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Duma condemns Katyn massacre

by at 29/11/2010 20:43

Russia’s State Duma on Friday voted to recognise Polish victims of the 1940 Katyn massacre as a tragedy for Poland and Russia, and to acknowledge that the killings had been ordered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

The decision came after President Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to make de-Stalinisation the theme of his first meeting with the Presidential Council for Human Rights.

And after an apparent recent softening of official thinking on Stalin’s era – which saw his name return to the halls of a Moscow metro station in 2009 – it could prompt yet another controversial shift in public assessments of Russia’s recent history.

Due acknowledgement

Konstantin Kosachyov, author of the bill and the chairman of the Duma’s International Committee, emphasised the Stalin era documents’ importance and said that the massacre must be acknowledged.

“If the leadership of our country has found it necessary to admit the guilt of the Stalinist regime for the Katyn tragedy, then it is a matter of conscience for us to recognise it after so many years of silence,” Kosachev told RIA Novosti.

And his draft ruling makes it perfectly clear who should be held responsible.

“In the trenches of Katyn lie thousands of Soviet citizens killed by Stalin’s regime in 1936-1938.

It is upon them that this technology of mass murder was tried out, which was then, at this same site, imposed on Polish soldiers,” the draft ruling says.

“Published material, showing that the Katyn crime was committed on the direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet leaders, it was kept in secret archives for many years,” the document states.

Stalin’s bloody legacy

January’s meeting of the Presidential Council for Human Rights will be the first time that overcoming the legacy of Stalin is addressed institutionally, Ekho Moskvy reported.

Mikhail Fedotov was appointed chairman of the council in October after his predecessor Elena Pamfilova resigned under pressure from pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi. Fedotov told Ekho Moskvy at the time that he would focus on de-Stalinisation, following a meeting with Medvedev.

The actual word ‘de-Stalinisation’ will not appear on the council’s agenda, so as to avoid a personality cult. The subject will be broached more broadly, naming national reconciliation and the memory of those who suffered at the hands of the totalitarian regime, Vedomosti reported.

“This is undoubtedly a Kremlin propaganda project to deal with image problems in the West,” Nikolai Petrov, Carnegie Centre analyst, told Vedomosti.

Communists opposed

Russia’s pro-Stalinist Communist Party remains bitterly opposed to the Katyn bill. “Goebbels and his team said in October 1940 that the NKVD allegedly shot 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn,” railed Communist party deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, adding that an examination of the bodies revealed German bullets.

Fellow party member Vladimir Kashin also warned that the recognition could also expose Russia to crippling compensation claims. Kosachyov dismissed the claim, saying that there have so far only been four claims and that one of them was for one euro, RIA Novosti reported.

The move comes after an announcement by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this year that the government’s position will not change.

“Our country has given an unambiguous political, legal, and moral assessment of the atrocities perpetrated by the totalitarian regime, and this assessment is not subject to revision,” he said.

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