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Russian State Duma Passes Declaration ‘On the Tragedy of Katyn and Its Victims’

Source: (info), 26/11/10

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· Victims of Repression

Vladimir Shishlin: “The Russian parliament has officially named Stalin and his associates as guilty of the ‘Katyn massacre’ of tens of thousands of Poles. Memorial Human Rights Centre has supported the Duma’s declaration, but urged the Russian authorities to give a judicial assessment of the shooting by the NKVD of more than 20,000 Polish prisoners of war in 1940 on the territory of the USSR.

On 26 November 2010 the State Duma acknowledged that the execution of Polish officers at Katyn was on the direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet leaders.

The declaration by the State Duma ‘On the Tragedy of Katyn and Its Victims’, passed by the Duma in its basic form on 26 November 2010, states: “Published materials, that were for many years kept in secret archives, not only reveal the extent of this terrible tragedy, but also bear witness to the fact that the crime of Katyn was committed on the direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet leaders.”

Members of three Duma parties voted in favour of the adoption of this document: United Russia, Just Russia and the LDPR.

The Communist party voted against.

“In official Soviet propaganda responsibility for this atrocity, that has received the general name of the Katyn tragedy, was attributed to Nazi criminals. This version for many years remained a subject of latent, but no less fierce, debates in Soviet society and invariably gave rise to anger, resentment and mistrust on the part of the Polish people,” the declaration says.

The deputies recalled that at the beginning of the 1990s in the new Russia it was recognized that the mass destruction of Polish citizens on the territory of the USSR during the Second World War was an act of tyranny by a totalitarian state that also subjected hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens to repressions on account of their political or religious beliefs, for social or other characteristics.

The State Duma expressed “deep sympathy to all victims of unjustified repression, to their families and friends.”

Many of the documents, stored in closed archives of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for many years, have already been passed to the Polish side. However, part of the classified documents to this day have not been made public, the statement says.

“The deputies of the State Duma are certain that this work must be continued. It is necessary to continue to study the archives, verify the lists of those killed, restore the good names of those killed at Katyn and other places, and to uncover all the circumstances of the tragedy,” the document says.

“In the ditches of Katyn lie thousands of Soviet citizens killed by Stalin's regime in 1936-1938. It was against them that the technology of mass murder was tried out, a technology later used against Polish soldiers in the same place. Nearby are the graves of Soviet prisoners of war shot by Hitler's executioners in the years of the Great Patriotic War”, the document says.

"Strongly condemning a regime that neglected the rights and lives of people, the State Duma deputies stretch a hand of friendship to the Polish people and express the hope that a new stage is beginning in relations between our countries, one that will develop on the basis of democratic values,” the declaration of the Russian parliament says.

Ludmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, hopes that the State Duma’s declaration on the Katyn massacre will lead to an official condemnation of the Stalinist regime. “I am happy that the State Duma has issued this declaration. I hope that this will help to bring about a final condemnation, and the official exposure, of Stalin,” Ludmila Alekseeva told Interfax.

The Memorial Society has supported the declaration, but urged the Russian authorities to also give a judicial assessment to the shooting by the NKVD of over 20,000 Polish prisoners of war in 1940 on the territory of the USSR.

“The political assessment of Katyn is very important, and, thank God if it appears. It is good if what is obvious to the whole world will be recognized,” Yan Rachinsky, one of the leaders of the Memorial Society told Interfax. According to Yan Rachinsky a political assessment of the Katyn crime is not enough. It is necessary to declassify the materials of the criminal case and archives related to Katyn. In addition, he said that the Polish prisoners of war who were shot there must be recognized as victims of political repression.

“If the State Duma publicly states its position, this will be an important step forward, and an important step to improving relations between Russia and Poland. But the guilt of Stalin and the top Soviet leadership must be confirmed not only politically but also judicially,” said Yan Rachinsky.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, said Russia must declassify a maximum number of documents on the ‘Katyn case’. "In the case of the Katyn tragedy we must do everything to avoid even the slightest suspicion that we are trying to hide something," he told Interfax.

According to Mikhail Fedotov, Russia plans to condemn the role of the NKVD and other organizations in political repressions. Fedotov said that the Council is drafting a programme on ‘National Reconciliation and Commemoration of the Memory of the Victims of the Totalitarian Regime.’

“Will the draft give an evaluation of specific organizations? I think so,” Mikhail Fedotov said in answer to the question of whether the role of the NKVD in Stalin's repressions would be condemned in Russia. “But the tools of the regime are not only the security services, but even organizations such as the unions for the creative arts, that are apparently far from the security services. Let us remember, how Boris Pasternak was expelled from the Writers' Union.”

“This will not be a trial of Stalin, it will not be a trial of the NKVD. This will be an assessment of the regime. For me, the fact that the whole people were victims of this regime is something that is obvious," said Mikhail Fedotov.

Mikhail Fedotov said that the draft programme being developed by the Council proposes a number of steps to commemorate the memory of those who died: the erection of monuments, the organization of museums and memorials, the opening and study of archives, and social support for the victims of the totalitarian regime.

In mid-January 2011 Dmitry Medvedev plans to meet with members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights. “He will meet with the Council to discuss three issues: national reconciliation and commemorating the memory of the victims of repression; family and child welfare; and also judicial and police reform,” said Mikhail Fedotov. 

Moscow, 26 November 2010. 

Rights in Russia,
27 Nov 2010, 12:38