So Many Resolutions, So Little Time

January 18, 2011

It seems that the life of a Master’s student is completely incompatible with keeping up a blog; it is in my case, at least.

With that, I’ll say that I have been closely following recent developments in Polish-Russian relations in regards to Katyń. I actually came close to posting my initial reactions to the Duma resolution, which recognized Katyń as a Stalinist crime, carried out by the NKVD in 1940 (announced on Friday, November 26, 2010).

I listened to Polish radio and read articles from Polish newspapers and journals, interviews with Polish historians, I even talked to my family in Poland to hear their reaction. I also perused several Russian news websites and the Duma’s website to see it from another perspective. Of course, the announcement was plastered on the front of every Polish news site, with dramatic pictures of the Katyn memorial in tow. Russian news sites… not so much. Hours after the story broke, I still didn’t find much in the way of articles. Interestingly, the Duma’s website made no mention of Stalin’s responsibility and merely wrote, “Seventy years ago, thousands of Polish citizens were shot.”

At any rate, the Duma’s resolution was warmly embraced by Poles — any such statement by the Russian government was unthinkable, even a year ago. What I took from the Polish side was sort of a collective, “finally” (insert: uneasy sigh). There is no doubt that the recent Polish-Russian ‘thaw’ triggered by the Smoleńsk crash played its role in the passing of this resolution. (Others are considered below.)

Inspired, emotions swelling up, I set out to write a bit about it… then, inexplicably, I decided to hold off. Undoubtedly, I was very excited about the new (rather shocking) development and was thrilled at the prospect of another (major) ‘step forward’ in the relations between these two nations. But something in me couldn’t help, but express doubt: was this REALLY the ray of sunshine that would pierce through the thick fog of Polish-Russian relations? Was an official Russian resolution all it would take to finally melt that icy core and close the Katyń file for good? I said no. And so, I held off from publishing an emotionally-charged blog post about it.

In my opinion, the Duma’s resolution was an important step–without a doubt. This, in light of previous developments, of course. For example, Putin’s speech just two days before the fatal Smolensk crash on April 10, 2010 (the first ever joint Polish-Russian commemoration of the tragedy at Katyń) was perceived by Poles as a lost opportunity. They waited in vain for words like zbrodnia (massacre) and even more so, for anything resembling an apology from the Russian side. Instead, they were treated to accounts of atrocities that the Russian people themselves experienced, and a reference to the Russian troops that were killed in Polish POW camps in 1920 (a recurring argument from the Russian side for their revenge on Poland in Katyń).

I guess that’s also what I found lacking in response to the Duma’s resolution. A sincere effort to put the past to rest and (attempt) to move on. Furthermore, I saw the move as being first and foremost strategic, politically speaking. A sort of, “whatever we can do to separate ourselves from the crimes of Russia’s Soviet past is good for Russia’s government today.” Secondly, Poland assumes the EU presidency in the second half of this year, and good Polish-Russian relations make for good EU-Russian relations.

Seen in hindsight, and coupled with the newest revelations of Russian investigations into the Smolensk crash (that it was the ‘fault of Poland’ and that several top-level Polish commanders, including the Polish Air Chief Marshal, General Andrzej Błasik [who is suggested to have been drunk] entered the cockpit and pressured the pilots to land), I can’t blame myself for holding out on that post. At least for now, that flame of optimism was put out by the reality of geopolitics.

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