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Roginsky on Katyn

Arseny Roginsky: A Crime Must be Called a Crime

Source: (Author), 07/03/10

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Alexandra Teplyakova: Last week Russian human rights activists urged the Russian President to reopen the criminal investigation into the mass execution of Polish military and police officers by the NKVD in Katyn forest in 1940. After an investigation had been conducted the case materials were classified in 2004. Commentary by historian, human rights defender and chair of the board of the International Memorial Society, Arseny Roginsky.

On the 5th of March 1940 the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party headed by Stalin decided during the months of April and May to execute without trial or due process 15,500 military and police officers held in NKVD camps in Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk, and also more than 7,000 detainees under investigation held in prisons in western Ukraine and Belarus.

A joint Russian-Polish memorial service is to take place at Katyn on the 7th of April 2010 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the tragedy. The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has invited his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk to the ceremony.

Historian Arseny Roginsky, chair of the board of the International Memorial Society, has spoken to Radio Liberty about the essence of the appeal of the human rights defenders to the President of Russia.

"I would imagine that Medvedev’s statement that a country should preserve the memory of the tragic events that have occurred there gives us some basis to hope that our message will be heard. Yet we are not just talking about moral evaluations of the past, although they are very important. It is necessary to take real, practical steps at the highest level. And this should be done by the President of the country. If it’s the Prime Minister who does this, we would also wholeheartedly welcome that.

First of all, a crime must be called a crime and the criminals must be identified. Recently a popular radio station held a vote on who really killed the Polish officers in Katyn. The first round of voting revealed that 80% of participants believed that it was the Germans who committed the crimes while only 20% thought otherwise. And by the end, after an expert had come on air and persuaded the listeners for half an hour of the opposite, the number of those who thought that it was the Germans who did the killing at Katyn fell by 10%. As you can see, such a widely-held opinion can only be changed by a clear and direct announcement at the very highest level of government.

But that is not the only reason why the case should be reopened. The full list of all those shot should be established, and each individual named. Secondly, it should be stated who ordered the shootings and who carried them out. And thirdly, all the victims should be posthumously rehabilitated under the law on rehabilitation of victims of political repression of the Russian Federation. I believe that it is a question of absolute principle that it should be Russian law that declares the victims to be innocent. These are our simple requests.

The Main Military Prosecutor’s Office carried out an investigation over a period of fifteen years, but when it was completed, the results were classified. The decision to close the case was also classified, which is quite beyond belief! This is in violation of all laws. Documents concerning political repression cannot be classified. Only one conclusion can be logically drawn from this: certain political forces wished to move this issue out of the public domain, they were seeking to keep the blame off Stalin and his henchmen, who were responsible for this decision. These political forces at that moment prevailed.

Alas, these things happen in history. However, they cannot last forever. There is simply too much evidence of the massacre and it is too well-known all over the world. Yet there are additional facts, about which the world does not know, which were discovered by the investigation, and should be known by everyone.

Our appeal to the President is an open one. We assumed that it would be published in newspapers and on websites. Generally speaking, it is only right to tell people everything from the beginning to the end, and to start by reminding people about the essence of the events. Only then can one deal with the issues at hand. But these details take up about 20% of our text, or perhaps somewhat less. We simply remind the public when and how the Katyn massacre happened, how many people were killed, when the criminal investigation began, and so on.

This information is, of course, important for the President to read too. Maybe he knows it all already, but it will do no harm if he reads a text that summarizes all this information. People need to be constantly reminded of past tragedies. Only in this way can they gradually come to understand everything."
Rights in Russia,
12 Mar 2010, 14:28