Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Katyn forest massacre

> For Poles, Katyn is a symbol of the criminal policy of the Soviet system
> against the Polish nation. In the Polish-Soviet relations in the years
> 1917-1991, Katyn is the culminating moment. The "Katyn Massacre" is a
> symbolic term, referring to one of the places of extermination of the
> Polish leading elite during the Second World War, the first to be
> discovered - the Katyn forest near Smolensk.

> The Katyn Massacre was the secret execution by the Soviets of almost
> 22,000 citizens of the Polish state who - after the Red Army entered Poland
> on 17 September 1939 - were taken prisoner or arrested. Pursuant to a
> secret decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist
> Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) of 5 March 1940, approximately
> 15,000 POWs, previously held in special NKVD camps in Kozelsk, Ostashkov
> and Starobilsk, and 7,000 persons interned in prisons of the western
> district of the Ukrainian and Belarusian republic, i.e. the eastern
> territories of Poland included into the Soviet Union in 1939, were killed
> with a shot in the back of the head.

>> The victims were mainly important citizens of the Polish state: officers
> of the Polish Army and the Police, officials of the state administration,
> and representatives of intellectual and cultural elites in Poland. They
> were buried anonymously in mass graves, in at least five places within the
> territory of the Soviet Union. In April-May 1940, POWs from three special
> NKVD camps were transported by trains to the places of execution: Katyn
> (from the Kozelsk camp), Kalinin (from the Ostashkov camp), from Kharkiv
> (Starobilsk camp). Those killed in Kalinin (currently Tver) were buried in
> Mednoye. Others, held in prisons and murdered there, were buried in
> previously undetermined places; two are known: in the Belarusian Republic
> and the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR (Kuropaty near Minsk and Bykivnia
> near Kiev).

>> After the outbreak of the German-Soviet war and the Polish
> Government-in-Exile initiating official relations with the Government of
> the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the Soviet authorities failed to
> provide Poles - despite their efforts - with any information concerning
> those "missing in action". The Soviet Union broke the alliance in April
> 1943, when the German Army stationed in the Smolensk region discovered a
> burial ground in the Katyn Forest and attacked the Soviet Union for
> propaganda purposes. Soviet authorities responded with the tactic of
> pinning the blame on the Germans who had allegedly murdered Poles after
> entering those territories in 1941. Stalin, using the pretext of "slander
> against the USSR", broke relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile (in
> London).

>> The "Katyn" case was one the best guarded secrets of the Kremlin during
> the entire USSR period. When, after the end of the Second World War, during
> the Nuremberg Trials, the Soviet Union failed to pin the blame for the
> massacre on the Germans (but at the same time managed to avoid being judged
> for its deeds), the Soviet authorities permanently adopted the
> interpretation of the "Katyn lie", in defiance of the facts: the Soviets
> had nothing to do with the massacre of Polish officers - German fascism is
> responsible for everything...

> The Katyn Massacre was not an isolated event. It was the consequence of
> system differences, the Soviet attempt at creating a state of the world
> proletariat, and the growing hostility between the Soviet Russia and the
> pre-war Poland. When, after the end of the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920,
> which was victorious for Poland, the Soviets had to give up the export of
> the revolution to the West for many years, and Stalin himself was
> criticised for his significant mistakes on the Polish front - the Soviet
> authorities accepted their Western neighbour to be their main enemy. During
> the Great Terror in the USSR in the years 1937-1938, which was aimed at
> pacifying the anti-Bolshevik mutiny brewing in the whole of Russia, the
> Soviets fought Polish groups in their territories with extreme fierceness.
> Over 70,000 Poles (Soviet citizens) were killed with a shot to the back of
> the head at that time. One in every ten victims of the Great Terror was
> related to Poland. The mechanism of mass exterminations was fine-tuned in
> the USSR then.

> When in September 1939 Stalin, after entering into an alliance with
> Hitler, attacked Poland defending itself against the Germans, one of his
> aims was to permanently destroy the Polish statehood. From the very first
> moments of that aggression, the Soviets consistently isolated (or killed on
> the spot) those people whom they regarded to be representatives of the
> group of leaders of the state that was being destroyed, and particularly
> the officers. One might imagine that the Soviet authorities planned their
> systemic elimination in advance - just as it was planned by the Nazis in
> "their" part of the occupied Poland. With regard to those prisoners the
> Soviet did not apply the rules of international law, that is why they held
> on to the lie they devised with such consistency.

