Current Status of the "Katyn Case" in Russia

By Guryanov, Alexander | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Current Status of the "Katyn Case" in Russia


Guryanov, Alexander, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


While not denying the mass executions of Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet NKVD, Russian authorities currently only recognize the Katyn Massacre as an ordinary crime that is long time-barred. Only a few leaders of the NKVD have been found guilty of any crime, but their names are kept secret. The victims of the shooting and their families cannot seek relief under the Russian "On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression" law. Further, the most essential materials of the investigation, conducted by the Russian Main Military Prosecutor's Office from 1990 through 2004, are classified. The Russian Memorial Society makes four demands necessary to achieve a legal resolution of the case of the Katyn Massacre in Russia: (1) adoption of an adequate legal definition of the Katyn Massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity; (2) formal disclosure of the identities of all perpetrators, starting with Stalin and the Politbiuro members as initiators and ending with all the performers of shooting; (3) recognition in accordance with Russian legislation of all murdered Polish citizens as victims of political repression; and (4) declassification of all materials of the Katyn Massacre investigation. These demands have been repeatedly rejected between 2006 and 2011 by the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office and the Russian courts of all instances from the District Court up to the Supreme Court. This article details the Memorial Society's ongoing efforts to bring justice to the Katyn Massacre victims and their families.

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The Memorial Society, in addition to defending human rights in Russia, studies the history of political repression in the Soviet Union, documents the fate of repressed people, and assists in their moral and legal rehabilitation. (1) The Memorial Society also promotes access to sources of information about the crimes of totalitarian regimes. By education I am not a historian and certainly am not a lawyer, but I work at the research center of the Memorial Society, and I am engaged in studies of the history of Soviet political repressions against Polish citizens. In recent years, I have dealt with certain legal issues in court proceedings on aspects of the Katyn Massacre as a representative of the Memorial Society. Mrs. Diana Sork is the main lawyer for the Memorial Society in court proceedings.

The Memorial Society seeks the implementation of certain measures at the state level, without which a legal resolution of the case of Katyn Massacre in Russia is impossible. To this end, the Society makes four demands.

First, the Memorial Society requests adoption of an adequate legal definition of the Katyn Massacre appropriate to its essence as an act of Soviet state terrorism.

Second, there must be formal disclosure of the identities of all perpetrators, starting with those who ordered the massacre of thousands of Polish citizens and finishing with all those who carried out the extrajudicial executions. Although these actors are no longer alive, and thus cannot be tried in court, their names must be disclosed.

Third, all victims of the Katyn Massacre must be recognized by name as victims of political repression in accordance with the current Russian law, On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression (the Act). (2) According to the preamble of the Act, rehabilitation primarily requires official recognition that a particular person has been persecuted by the state for political reasons and that such persecution is incompatible with law and justice. (3) The consequence of rehabilitation under this Act is to provide benefits and compensation for the rehabilitated person, but not for his relatives. Nevertheless, official recognition that a particular person was a victim of political repression by the Soviet Union would be of great value for the relatives of executed Polish prisoners. On the other hand, for the Memorial Society it is equally important to ensure that the Russian state authorities comply with Russian laws, including the Act.

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