One side-detail of the tragic plane-crash on Saturday that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with much of that country’s political, military, and even financial elite was that the reason all these worthies were headed to a Russian provicincial backwater like Smolensk in the first place was to participate in a very solemn ceremony there. That was to have commemorated the mass-execution, which began exactly seventy years ago, of around 20,000 Polish officers and other prominent citizens by the Soviet secret police, who had had them fall into their hands as a result of the USSR’s invasion of Poland (coordinated with Hitler’s Germany) in September, 1939. This prompted some commentators to write ponderously of a doom-laden Katyn parallel: Poland’s intelligentsia wiped out there in 1940, and then once again in 2010.
Unfortunately, these grim events are now totally obscuring the remarkable progress represented by the very fact that such a delegation of eminent Poles, headed by the President, was being allowed to go there in the first place – and by the no-less remarkable fact that Russian premier Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk had in fact participated in a commemoration ceremony there just last Wednesday. Looking back now at news coverage of these developments – that is, written before this past weekend’s tragedy – produces a very bittersweet feeling, especially from two articles on the Katyn legacy from among the elite of the German press, here the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt. In particular, the latter piece begins with the sentence “Seldom has the Polish public looked at Russia with so much hope as in these days” – on a webpage where, at the very same time, you can click over on the right-hand side (under “Current Videos”) to see a news-film of rescuers searching through the crash-site in the Russian forest!
(By the way, you could be sure that the German coverage of Katyn’s legacy was going to be thorough and high-quality, and not only because Germany’s sheer size of population and cultural inheritance ensures good journalism. Remember that, for decades, it was German soldiers who were alleged to have been at fault here, so you can be sure that German journalists will always be on top of this story to ensure the historic record remains set straight.) (more…)