> After the relations with Poland were severed in 1943, and after the Soviet
> Union took control of Poland's territory in the years 1944-1945, it
> controlled the subjugated country, ruled by puppet governments subordinated
> to the communist empire, well into the eighties. During that period, the
> demands for the truth about "Katyn" were treated as an act hostile not only
> against the USSR but also the People's Republic of Poland. This is because
> the post-war Poland was harnessed to the "Katyn lie".

> After the system changes in the entire Soviet bloc (1989-1991), the demand
> for the explanation of the truth about "Katyn" also appeared on the Russian
> side. Many Russians helped in discovering the truth about that crime. In
> the years 1990-1992 the main "Katyn" documents were disclosed, including
> the decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist
> Party of the Soviet Union (b) of 5 March 1940, signed among others by
> Stalin. In August 1993, a group of Russian historians developed an
> exhaustive expert appraisal in Moscow, presenting honestly the process of
> the crime and the subsequent lies.

> Those guilty of this crime have never been judged. Although the people who
> made the decision are known, as are over one hundred executioners (the list
> of persons rewarded for the "camp clearing" campaign was disclosed).
> However, the investigation on the Russian side was discontinued, and the
> Russian authorities refuse to make any comments on this subject. No one has
> been and no one will be punished for the crime.

> There is a material trace of the crime. Three cemeteries built by the
> Poles - in Katyn, Mednoye and Kharkiv - where each and every one from among
> almost 15,000 Polish POWs is commemorated by name. This is an exception
> among the graveyards remaining after the crimes of the Soviet power.

Russian and Polish prime ministers honour the WWII Katyn massacre

In an unprecedented move, the Russian and Polish prime ministers on Wednesday 7th April honoured together 22,000 Polish officers murdered 70 years ago by the Soviets in the WWII Katyn massacre.

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Poland's Donald Tusk paid their respects to Soviet victims of Stalinist-era terror campaigns buried next to Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, western Russia.

Soviet NKVD secret police massacred Polish military elites mobilised to combat Nazi Germany's September 1, 1939 attack on Poland after they were captured by the Red Army following its September 17 invasion from the east.

Although the slaughter was committed in several places, Katyn has become its chief symbol.
It also represents what was perhaps the most flagrant lie proffered for half a century by Soviet propaganda, which long claimed Nazi Germany was to blame.

Although in 1990 then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that Moscow was responsible, even today few Russians -- long fed on Soviet propaganda -- know the truth about Katyn.

The memory of Katyn remains a painful issue in Polish-Russian relations, which have often been tense since Poland peacefully threw off communism and Soviet dominance in 1989, joining NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.

Russian courts have classified the vast majority of files in the Katyn massacre case, making it impossible to access information that could prove helpful in finding those still missing.

On March 5, the Russian NGO "Memorial" called on President Dmitry Medvedev to reopen the investigation into this "war crime and crime against humanity".

As a sign of the new openness on this question earlier this month, Russia's public Kultura television channel aired "Katyn", a film by Polish director Andrzej Wajda about the massacre.

After the ceremonies at the cemetery in Katyn, Putin and Tusk had a face-to-face talk in nearby Smolensk during a meeting of a joint task-force on "difficult issues" in bilateral relations.

Among the most contentious issues, was Poland's decision to host US Patriot missiles on its soil and the possible involvement of Warsaw in the new version of a planned US missile shield.
Both are the source of considerable concern for the Kremlin.

Poland for its part has opposed the joint Russian-German NordStream project to build a natural gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea floor, thus bypassing Polish territory. Warsaw sees this as a threat to its energy security, not to mention lost gas transit earnings.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sicily - a memorable trip

First day
Monday 22nd March

The welcoming reception was truly exceptional with all the colours of traditional costumes and sounds of lively music. The headmaster opened the day with his speech to greet us whole heartedly. We could try dancing different traditional dances ourselves, enjoy delicious Sicilian food prepared by our hosts and play games that we were teaching each other. All to be followed by a little more serious exchange of information about our countries, traditions and customs.

