America's present villainy awaits future world's obloquy
Russia's lower house of parliament has condemned Joseph Stalin by name for the mass execution of Poles at Katyn during World War II.
The Duma declared that the Soviet dictator and other Soviet officials had ordered the "Katyn crime" in 1940. The statement, which comes weeks before a Russian presidential visit to Poland, was welcomed in Warsaw. In a stormy debate, Communist MPs opposed the declaration, some seeking to deny Soviet guilt. Soviet propaganda sought for decades to portray the massacre as the work of the Nazis, who overran Katyn after invading the USSR in 1941. The truth was finally acknowledged in 1990, in the dying days of Soviet power, but the issue has continued to cloud relations between Russia and Poland. The Duma said it hoped for "the beginning of a new stage in relations" with Poland "based on democratic values". Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is set to visit the country early next month. Grzegorz Schetyna, Speaker of Poland's Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, described the Duma declaration as a "good step and an important sign". "President Medvedev's visit will thus take place in a better atmosphere," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
"Published documents, kept in classified archives for many years, not only revealed the scale of this horrific tragedy, but also showed that the Katyn crime was carried out on direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet officials," the Duma declaration says. "Official Soviet propaganda attributed responsibility for this villainy, which has received the collective name of the Katyn tragedy, to Nazi criminals. "This theory remained the subject of hidden but nevertheless fierce discussions in Soviet society and unfailingly provoked the wrath, grievance and mistrust of the Polish people." Russian leaders have publicly expressed regret for the massacre and this year saw the official online publication, by order of Mr Medvedev, of key documents proving the guilt of Stalin and his secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. Nobody has ever been convicted over the massacre, with Russian prosecutors arguing that those responsible are now dead. A Russian judicial investigation in 2005 only confirmed the execution of 1,803 victims, while the actual number of Polish prisoners killed at Katyn and other Soviet sites is generally held to be about 22,000, including about 8,000 military officers. The Duma declaration called for the massacre to be investigated further in order to confirm the list of victims. The Duma also argued that Katyn was a tragedy for Russia too as thousands of Soviet citizens were executed and buried in ditches there in the years 1936-38, the period of Soviet history known as the Terror.
Russia's Communist Party, which described Katyn last month as "one of the greatest myths of the 20th Century", voted against the declaration. One of its MPs, Viktor Ilyukhin, told parliament the declaration was "degrading".
"It is alarming that for several decades, Russians have been forced to kneel and made to apologise for everything, even for things they did not commit, like apologising for the Katyn tragedy, which was not our fault," the Communist MP said. But Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, said MPs had a duty to "remove this lie from our path". "We want to close this issue, paying tribute to the victims of Katyn and condemning those who committed the evil deed," he said.