Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's speech was broadcast live by Polish television, radio and the Internet news sites. A translation into Polish appeared on the Internet soon after.
For the first time since Russian was dropped from the curriculum of Polish schools and universities in 1992, Russian speakers were worth their weight in gold in Poland. People listened intently to Putin's every word and scrutinized his every move: "Putin bowed his head to the Poles murdered at Katyn"; "Putin said that the crimes of totalitarianism cannot be justified."
Will some Poles be dissatisfied with Putin's speech? Absolutely. You can't please everyone when it comes to Katyn. It is important to understand that for the Poles, Katyn is not just a symbol of Stalin's crimes. In his speech today, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk accurately called the old Soviet version blaming the Germans for the murder of the Polish officers a "cornerstone" myth of the Polish People's Republic (PPR). Poles only dared whisper their doubts about the official version in the PPR, and the collapse of this myth in 1989-1990 became a symbol of Polish liberation from totalitarianism. If the official version was based on a lie, then the whole system was built on a lie and must be dismantled.
Regrettably, new myths are cropping up in today's Poland. The biggest myth has to do with "the threat from the East." The Kaczynski brothers - the president and former prime minister - have spoken freely about this danger, and until recently, Poland was under their sway.
One of the brothers, Lech, is still the president. In the last few weeks, he openly expressed his jealousy of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was invited by Putin to visit Katyn. Until this year, memorial ceremonies at the graves of the Polish officers at Katyn were a strictly Polish affair. Polish presidents and ministers visited the site but unofficially. These were almost family events with the officers' relatives in attendance.
This is the first ceremony attended by Russian leaders but not the Polish president. Kaczynski's stated intention to visit Katyn three days later with the relatives of the dead and a propaganda landing party is a political gesture motivated more by discontent and envy than respect for the memory of the victims.
Kaczynski got the hint, and he will have to bear responsibility for his speech at a square in Tbilisi next to the war criminal Mikheil Saakashvili several days after the attack on Tskhinval - a speech filled with irresponsible anti-Russian rhetoric. Kaczynski may only be judged by history for his actions, but one thing is certain: he will not be remembered as a political leader who led Polish-Russian relations out of this deadlock. Tusk and Putin have that chance.
The second myth, which will take a long time to dispel, is the "ethnic" interpretation" of Katyn, which depicts this tragedy as an anti-Polish act of the entire Russian nation (as if Bashto Kobulov, a member of the troika that condemned the officers to death, and the Politburo members Dzhugashvili, Kaganovich and Beria, who signed a relevant resolution, were Russians). In his speech today, Putin said, "Stalinist repression swept people away regardless of their ethnic origin, convictions or religious beliefs. Whole social classes became victims - Cossacks, clergymen, ordinary peasants, professors, officers, some of whom served in the Tsarist army and then came to serve the Soviet state but were still not spared."
This passage from Putin's speech will no doubt be met with criticism in Poland. Lech Kaczynski keeps repeating that the officers in Katyn were shot because they were POLISH officers. But the documents show that in the eyes of the Politburo members and Stalin himself the victims of Katyn were considered Soviet citizens. At the time of the massacre in the spring of 1940, Poland did not exist as a state. One chunk of pre-war Poland belonged to Nazi Germany, while the other belonged to the U.S.S.R. The more than 21,000 Polish officers who found themselves at Stalin's mercy shared the fate of millions of Soviet citizens.
It is hard to move past the "ethnic interpretation" of Katyn. It is a much easier to use it as a political trump card, like the Kaczynski brothers are doing. Many Russian politicians are also tempted to feed into this interpretation. But they must resist this temptation, for a political career based on this lie will collapse just like the PPR.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political analyst Dmitry Babich)