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7 Apr, 2010 03:31

Massacre of Poles in Soviet era still overshadows relations with Russia

With top Russian and Polish officials attending a ceremony commemorating the WWII massacre of Polish war prisoners in Katyn, the issue still divides peoples of the two countries.

Katyn, a forest near the city of Smolensk in the West of Russia, is the location where over 20,000 Polish officers were executed in 1940 under Stalin’s regime.

At the time, the Soviet Union denied any responsibility and tried to blame Nazi forces for the killings. In the 1930s Soviet security officials planted a forest to hide the mass graves of thousands of political prisoners, who had been murdered and buried.

But a document released by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s clearly showed the signature of Joseph Stalin on the execution order.

Despite the official apologies and monuments erected to commemorate the victims, today not everyone is prepared to let bygones be bygones.

“There are some Polish politicians who actually do not want any apologies from Russia. They need apologies from Russia to continue bashing Russia. And there are some people who made their political careers on anti-Russian propaganda in Poland,” says Dmitry Babich from “Russia Profile" magazine.

This approach affects not only official relations between the two countries, but also the attitude of people.

“My son's wife often went abroad with groups of tourists. She did not want to go to Russia, the Soviet Union, for a long time because she thought that this country had committed a crime. But when she finally went there and saw everything with her own eyes, she said that people were great but she did not like the political regime”, says a Polish veteran.

Many in Poland cannot forgive Russia for the Katyn massacre, not just because of the killings themselves, but also because of the lie that has been carried on for years.

Poland demands that all archives be opened in order that the "complete truth" be revealed and any surviving perpetrators be brought to justice.

But politicians may be too unwilling to see that Katyn was a tragedy that has been acknowledged and mourned – as the bell that tolls there every morning testifies.