Now the Poles have another reason never to forget the Katyn massacre

The timing of the plane crash that has killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage could not come at a worse time for Russo-Polish relations. The president and his official party were on their way to attend a memorial service for the Katyn massacre when their plane crashed as it made its final approach to Smolensk airport.

Katyn Massacre Memorial: Photo by Smolensk Memoryal (Alyeksyey Melkin) released into the public doman via Wikiwedia Commons

The Katyn massacre, in which an estimated 20,000 Poles were murdered by the Russians on the personal orders of the then President of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, has become an iconic issue for millions of Poles, who regard it as the most egregious example of Russia’s historic hatred for the Polish people. The issue is so sensitive that for decades Moscow flatly denied any involvement in the murder of thousands of Polish military officers, politicians and artists during the Second World War, insisting that the murders were instead carried out by the Nazis. It is only in recent years that Moscow officially admitted responsibility, and President Kaczynski and his party were on their way to attend a special event to commemorate the massacre.

Although tensions still remain between Moscow and Warsaw, the fact the Russian government has now admitted responsibility for the massacre was seen as an attempt by the Russians to repair relations with their Polish neighbours.

But while this tragic plane crash is unlikely to materially affect this diplomatic rapprochement, it will nevertheless have a lasting impact on Polish attitudes to the Katyn massacre. Instead of trying to consign the Katyn saga to the history books, whenever Katyn is mentioned in future they will be reminded of the plane crash that claimed the lives of their president and his entourage.

By Con Coughlin Last updated: April 10th, 2010 –

Con Coughlin

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s executive foreign editor, is a world-renowned expert on the Middle East and Islamic terrorism. He is the author of several critically acclaimed books. His new book, Khomeini’s Ghost, is published by Macmillan.

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