Russia admits guilt

70 years after the Katyn Massacre the Russian parliament finally acknowledges Stalin’s personal culpability

The case of the execution of Polish officers and intelligentsia in Katyn has once again moved forward. This time the Russian State Duma adopted the statement “On the Katyn Tragedy and its Victims.” Unlike previous statements, stigmatizing the so-called falsifiers of history and repeating Stalin’s myths, it admits that the “mass annihilation of Polish citizens on the territory of the USSR during the World War II was an act of arbitrariness of the totalitarian state.” The statement, which was supported by a majority of votes, recognizes that thousands of Polish citizens, who were kept in the Soviet NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) camps for prisoners of war, and in prisons of the western regions of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic [formerly Polish territory occupied as a direct result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact – Ed.], were executed on direct orders of Joseph Stalin. At the same time, “The deputies of the State Duma offer a hand of friendship to the Polish people and express hope for the beginning of a new stage in relations between our countries, which would develop based on democratic values,” the statement highlights. The report of the head of the international affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev points out that “this apple of discord (the tragedy of Katyn) between the two peoples must cease to exist.”

The Communists, as always, voted against it. The faction of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation considered the statement a political decision, allegedly not supported by anything and contradicting documentation. Such a statement came from Viktor Iliukhin, the deputy head of the security committee and the head of the political movement “In Support of Army, Defense Industry, and Military Science.” Before the sitting he addressed the Duma’s speaker Boris Gryzlov with the request to duplicate and spread around among the deputies the draft of notes based on which, according to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the letter of Lavrentiy Beria to Joseph Stalin, speaking about the alleged consideration of the cases of imprisoned Poles, and about executing them, was falsified. In the opinion of the communist, someone is trying to make Russians repent for what they did not do.

As always, the Communists turn lies into facts. No one executed the Red Army soldiers in the Polish prisons. They died of wounds and sickness, deprived of the necessary medical assistance. This was the fault of the then Polish government, and the current government admits it on all levels. But Soviet citizens died in similar conditions. Or were they executed as well? Following the logic of Russian Communists, they were. By the way, the Red Army soldiers interned in Germany, which was friendly to Soviet Russia, also died from wounds and diseases. But no one accuses the then German government. In post-war Europe millions of people died of the flu epidemic and typhus. Imprisoned Red Army soldiers were among them. Accusing the Polish government of the murder of the Soviet ambassador Pyotr Voykov on June 7, 1927 is simply ridiculous. The Russian emigrant Boris Koverda, with the participation of a newspaper editor Pavlyukevich and the Cossack captain Yakovliev, shot him. The murder of Voykov was supposed to be an act of revenge for his participation in the preparation of the execution of the tsar’s family and generally for the Red Terror, during which his cousin and a family friend of Lebedev’s father was also executed. The Polish court sentenced Koverda to imprisonment for life. Why don’t the Red fighters for justice mention what happened in Moscow on the night of June 9, 1927? Then the Russian government, as a revenge for the murder of the ambassador, executed 20 representatives of the aristocracy of the Russian Empire in the capital without any trial. These people did not have anything to do with Koverda and his accomplices for apparent reasons, because at that moment they had been imprisoned for a long time. Not everything is quite clear regarding the Red Cross mission either. Some evidence suggests that it was not the Poles but communist terrorists who attacked it.

Despite the evidence, the Russian legend that the Polish officers were executed by Nazi soldiers in 1943, was asserted for a long time in Russia. The irrefutable argument, as it seemed to the official propaganda, that the executions were done with German weapons was used as a proof, even though cartridge cases from Soviet bullets were also found in Katyn. In addition, how can one explain the fact that in the village of Mednoye, Tver oblast, a burial of 6,311 imprisoned Polish officers was found? Were they executed with German weapons and by German bullets as well? However, Mednoye was never occupied by Germans.

It is clear why the Communists act like this. The Russian government does not abstain from the struggle against so-called falsified history on principle. The positions on the Holodomor do not change. Regardless of how many documents are added, official Russian historiography has fixed ideas. Consequently, they publish textbooks for schools interpreting the tragic events of collectivization and Stalin’s terror as an inevitable evil during the country’s industrialization. High school students are also told about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in almost Soviet style. This textbook by Filippov remains the most important one in Russian school.