Our Palermo trip

Tuesday 23rd March
Text and photos by Szymon Bartuś (Kolegium Europjskie, Cracow, Poland)

During the second day of our stay in Sicily, we had a pleasure to do sightseeing in its capital city, Palermo. The trip was led by a professional guide and was very rich in historical sights.
We began our tour by visiting the gardens of San Giovanni degli Eremiti church. The church itself is quite an extraordinary building, dating back to the 6th century and being influenced by both Muslim and Byzantine civilizations. But for me and my group, the largest impression was made by its gardens. We were very surprised to see oranges simply growing on trees, looking ready to be collected (Pic. 1. – 2.). Oranges are obviously known and popular fruits in Poland but because of the local climate they can’t be grown there, so very few people have any idea what orange trees look like. There was also a grenade tree in the garden - in our region grenades are almost unknown.
Next, we had quite a long walk, during which we saw the ruins of an ancient Roman mansion (Pic. 3.) – a reminder that Palermo is indeed an ancient city. During the walk we also passed the Quattro Canti square, known for its Baroque architecture (Pic. 4.). Our trip arrived in the front of Fontana Pretoria at Piazza Pretoria square (Pic. 5.). The fountain itself is one of the primary examples of renaissance style in the city. It turns out that the structure was first built in Florence (in 1555) and about 20 years later bought by the Senate of Palermo. It was dismantled, transported to Sicily and assembled again. On the side of the fountain, the building of Sicilian government is located. There were even some protests in the front of it as we were walking nearby! The next sight was San Cataldo church (Pic. 6.), built around 1160 and notable for its Arab-style exterior and red domes (the guide told us that Islamic influences are very widespread in Palermo’s architecture). The last church we visited was the largest one – the huge Palermo Cathedral (Pic. 7.). Our formal trip concluded with a bus ride around the city, during which we could see the coast and botanical gardens.
After the scheduled sightseeing every person had a free lunch time. It definitely appealed to me as I find Italian cuisine quite delicious. All Polish students went together to one restaurant and spend some good time together. Finally, the bus took us back to Alcamo.

Selinunte Temples and Mazara del Vallo
Wednesday 24th March

Text and photos by Virginia Wąsikowska (Kolegium Europjskie, Cracow, Poland)
The third day of our trip didn’t promise very optimistic – the sky was covered by a thick layer of clouds and there was a rain threatening. Like previously, the bus was waiting by the castle, at the Piazza della Repubblica. At 8.00, when everyone sat down comfortably in the bus, we finally set off to Selinunte.
Selinunte is located on the south coast of Sicily, in the province of Trapani. Situated in a strategic point between two rivers, Belice and Modione, Selinunte used to be one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily. The main point of our trip was the complex of temples, or I should rather say it’s ruins as out of five temples only one, known as the Temple of Hera, has been reconstructed. By the time we reached Selinunte the weather cleared up and we eagerly started the walk. The most remarkable places were the Temple of Hera (also called the Temple E) and the ruins of the biggest temple in the area - Temple G.

There’s an interesting curiosity connected with the place’s name, which – according to etymologists - have been derived from wild parsley, which grew in large quantities on the spot. The parsley leaf was also adopted by the citizens of Selinunte as the symbol on coins.
When the sightseeing came to an end everyone was hungry, so we had lunch in Selinunte, at one of the restaurants with the wonderful view on the sea. Then, we could relax on the beach and sunbath a little bit.
We sent the afternoon in Mazara del Vallo, sightseeing it’s old city center, however the most interesting was the Museum of the dancing Satyr – Greek statue made of bronze. In 1997 on the southern coast of Sicily a fishing boat fished out the leg of the statue. The discovery was so outstanding that the boat’s crew decided to throw its nets in the same place in order to find the rest of the sculpture and after a year, in March 1998 the crew find the torso of the sculpture. The sculpture is dated in the early 2nd century CE. Although some parts of the figure are missing (arms, one leg, tail) it is very well preserved, despite millennia spent at the bottom of the sea. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos there.
We finished the trip with the diner at “Baglio Giorlando” and then set back to Alcamo.

Erice and Trapani
Next, we were off to the town of Trapani, right on the coast, with part of the older section jutting out. Drove past vast expanses of salt pans where salt production has been carried on commercially for centuries. Trapani also produces a lot of vineyards & olives.

Another town we visited was the medieval town of Erice with its stunning views and wonderful surrounding coastline. Old Norman castles (around 11th century) sit precariously at the very edge of the cliffs as you approach on foot.The old town looks just like one imagines it might have almost 1000 years ago! Small, narrow, cobbled streets suitable only for pedestrian traffic these days, but once the routes for small carts drawn by horse, abound (you can still see rows of wider pavers marking where the cart wheels were positioned in days gone by). Lovely old churches, shops, eateries, etc everywhere.... we could sample famous local almond/sugar sweets.

