Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk take part in a commemorative ceremony at Katyn Memorial


“Here lie Soviet citizens burnt in the fires of Stalin’s repressions in the 1930s, Polish officers shot by secret order and soldiers of the Red Army executed by the Nazis during World War II. Katyn has inextricably linked their destinies. … They have been laid to rest, but they will not be forgotten, because it is impossible to erase from memory the martyrdom of these innocent victims and conceal the truth about these crimes”

Vladimir Putin's speech:

Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens.

We have been brought here today by common memory and grief, as well as common historical duty and faith in the future.

We bow our heads before those who died a courageous death here. Those whose aspirations, hopes and talents were mercilessly trampled underfoot. We bow our heads before those who did not return to their mothers, children and loved ones, but will always remain in their hearts.

Here lie Soviet citizens burnt in the fires of Stalin's repressions in the 1930s, Polish officers shot by secret order and soldiers of the Red Army executed by the Nazis during World War II.

Katyn has inextricably linked their destinies. Here, lying next to each other as if in a common grave, they will find eternal peace. They have been laid to rest, but they will not be forgotten, because it is impossible to erase from memory the martyrdom of these innocent victims and conceal the truth about these crimes.

Russia and Poland, and the Russian and Polish peoples, have suffered through practically all the tragedies of the 20th century like no other countries, like no other Europeans. They have paid a heavy price for the two world wars, the fratricidal, armed conflicts and the cruelty and inhumanity of totalitarianism.

Our people, who have lived through the horrors of civil war, forced collectivisation and the massive purges of the 1930s, probably understand better than any other what Katyn, Mednoye, and Pyatikhatka mean to many Polish families, because the sites of massive executions of Soviet citizens are in the same mournful category. It is enough to mention the Butovo testing grounds near Moscow, Sekirnaya Hill in Solovki, the ditches of Magadan and Vorkuta and the unmarked graves of Norilsk and Belomorkanal.

(Stalinist) repression swept people away regardless of their ethnic origin, convictions or religious beliefs. Whole social classes became victims - Cossacks, clergymen, ordinary peasants, professors, officers, some of whom served in the Tsarist army and then came to serve the Soviet state but were still not spared, teachers and workers. The logic was simple - to sow fear, to awaken people's basest instincts, to turn them against each other and to make them obey blindly and unthinkingly.

There is no justification for these crimes. In our country, we have passed a clear political, legal and moral verdict on the atrocities of that totalitarian regime. And this verdict cannot be revised.

It would be hypocritical to urge us all to forget, especially before these graves and the people who come here to honour the memory of their family members. It would be hypocritical to say that everything has sunk into oblivion.

No, we must preserve the memory of the past, and will do so, no matter how bitter it may be. We cannot change the past, but we can preserve and restore the truth and, hence, historical justice.

Russian and Polish historians, clergymen and representatives of the public have undertaken this laborious task. While studying the past they are working for the sake of the truth, and, hence, the future of our bilateral relations.

It is these concerted efforts to reflect on the past and heal historical wounds that can help us avoid misunderstanding, permanent stalemate and primitive interpretations dividing peoples as innocent or guilty, as irresponsible politicians sometimes try to do.

For decades, there were attempts to conceal the truth about the Katyn massacre with cynical lies. But to lay the blame for these crimes on the Russian people would be the same sort of lies and manipulation.

History written with malice and hatred is just as false and glossed over as history adopted to suit the interests of specific individuals or specific groups. I'm sure that this is increasingly understood both in Russia and Poland.

No matter how difficult it may be, we should meet each other halfway, realising that it is impossible to live only in the past.

And so today we are here together. Here, in Katyn, at the commemorative ceremony devoted to the 70th anniversary of the Polish tragedy. And we were together in Gdansk as well, on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. Our nations fought against a common enemy on the fronts.

I'm confident that we will also celebrate the anniversary of the Great Victory (in World War II) together, which was primarily won by the soldiers of the Red Army, and which claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers of the Polish Army, the Armia Krajowa and the Anders Army, as well as lives of thousands of defenders of Moscow and Warsaw, Westerplatte and Smolensk.

Our losses and experience as allies should bring us together. We do not have the moral right to pass on the burden of mistrust to future generations. The modern world and 21st century Europe simply have no alternative to genuinely good neighbourly relations between Russia and Poland. It is a choice worthy of our two nations, which are destined to be together. It is a choice worthy of our shared destiny, which is tragic, but great.

