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Katyn: Forest of Death and Seeds of Evil

Posted 29/4/2010

By Inna Rogatchi 
© Inna Rogatchi, 2010

First published in The Kracow Post, April 2010


To the enlightened memory of the 97 souls of the brave Polish patriots who lost their lives in the darkness of Katyn forest

According to the NKVD inner records, as cited by those who had chance to see the part of the documentation on Katyn, NKVD murderers, on the order of their supervisors, were busy with rather 'human' activities after extermination of 21,768 Polish officers and intellectuals 70 years ago. There were planting a lot of young trees, pines and others, at the scene of the massacre, in conscious effort to masque the horrific scene. To veil the truth. To bury the history. 

Today, seventy years later, that forest has grown up quite substantially. And it is over the nearby trees that the second Katyn has happened to the Polish nation at the days of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the first one when led by the presidential couple, 97-strong official delegation of Poland met their death in Katyn premises. Devastating, shocking, unbelievable, chilling breath of the Katyn deadly spirit has hit again. Still alive 70 years later, as the whole world witnessed the devastation in helpless dismay on Saturday April 10th, 2010.

We all could be struck by a murky, paralysing symbolism when the worst possible catastrophe for the Polish nation has occurred at the same place, damned for Poland, and at the moment of commemoration of the anniversary of the Katyn massacre. We all could be stunned by the devastation of loss when the Polish nation has been literally decapitated in this unparalleled blow of Katyn-2 when taken away in a moment are the country's president and his wife, his nearest advisers, the entire leadership of whole Polish army and security service, numerous members of Seim and senators, the head of the National bank, high government officials, and important religious leaders.

How awfully sad and painful it is to realise that among those died in that murkily foggy morning, there were such symbolic for Poland figures as the country's last president in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, granddaughter of the Polish hero, one of two generals murdered in Katyn in 1940 general Mieczyslaw Smorawinski, world known prominent member of Solidarnost - Anna Walentynowicz.

And how terribly painful and irreversible is the death of those who were symbolising the Polish sense of devoted pursuit the truth in so tragic and challenging history of this nation. Katyn-2 claimed the lives of leadership of ROPWiMPolish Council of Defence of Memory of Struggle & MartyrsThe Institute of the National Memorythe state Department for veterans and repressed personalitiesAssociation of the Polish Siberian exilesParafiada societyFederation of Katyn FamiliesWarsaw Katyn FamiliesKatyn CommitteeGolgothas of the East Foundation... All those people for whom, as well for their families and organisations all over Poland, the pain and consequences of Katyn was the essence of existence, the essential motivation in life, in their staunch determination to unmask the truth of the crime against humanity which has been committed there on Stalin's order and by his brutal executioners seventy years ago. But it does not mean that the second awful tragedy of Poland will prevent unmasking of the truth of Katyn. Knowing the noble and proud Polish character, one can be absolutely sure that there is no chance for a cover-up, in both direct and metaphorical sense.

Experts will be working hard to establish the details which lead to that catastrophe. And some first obvious prepositions of the analysis have been made already: it is too dangerous to have such high trees and unattended forest in close proximity of an airfield as they have in Smolensk; it is not appropriate to have the conversation with foreign pilots in Russian as the Russian aviation controllers did; it is quite risky and against security rules to fly so many persons of leadership in the same transport vehicle; and it is really unsafe to use Russian made civil airplanes especially those made after the collapse of Soviet Union as this fatal TU-154 which has been produced in 1990 when Russia itself was in complete ruins. But all this is not really a point in the face of the stunning emptiness when Poland's breath is taken away. 

Surely, late President Kaczynski was quite aware with security rules, and the problems with his airplane. Poland was aware of the need of changing the leadership fleet. But all who knew Lech Kaczynski and his people, knew of their emphasised modesty, both personal and in the practical ways of ruling the state. They were determined to keep it at low costs, crisis or not. Principles mattered, not furnishing of those. It was true, unpretentious modesty of brave hearts and determined minds. Sometimes, very tragically, the best of us are paying the highest price for their unpretentious determination.

As for coming all in the same plane, there were the reasons for that as well. The reason which in the eyes of the Polish leadership, really proud patriots, did prevail the routine security concerns. Just couple of days before the events of April 10th, the Russian leadership had their own ceremony in Katyn. Trying to outsmart the Polish side, they invited there only and specifically Polish prime-minister Donald Tusk, emphatically teaching a lesson to President Kaczynski with not even extending an invitation to him. Donald Tusk accepted that odd and meaningful invitation, and participated in the Russian ceremony in the Katyn forest on April 7th. Nobody is envying him, or anyone who would find itself in such moral turmoil, now. 

But the point of such big part of the Polish leadership, its entire military and highest security command, and all the others who went onboard the plane, is that all those big figures and significant people did want to be there with the country's president, going to that ceremony organized solely by the Polish as one team, in understated but telling-it-all move of support of dignified reading history and its lessons. Despite the fogs.

They knew the risk. And they took it. They paid for that terribly, making all of us to become shaken in disbelief and frozen in sorrow. But it is very important to realise that the brave hearts of the proud Polish patriots whom their country was really lucky to have as their leaders for what now will be known and remembered as Kaczynski's era, lead them and their strong nation to commemorate their noble and courageous people murdered in cold blood 70 years ago. They did it in their own, simple but well articulated way, not in the way prescribed by the Russian side, still admitting nothing, and their somewhat artificial scenario of trying to seat on two chairs, or, as it usually goes in such sport, in between them.

Katyn Forest still haunts Poland. When we, human beings, do not eradicate evil, it doubles its strength. The next day after the tragedy, Russian state Russia-1 television decided to screen the film Katyn by Andrzei Waida, extraordinary tribute for those massacred in the forest of death 70 years ago. Two years after the making of the movie, Russian officials and their culture institutions pretended not to be aware of its existence. They showed it for the first time in the beginning of April, on the eve of the Russian-led ceremony in Katyn. It was shown on a qualified but marginal Culture channel, without announcement, as if decision has been made at the last minute. Now the Waida's unwanted truth has been respectfully broadcast by the leading Russian state channel at prime time. Russia, as well as Ukraine, and the EU also declared the day of national mourning on April 12th. The Russian public largely reacts to the Polish tragedy with warmth and sympathy, being obviously shocked and perceptive. 

The Russian leadership is painstakingly trying to do their best after the second major tragedy in Katyn has occurred before our eyes. Could this all be the beginning of awakening of their awareness with the simple fact that however uncomfortable the truth is, it is still the best remedy for normal human beings and their societies to preserve their dignity and to earn respect?

And maybe, this awful recent and chillingly symbolic tragedy in the Katyn Forest of Death will make, at last, the Russian leaders to stop the ultra nationalistic activities of those of their subordinates who in spite of all the horrors of Stalinism world-wide are seem to be hell-bent to manifest in their capital Stalin's mega-posters as a part of décor during the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the end of the WWII? Now it is time to do something more than just screen a movie, however brilliant, on a state channel of Russia. The unhealed wounds of Katyn are screaming for it.

April 11th, 2010 
© Inna Rogatchi, 2010

Inna Rogatchi is the writer and the president of The Rogatchi Foundation. She is senior international affairs advisor to the European Parliament, and senior strategy advisor to a number of international human rights and modern history institutions.

First published in The Kracow Post, April 2010.

Copyright © 2017 by the Inna and Michael Rogatchi Foundation. All rights reserved.