11 February 2013, 14:14

Polish-Russian question: Katyn lawsuits

Polish-Russian question: Katyn lawsuits

On February 13, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear a new lawsuit in the so-called Katyn case. Earlier, 15 Poles, relatives of those shot dead during a mass execution of Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn forest near Smolensk in 1940, filed appeals with the ECHR, demanding compensation for the loss of their loved ones and full access to all the documents relating to Russia’s investigation into the Katyn events.

It’s been nearly five years since the ECHR launched its first Katyn hearing. The Polish side claims that Russia has failed to conduct an objective investigation into the case. The Strasbourg Court has partially upheld the plaintiffs’ demands, in particular as regards access to the archives, to which Russia reacted positively, as President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly emphasized.

"We are absolutely sure that this is a turning point for us, because we have demonstrated our profound respect for the Polish people by condemning this crime and showing that this truth should help us to move forward."

As for the rest of the plaintiffs’ demands, namely rehabilitation of the Katyn victims and compensations to their families, the EHCR did not uphold them, arguing that from a legal standpoint the slain Polish officers cannot be qualified as victims of reprisals. For that to be done there must be documents confirming that they faced criminal charges. But there are none. Historian Yelena Prudnikova doubts that those documents ostensibly disappeared from the Katyn archives or were intentionally destroyed. More likely, they never existed. “Criminal charges just couldn’t be brought because in all the documents they were referred to as POWs and no criminal charges could be brought against POWs. As for why they remained in that status, that’s another matter,” she told reporters.

The majority of people polled by the Voice of Russia think that it’s time to bury the mutual recriminations over Katyn. Many experts share this view. In the opinion of Oleg Nemensky, a researcher with Russia’s Institute for Strategic Studies, the point in taking the case to the Strasbourg Court probably has to do with a PR campaign, rather than a sincere desire to obtain any concrete documents or gain any material profit.

"For the Poles, all that matters is that the Katyn hearings should go on. They would certainly like to win the case, but what victory will mean to them is not completely clear. What matters is that the subject should always be there, always brought up, because for a patriotic-minded Pole the issue of Katyn and of forcing Russia to reveal the truth about Katyn is a matter of patriotism."

While the Poles keep pounding the ECHR with lawsuits over Katyn, Russia continues to work with archive documents that are going to be published.

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