May those who are buried in Katyn find cherished memory and eternal rest, and may the living find peace, kindness and prosperity. Thank you very much.

Donald Tusk's address (as translated):

Distinguished Mr Prime Minister,

Distinguished guests at this moving ceremony,

Why have we gathered here today, seventy years after the heinous crime? Why do we return here every year? To remember the victims of this crime. That is the main reason. We come to remember the crimes committed against people and those that are committed against entire nations. We remember those who gave their lives here and all over Soviet Russia. We return here every year because we want to remember the September tragedy and its victims.

Thousands of people died here, but this tragedy will never be a mere statistic. The hangmen would like us to forget those who perished here and in many other places. They would like the dead to remain nameless and for no one to discover how they died.

We see each individual that was executed here. A man died here. One after another, they were killed. They were killed, like Janina Lewandowska. I told Prime Minister Putin about her when we were walking along the memorial plaques. She wanted to live an ordinary life. She was a talented woman, who graduated from pilot school and the music academy, the latter with honours. She was a fine skier and horseback rider, and the first European to parachute from a height of 5,000 metres. She was the daughter of General Jozef Dowbor-Musnicki, a national hero.

Naturally, she joined the army when the war broke out just before the gliding championships in Warsaw. The war robbed her not only of her simple, ordinary dream of competing. Her birthday was April 22. On that day, she was shot through the back of her head. She died here in Katyn.

I brought up this individual's story because it is important to us Poles - just as it is to every good soldier - that we never leave the dead behind on the battlefield and that we never forget. We will always remember those who perished here, and every name and every piece of information and evidence is vitally important to us.

We have also gathered here because the Katyn tragedy has been turned into a myth. The myth was first perpetrated by the Communist state. They lied about what happened here. However, those who wanted to build post-war Poland on this lie lost their battle with the truth too. Even when we only dared whisper the truth about Katyn to each other, we always knew that we were invincible. We knew that the truth about Katyn had been turned into a myth that allowed us to establish an independent Poland.

So we Poles are all descendents of Katyn in a sense, not only those whose loved ones died here. Relatives of the dead are among us here today. Still, as Poles, we want to remember other nations, and not just here in Katyn. Whenever the leaders of the Polish state visited this site, they paid tribute to the Russians and other nationalities who were killed here. When Mr Tadeusz Mazowiecki, our first prime minister, first visited the Polish graves, he also bowed before the Russian graves. He is with us here today.

We do not want the myth to separate us. The truth cannot separate. This truth must be heard. This truth has been the weapon of many generations in Poland, and we have survived thanks to this truth.

When that great Russian, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, received the Nobel Prize, he spoke words that apply to all of us: "Let us not forget that violence does not and cannot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with lying. Between them there is the closest, the most profound and natural bond: nothing screens violence except lies, and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his method must inexorably choose lying as his principle." This is why it has always been our profound belief that the truth is the strongest weapon against violence, especially here in Katyn.

We must say here in Katyn that the road to reconciliation awaits us, that we are not erecting any barriers. We must find the strength and the courage to lay everything bare. We want to remember so that the road to reconciliation can be as straight and as short as possible.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Solzhenitsyn quoted a Russian proverb I'd like to share with you: "One word of truth outweighs the world."

Today, I want to believe that one word of truth will provide a way forward for two great nations that have known so much suffering in their histories. Today, these two nations seek a straight and short road to reconciliation.

Mr Prime Minister, the dead lie here in this soil. Their spirits asks if we can put an end to violence and lying and if we can reconcile.

I have to believe that we have chosen the right road - a simplest, shortest road - because two things guide us on this road: memory and truth.

If this is so and will continue to be so in the future, I think I can say to the dead soldiers of Katyn: "This will be your greatest victory."

* * *

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk make entries in the Katyn Memorial guestbook

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote:

"The years since the Katyn massacre have not eased the pain in the hearts of the people of Russia and Poland. It is our common sorrow. May those killed rest in peace, and may the living be faithful to the memory of the past while building a future free from war and suffering and filled with the truth, responsibility and mutual respect."

For his part, Prime Minister Tusk wrote that "Katyn is the word that hurts; it took long years to extricate it from the silence and the lies, but today it has become a symbol of hope for a better future."

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