Opposition MPs propose to assist Poland in unraveling Katyn massacre

  • 2005-04-06
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Opposition MPs have urged the government to assist neighboring Poland in its fight for justice against Moscow, which has refused to unravel World War II's Katyn massacre.
Leader of the parliamentary opposition, Andrius Kubilius, argued that the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) should protest against the Russian Prosecutor General, who discontinued an investigation of the massacre, and instead qualified it as a civil crime. To add insult to injury, Russian prosecutors refused to reveal some of the mass graves.

"[We] support the Polish Seimas's decision and demand that the names of all culprits responsible for the massacre of 20,000 Polish officers in Katyn become public, and that the material compiled in Russia would be made available for Polish investigators," Kubilius said in his proposal.

On March 31, Kubilius registered a draft resolution in Parliament suggesting that the government encourage Lithuanians who may possess some knowledge of the Katyn massacre to assist the Institute of National Memory of Poland, which began an independent investigation into the case.

Kubilius said the government should obtain the list of officers murdered in Katyn and other massacre sites from April 's May 1940 to ascertain whether there were any Lithuanian prisoners or relatives of living Lithuanians among them.

A couple weeks ago, Poland's parliament addressed Moscow with demands for a full condemnation of the massacre, which was conducted by the Soviet security police, the NKVD, in the Katyn forests. Polish MPs have demanded that Russia make case material available for Polish scholars, and that they publicize the murderers' names.

Poland has long been asking Moscow to condemn the Katyn massacre, but last year Russian law enforcement authorities discontinued the investigation without explanation. Earlier this month, Russia's government dismissed Warsaw's demand that the massacre should qualify as genocide.

Discontent with the Russian investigation, which spanned over a decade, Polish authorities have initiated a case investigation of their own. Warsaw is complaining that Russian authorities are unwilling to provide the necessary documents, which are still being kept confidential.

The Katyn forest is located near the village of Gneizdovo, a short distance from Smolensk, which is located in Russia on the Belarusian border. In 1940, on Stalin's orders, the NKVD shot and buried over 4,000 Polish service personnel who had been kept prisoners when the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939 during the wake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

The mass liquidation exterminated much of Poland's intelligentsia. Most of the victims were Polish army reservists 's lawyers, doctors, scientists and businessmen 's who had been called to service following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. In the spring of 1940, about 4,500 of these officers were taken by their Soviet captors to the Katyn forest. Most were shot in the head and buried on the spot.

In 1943, German soldiers discovered a mass grave in the Katyn forest, which held the bodies of between 4,000 and 5,000 Polish army officers. Nazi officials publicized the grave and accused the Soviets of the massacre. In response, Moscow denied the charge and claimed that the Germans were attempting to cover up their own atrocity.

After the war, the issue of Katyn was originally included on the list of crimes attributed to the Nazis at the Nuremberg war crime tribunal. But the whole subject was later dropped, and Katyn doesn't appear in the Nuremberg trials' final conclusion. Soviet authorities flatly rejected the German-appointed commission's accusations, blaming the murder on the Nazis, and made discussion of the massacre a taboo.

It wasn't until 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev admitted to Soviet involvement in the Katyn forest massacre. Later, the Russian government released documents indicating that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had directly ordered the killing of the Polish army officers.