ANALYSIS: Poland's "second" Katyn tragedy unites, unlike the first
By Dominika Maslikowski Apr 11, 2010, 16:39 GMT
Warsaw - The plane crash that claimed the life of the Polish president was the second tragedy linked to Katyn that united Poland and Russia like the first Soviet-era tragedy could not.
The death of President Lech Kaczynski 95 others, including his wife Maria and dozens of high-ranking officials, has shocked Poland.
The group had been en route to ceremonies in western Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which Soviet secret police executed some 22,000 Polish officers during World War II.
Parallels were quickly drawn between the two Polish tragedies that claimed the lives of the the country's elite, leaving a void in the intellectual and political circles.
But Polish analysts also noted that in the wake of the plane crash, Russian and Polish politicians showed human emotions and unity in gestures that had been lacking at recent official events marking the Katyn massacre.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk paid tribute to the victims of the massacre on April 7, at the first of several commemorative ceremonies in Katyn.
Polish commentators saw Putin's participation as a symbolic gesture, as it was the first time a high-ranking Russian official attended such a ceremony.
But they said there was no breakthrough because Putin avoided an apology and instead blamed totalitarianism for both the Katyn massacre and Russian deaths in the Great Purges of the 1930s.
Commentators, however, were more touched when Putin and Tusk paid tribute at the scene of another tragedy: when the two leaders lay flowers Saturday night at the site of the plane crash in Smolensk, near Katyn.
Tusk knelt and briefly hid his face in his hands, then stood up as Putin padded him on the shoulder. The two hugged, then gave a mutual press conference on the investigation into the crash.
It was a human gesture, and a display of emotion that Poles had longed to see from their eastern neighbours, said commentators on Polish broadcaster TVN 24.
'I hope one of the relevant fruits of this will be unity,' said Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, noting the importance of the 'expressions of sympathy' from Russia.
Because of the tragedy, many Russians will see Katyn for the first time, Gronkiewicz-Waltz said, referring to the film by Polish director Andrzej Wajda that was slated to be shown Sunday during prime-time.
Russia broadcast the film on April 2 on a less-popular culture cable channel, which some Poles took as an attempt to keep the truth quiet about the massacre.
Russia only admitted guilt for the massacre in 1990. Previously the Soviet communist regime had blamed the murders on Nazi Germany and it forbid Polish commemorations of the tragedy.
Some 45 per cent of Russians surveyed by Polish broadcaster TVN said Putin should not apologize on behalf of Russia for the crimes. They believe either that Nazi Germany was guilty for the crimes or that modern Russia cannot be blamed for Soviet-era crimes, the poll of some 1,600 adults, conducted before the plane crash, showed.
But the crash could signal a unity that overcomes a painful history, commentators said, and a start to relations that run deeper than diplomatic gestures.
'Kremlin officials are behaving exemplary and their stance merits praise,' Maciej Ras, a specialist on Russia at the University of Warsaw, told Wirtualna Polska news.
'By announcing a period of national mourning (set for Monday,) or showing the film Katyn at the best broadcast time, the Russians are doing even more than international courtesy dictates.'
Putin said Saturday in a pre-recorded address to the Polish nation that the Russian nation was also in pain and praying along with Poles.
'This is not only a Polish tragedy and a tragedy for the Polish nation, but it is also our tragedy,' Putin said. 'We feel a great pain together with you and we live through it in the same way as you.'