It cannot be the other way in view of the fact that the Kremlin cannot repudiate Stalin’s heritage. As the head of the president’s council for human rights Mikhail Fedotov said during a live broadcast of the Echo of Moscow radio station, laws declaring the NKVD a criminal organization and banning the suppression of political repressions can be adopted. He also stressed that the de-Stalinization of the Russian society should be done mildly, and its main goal is the immortalization of the repressions’ victims memory, not a trial of Stalin. He pointed out that a “political-legal evaluation was intended.” “No specific people were to blame, but the regime,” stressed Fedotov. At the same time, he stressed that no “witch-hunt” should be initiated.

A strange position. Following this logic, one can say that in Nuremberg one couldn’t judge the Nazi criminals either. Since they were not guilty, the fascist regime was. How can one conduct the de-Stalinization without naming the main persons responsible for establishing the totalitarian regime in the country and without providing a political-legal assessment to their actions? Calling the NKVD a criminal organization is not enough. Are its predecessors, the VCheKa (Extraordinary Commission) and the OGPU (State Political Directorate), and successors, the MGB (Ministry of State Security) and the KGB, any better? Were not people regularly executed since 1917, weren’t they imprisoned or placed in psychiatric hospitals already after the death of Stalin? And if the VCheKa-OGPU-NKVD-MGB-KGB are criminal organizations, what shall one do with the party, of which they were a military detachment? Logically, it should be declared criminal the same way the Hitler’s national-socialist party was. And one more thing. How can one understand the term “mild de-Stalinization” and that there shouldn’t be a witch-hunt? It looks that the regime is bad, but its chieftains and functionaries are efficient managers. So they should not be exposed. Milder and lighter, as a character of unforgettable Arkady Raikin used to say.

But let’s return to the statement of the State Duma. By itself, it does not presuppose any legal consequences and can be regarded as a moral and political fact. Its emergence and good words in it should be regarded exclusively as opportunistic. It is an element of domestic politics.

Putin again stated that the tandem still did not determine a candidate for president. It means that no preparation for such a procedure is being undertaken. Medvedev chose the legal area for himself. The upper echelons of the judicial branch will gradually be reinforced by his cadres. Now it is the turn of ideology. Putin fortified the power vertical. Stalin sometimes went too far, it can happen to anyone hurrying towards a great goal — creating a superstate. He found Russia with wooden ploughs and left it with nuclear weapons. Churchill’s phrase was taken out of context everywhere. If Churchill himself admitted the greatness of Stalin, what can the others say?

Medvedev needed to find his place as soon as possible. And there is nothing new under the sun. One should definitely use the experience of the loyal Leninist Nikita Khrushchev and start the de-Stalinization process once again. So they started thinking of lawlessness, repressions and other roguery of the Stalin’s regime. But they were careful not to go too far, as Khrushchev did it. He debunked the cult, removed Stalin’s comrades-in-arms from the political arena, and stopped there. The current Russian government could not help mentioning the execution of the Polish officers by definition. It just became improper to say that black is white, especially given Medvedev’s legalistic proclivities. The case is resonant, the propaganda effect is great, it would be silly not to make use of it.

One more factor — foreign policy. The visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Poland is scheduled for December 6. In view of the fact that the relations of Moscow and Warsaw have improved considerably, a good-will gesture was much needed. Moreover, in early April Vladimir Putin, visiting Katyn together with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, stated that, in his opinion, “Stalin did this execution as a revenge.” It was necessary not to lag behind. Therefore, also in April, President Medvedev ordered to publish many documents from the so-called Special Folder No. 1, saying: “Let all see what was done, who made the decisions, who gave directions on the killing of the Polish officers — everything is written there, all signatures are there, all people are known.” So the statement adopted by the Duma follows this course and is simply a gift before the visit. So far there is nothing behind such actions. One should still wait for the Russian government’s serious repudiation of Stalinism. And the waiting will be long.

One should not think that our government went far from our northern neighbors. We have the same problems of overcoming the Soviet past, with some distinctions. Generally, one can be surprised how limited the authorities, in the Dnipropetrovsk region and the regional center are. Unlike the president and other high officials, they ignored the activities dedicated to the Holodomor of 1932-33 Memorial Day. Instead, they preferred visiting the opening of the Russian Center. This was highly political, judging by the time it was held and by the guests from the Russian side. All this made the activity provocative. The president acts one way, while the officials act another way. In a normal country, the president would dismiss his appointees the next day. But we will have to wait for this for a long time, too.