state apol­ogy to Poland; it de­picts Katyn as one of sev­eral atroc­i­ties by the face­less “to­tal­i­tar­ian regime” and re­fuses to call the Katyn mas­sacres a war crime.

The rea­son­ing is log­i­cal. If Katyn were de­fined as a war crime, one would need to as­cer­tain who was at war with whom. Why did more than 20,000 Pol­ish of­fi­cers and more than a mil­lion Pol­ish cit­i­zens find them­selves in the Soviet Union in Septem­ber 1939, pre­vented from de­fend­ing Poland from the Nazi in­va­sion? Rus­sia’s cur­rent leaders want to avoid dis­cus­sion about the Soviet in­va­sion of Poland, the Hitler-Stalin pact and the close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the two dic­ta­tors be­fore and dur­ing World War II aimed at carv­ing up Poland and the rest of East- ern Europe. The Sovi­ets only be­came anti-Nazi when Hitler de­cided he no longer needed Moscow as an ally.

In­stead of ac­knowl­edg­ing facts about the ori­gins of World War II, the Krem­lin is en­gaged in a mas­sive de­cep­tion, seek­ing to con­vince the world that Rus­sia was the key to victory in Europe. It fails to point out that un­der Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union also was the key to de­feat for many Euro­peans. The Soviet Union en­abled Hitler to launch the blitzkrieg against Poland; pro­vided vi­tal eco­nomic, en­ergy and mil­i­tary sup­plies to Berlin, en­abling Hitler to launch the con­quest of West­ern Europe; and as­sisted in cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for the Nazi Holo­caust while con­duct­ing its own mass mur­ders and de­por­ta­tions from sub­ject na­tions.

It is not sur­pris­ing that Mr. Putin wanted to push Katyn to the side­lines be­fore the May 9 an­niver­sary and cal­cu­lated that Pol­ish leaders would re­cip­ro­cate for his min­i­mal ac­knowl­edge­ment of Katyn by at­tend­ing the cel­e­bra­tions and thus giv­ing cre­dence to Moscow’s skew­ered ver­sion of his­tory. The Katyn air crash may un­der­mine this strat­egy, as the mass mur­ders of 70 years ago have be­come a live sub­ject for pub­lic de­bate amidst calls for closer schol­arly scru­tiny.

Iron­i­cally, the sec­ond Katyn tragedy pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to ini­ti­ate a gen­uine Rus­sian-Pol­ish rec­on­cil­i­a­tion if Rus­sia’s leaders un­der­take sev­eral cru­cial steps. First, they will need to ac­knowl­edge pub­licly that the Katyn mur­ders were a war crime per­pe­trated against Poland and an at­tempt to de­cap­i­tate the lead­er­ship of a coun­try that the Stalin regime wanted to oc­cupy and an­nex, which it did af­ter the war.

Sec­ond, all the archives sealed in Rus­sia per­tain­ing to the atroc­ity will need to be opened to his­to­ri­ans in or­der to gain all per­ti­nent facts on the pre­cise iden­tity of the per­pe­tra­tors and how the crime was cov­ered up for more than 50 years.

Third, the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties must be­gin to tell the full truth about Stalin and the Soviet role dur­ing World War II as a co-con­spir­a­tor with Hitler as well as one of Hitler’s even­tual vic­tims. Without such coura­geous mea­sures, the War­sawMoscow thaw will sim­ply re­main a layer of loose earth over the per­mafrost.

Janusz Bugajski is the holder of the Lavren­tis Lavren­tiadis Chair at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.