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Russia’s Justice Ministry sees no reasons for appealing against the resolution of the Strasbourg Court on the Katyn affair. The ministry’s statement followed Monday’s decision by the European Court for Human Rights to declare the shooting of Polish military near Katyn in 1940 as a war crime not liable to the statute of limitations. At the same time the court found on reasons for re-investigating the affair.
Russian officials believe that re-investigating Katyn again and again will make no sense, and human rights activists claim that Russia should open all archives and ask Poland for forgiving crimes committed by the Stalinist regime.
Earlier, the Polish side complained to the Strasbourg Court that Russia had investigated the Katyn massacre ineffectively. The very instance of out-of-court execution of 22,000 Polish citizens is not the subject matter of the complaint, which concerned violations committed by modern law enforcement agencies – prosecutors and courts.
Russia’s chief military prosecutor’s office in 2004 closed the case, because all of the suspects had been dead by that time. The State Duma in the autumn of 2010 officially ruled that the Katyn affair was a “terrible tragedy”, an “atrocity” and a result of “arbitrariness by the totalitarian Stalinist regime.” In the same year the Russian authorities published electronic copies of the documents concerning the executed Poles and handed over to Poland the files of the criminal case.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski last April placed the responsibility for the Katyn crime on the Soviet leadership of that period. He said, “no one should have doubts the Russian state and myself, as the president of the Russian Federation, have made the exhaustive evaluation of the causes of what had happened, and of who was to blame for that gravest crime.”
The European Court for Human Rights on Monday made public its ruling on the case Janowiec and Others vs Russia, in which 15 plaintiffs protested against Russia’s 1990-2004 investigation of the “Katyn case,” opened over the mass shooting of Polish officers in the Katyn, Mednoye and Pyatikhatki villages. The ECHR ruled that the shooting may be qualified as a war crime, because the requirement for humane treatment of prisoners of war and a ban on their murder were part of common international law, which the Soviet authorities were obliged to honor. But after Russia’s ratification of the Human Rights Convention in 1998 no fresh evidence has been unearthed that might be used to oblige the Russian authorities resume the investigation.
However, the Russian side, although it had promised to hand over to Poland the findings of the investigation, has done this not to the full extent. Some documents have been classified for state security reasons. The ECHR has not found any legal evidence of the existence of some threat to the security of the state that might excuse the decision to classify the documents. The court ruled that Russia had violated the rights of relatives by failing to present the documents to them and forcing them to probe into the plight of their relatives and the place of their burial without cooperation by the authorities.
The resolution was adopted by a 50% plus one-vote majority, and nearly all judges wrote down their separate opinions. The Russian lawyer of the Poles, Anna Stavitskaya, does not believe that there are winners and losers in the Katyn case. “It will be up to the ECHR Great Chamber to give make the final decision,” she said.
The plaintiffs’ Polish lawyer, Ireneusz Kaminski, has already said that he would appeal against the ECHR decision, because the question of the abuse of the right to life, in his opinion, has remained unresolved.
The head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, Mikhail Margelov, is quoted by the RBC daily as saying that it would make no sense to re-investigate the affair again and again. The court has found no reasons for which Russia might be obliged to resume the investigation. At that stage Russia won with a one-vote majority.
He said “tremendous work” had been accomplished, and it was appreciated by the Polish side. The State Duma has qualified the massacre of Polish citizens in Katyn as an act of arbitrariness by the totalitarian regime. The case files began to be handed over to Poland in 1990, but the process got most active in the recent years, when in 2010 the state archive Rosarkhiv, acting on instructions from the Russian president, placed on its website copies of the authentic documents about those shot, Margelov recalled. In all, the Polish side has received 148 of the 183 volumes of the criminal case, and the declassification of materials is going on. Russia has no intention of concealing anything, Margelov said.
The head of the presidential council for human rights, Mikhail Fedotov, has said that all documents concerning Katyn, including the resolution by the chief military prosecutor’s office to close down the criminal case, must be declassified. At the same time he acknowledged that the declassification procedure is a lengthy one.
The refusal to declassify the documents of the NKVD secret police and the findings of the chief military prosecutor’s office can be interpreted as evidence the people in power have begun to identify the interests of the country with the interests of the clan having roots in an organization that is reluctant to distance itself from NKVD crimes, says the chairman of the Polish commission of the international historical and enlightenment society Memorial, Alexander Guryanov, who is quoted by the daily Vedomosti.
“Foreigners are doing for us, Russians, our own job, a job that we should be doing ourselves,” says the former editor-in-chief of the Moscow office of the Russian service of the BBC, Kommersant-FM observer Konstantin Eggert. “An international court, and not a Russian one, has recognized the mass executions of 1940 as war crimes. Also, it cracked down on the Russian judiciary with strong criticism – for its calloused attitude to the relatives of victims, for keeping the archives closed, and for the actual refusal to cooperate with the court in this matter.”
“First, the Soviet authorities in 1990 and then the Russian authorities several times later recognized the shooting of the Poles a crime of the Stalinist Regime,” Eggert recalls. “Everyone who still has the ability to think logically has realized that Stalin and Hitler were allies for two years – from September 1939 through June 1941. Why after all that is it not possible to fully open the archives, to invite the descendants to Moscow and let them hear from the Russian president: ‘This is our tragedy and our pain. Modern Russia is new Russia and it is asking you for forgiveness?’ Eggert asks.
MOSCOW, April 17