Miranda Devine



"Sic vive cum hominibus, tamquam deus videat; sic loquere cum deo, tamquam homines audiat" Seneka

Polish pain for the world to see (Oby świat ujrzał polski ból)
Miranda Devine 
The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, April 17, 2010

They were ''the most patriotic of the political elites … who remained faithful to the ideals of Solidarity, not only in the difficult times of communism, but also in more difficult times of liberalism … who are not afraid to clash with [post-communist foes],'' says Professor Peter Jaroszynski, head of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin.

It was a high price to pay for the world to learn about Katyn, is how a Polish friend described the plane crash in Russia which killed Poland's president and 95 political elite, top military leaders, MPs, bishops, and the president of the national bank.
President Lech Kaczynski, 60, a staunch anti-communist, his wife Maria and fellow dignitaries were en route to a commemoration of the 1940 massacre by Stalin's secret police of more than 20,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest outside Smolensk, Russia, when their plane crashed in fog.
In the middle of World War II, those murdered, with a bullet in the back of the head before being dumped in mass graves in the forest, were also Poland's elite - the military leadership and reservists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and public servants.
The uncanny coincidence of the two tragedies, 70 years apart, has opened old wounds in Poland where mistrust of Russia runs deep. For others, it is seen as an opportunity for rapprochement.
For the first time last week, Russian television aired the award-winning movie Katyn, by the Polish director Andrzej Wajda, whose father was massacred. It was replayed to an even bigger audience three days later, the night of the plane crash. For many Russians, it was a revelation, because for almost 50 years, the truth about Katyn had been suppressed. It was not until 1990 that Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet communist leader, admitted culpability, but in the West it was played down as an inconvenient artefact of history.
In 1943, when Katyn's mass graves were discovered, the Soviets blamed Nazi Germany, exhuming the bodies, falsifying records, threatening witnesses and forcing families of victims to remain silent. Poland's allies, Britain and the US, were told the truth but accepted the Soviet version, as they depended on ''Uncle Joe'' Stalin to win the war in Europe.
''There is no use prowling morbidly round the three-year-old graves of Smolensk,'' Winston Churchill said at the time. It was a messy compromise that would set the stage for the Cold War, as the English historian Norman Davies wrote in No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945. For many Poles, Katyn has come to symbolise all the injustices since 1939, when Russia and Germany combined to invade Poland. The war didn't end in 1945 for Poland, which just went from one oppressor to another, betrayed, maligned, and misunderstood despite its courageous resistance.
Kaczynski and allies were at the forefront of moves to correct the lies but they hadn't expected to sacrifice their lives. This tragedy has happened at a time when Poland is stronger than it has been since the 16th century. Its economy was the only one in Europe to grow last year and it is tipped to overtake Germany as Europe's industrial powerhouse. When I was in Warsaw last year, cranes filled the skyline, and many of the million young Poles who had left to work in London were flocking home to plentiful jobs.
But Poland is riven by a concentrated form of the culture wars, with two sides vying for the nation's future. Kaczynski, from the opposition Law and Justice party, and most of those on board the ill-fated Tupolev jet, represented old Poland: patriotic, devoutly Catholic and anti-communist; many, like Kaczynski, jailed during the communist era, had formed the backbone of the Solidarity movement, were opposed to free-market reforms, remained deeply suspicious of Russia, and were devoted to the US alliance.
They were ''the most patriotic of the political elites … who remained faithful to the ideals of Solidarity, not only in the difficult times of communism, but also in more difficult times of liberalism … who are not afraid to clash with [post-communist foes],'' says Professor Peter Jaroszynski, head of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin.
Then there is the new secular Poland, which looks towards Europe for its future, eagerly joined the EU, and is represented by the pragmatic Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, of the Civic Platform party, who was reportedly not on speaking terms with Kaczynski.
Even the 70th anniversary of Katyn was cause for conflict between the two Polands. Tusk flew to Katyn three days before the plane crash for an unprecedented joint memorial service with the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, to which Kaczynski was pointedly not invited.
There, Putin went further than any Russian leader when he described the ''cynical lies'' told to cover up the truth.
He said Russians, too, were victims of Stalin. ''Our people, who endured the horrors of the civil war, forced collectivisation, and the mass repressions of the 1930s, understand very well - perhaps better than anybody else - what Katyn, Mednaya, Pyatikhatka mean to many Polish families, because this sad list includes sites of mass executions of Soviet citizens, too''.
But the former KGB leader did not apologise for the massacre, and refuses to release documents requested by the elderly children of Katyn's victims. Snubbed by Putin, President Kaczynski organised his own commemoration last Saturday for those descendants. That was where his plane was heading when it crashed.
Conspiracy theories have swirled ever since. One Polish MP, Artur Gorski, told the newspaper Nasz Dziennik the Russians ''came up with some dubious reasons'' for the plane not to land because they did not want Kaczynski to ''overshadow'' the ceremony attended by Putin and Tusk.
Russian military sources claim Smolensk air traffic controllers four times ordered Kaczynski's plane not to land because of fog, and to reroute to an airport 400 kilometres away in Minsk. Critics of Kaczynski claimed he once pressured a pilot to land in unsafe circumstances.
The black box recorder which might solve the mystery is in the hands of Russian authorities.
However, Putin's apparent sensitivity in the aftermath of the tragedy has impressed many Poles and prompted hopes of a Russian-Polish reconciliation. Even Professor Jaroszynski is optimistic, saying the Kaczynski forces already ''achieved a lot [in] restoring memory and rebirth of moral principles in public life … Those tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of candles and flowers before the Presidential Palace are proof, and the prayers of millions of hearts. So while it will be difficult, [the tragedy] has reborn Poland, and ensured the sacrifices of those who died at Katyn are not in vain.''
One thing is certain, as President Barack Obama of the US and other heads of state fly to Cracow for tomorrow's funeral of the Polish President and his wife, the whole world at last knows the truth about Katyn.



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