And in the Evening back to Alcamo to feast on real! Pizzas and sing some karaoke during the farewell party.

Riserva Naturale Orientata Zingaro
Friday 26th March

Text and photos by Iwetta Musiał (Kolegium Europjskie, Cracow, Poland)
We have visited Zingaro Reserve, a real paradise of nature for the great variety of natural environments. It is located near the sea and the coast opens towards it with high and indented calcareous walls interrupted by inlets, rocky ravines, and caves.
From the sea level to the highest peak Mt. Speziale (913 m above the sea level) we have met different kinds of ecosystems, all extremely significant.
The landscape is characterized by harsh and rough shapes. In the most open places, where steep slopes and heaps of stone dominate, many reptiles live: small like the gecko and the hemidactylus (they can climb on vertical walls thanks to the thin hooked lamella present under the fingers), or the ocellated skink, similar to a lizard with short legs, or the two species of lizard (Sicilian and Italian Wall Lizard).
This year, there are some organisations working in the environmental and in the cultural field, such as "La Poiana", whose members have a lot of experience in the environmental field, and the Archaeological Association "Dreapanon", belonging to the Archaeology Groups of Italy, whose archeo-trekking combine archaeology with the pleasure of an outdoor walk. These associations give an extraordinary contribution to promote the knowledge of the wonderful island, rich in natural, environmental and artistic beauties, protecting the wild animals.

Polish, foreign leaders attend Kaczynski funeral in Kraków

KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) – Polish and foreign leaders attended a funeral mass on Sunday for President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, but a volcanic ash cloud over Europe prevented some overseas guests from joining them.

U.S. President Barack Obama was among those forced by the ash cloud to abandon plans to attend the funeral in Krakow for the Kaczynskis, killed on April 10 with 94 other, mostly senior, political and military officials in a plane crash in Russia.

However, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev managed to fly to the city, reinforcing a strong message of Russian solidarity since the crash that has raised Polish hopes for an improvement in long-strained ties with their communist-era overlord.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz praised Russia during the funeral mass, which was held in St Mary's Basilica, a mediaeval church famed for housing Europe's largest carved Gothic altar.

"The tragedy of eight days ago and the sympathy and help extended by the Russians in these days give us hope for better relations between our two great nations. I direct those words to Mr President Medvedev," Dziwisz said.

Nearby, the coffins of Poland's first couple were both draped with the red and white national flag.Kaczynski's daughter Marta and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads Poland's main opposition party, led the mourners. They had insisted the funeral go ahead on Sunday, despite the ash cloud that has closed Polish and other European airports.

Other mourners included Poland's interim President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his government and the presidents of Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Georgia.


Outside, an estimated 50,000 mourners watched the mass on large screens. The Kaczynskis' coffins were later to be taken to Wawel cathedral where they would be laid to rest in a crypt normally reserved for Polish kings, national heroes and poets.

The funeral crowns a week of unprecedented national mourning for the Kaczynskis and the 94 others who perished in the crash.

In Warsaw, Poles had queued through Saturday night to view the coffins while they remained on public display. Early on Sunday, the coffins were flown by military plane to Krakow at a low altitude because of the volcanic ash cloud.

Obama said he regretted being unable to attend the funeral.

"President Kaczynski was a patriot and close friend and ally of the United States, as were those who died alongside him, and the American people will never forget the lives they led," Obama said in a statement.

Poland, part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, is now a member of NATO and a close U.S. ally.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Poland's biggest trade partner, also expressed regret at having to scrap her trip. But Germany's president and foreign minister joined the funeral after flying to Krakow from Berlin by helicopter.

Medvedev's presence was ironic, given that Kaczynski was a stern critic of what he called Russia's "imperialism" toward ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine. During his five years as president, Kaczynski never visited Moscow.

Kaczynski's plane crashed while heading to Katyn forest in western Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret police.

Wawel cathedral was the coronation site of virtually all of Poland's monarchs and the adjacent castle was the center of government for five centuries until the end of the 16th century. Some Poles have staged protest rallies and joined petitions on social media site Facebook against the decision to bury Kaczynski in such a hallowed spot.

Kaczynski was a polarizing figure whose support levels had fallen to about 20 percent before his death. He had been expected to lose a presidential election due in the autumn and now likely to be held on June 20.

The protests were the first cracks in an otherwise remarkable display of national unity since the crash.

By Gabriela Baczynska and Wojciech Zurawski