Katyn’s contested legacy, Herbert McCabe


I wanted to thank John Connelly for his thoughtful analysis of an important issue in “The Ultimate Crime: Katyn and the Invention of Genocide” (August 13). Still, I question some of his conclusions. Vladimir Putin’s regime did not confront Katyn, but rather was forced to deal with it in a minimal way. Also, Putin’s closing the door on Stalin does not mean that he is opening one to the West. In fact, he is still working on his own terms, promoting the image of an authoritarian, imperial Russia.

Connelly mentions that Poland lost 6 million citizens during World War II at the hands of the Germans, but it also lost at least 1.5 million at the hands of the Russians. That’s why Katyn has come to symbolize murderous Soviet policies in Eastern Poland during the 1939–41 Soviet occupation.

Connelly is wrong to characterize the late Polish President Lech Kaczyn´ski as “famous for anti-Russian diatribes.” Kaczyn´ski simply tried to establish the independence of Poland from Russia. He thought Katyn had laid the foundation for Communist rule. He honored democratic heroes who were murdered by Communists and who were purposefully obliterated from the historical record during the postwar period. He removed Soviet-trained generals from the Polish Army and appointed ones trained in the West. In foreign policy, he supported the independence of the other Eastern European governments that used to be part of the Soviet Union. During the Russian invasion of Georgia, he gathered the presidents of other Eastern European countries, flew them to Tbilisi, and held a large public rally in support of a free Georgia.

While there was genuine surprise when Putin decided to host the seventieth-anniversary commemoration of the Katyn massacre on April 7, 2010, by doing so he actually undermined the Polish government’s position about what happened at Katyn. As Connelly correctly stated, Putin’s position is that Katyn was not genocide but a political crime, like the crimes Stalin committed against many Russians. That’s why Putin came to Katyn to commemorate not only Polish officers but also Russians who were murdered nearby. He is building a large monument for the Russians close to the Polish officers’ graves, thereby suggesting an equivalency. Thus, Putin’s invitation of Prime Minister Donald Tusk to Katyn on April 7 was meant to undermine the political position of President Kaczyn´ski, who was planning to mark the anniversary on April 10, the traditional date. Putin’s invitation was intended to impose his own interpretation of history on the commemoration.

Putin may be cleansing Russia of the most obvious signs of Stalinism in order to gain access to Western investments and technology, but his cleansing is tactical and superficial. If he really wants to open the door to the West, Putin must change the way Russia treats the countries of the former Soviet bloc and renounce imperialism. So far he is doing the opposite, bullying former satellite countries, expressing hostility toward NATO, and attempting to monopolize energy supplies.            

Lucja Cannon
Huntington, N.Y.


Thanks to Eugene McCarraher for his article on Herbert McCabe (“Radical, OP,” October 8). In this era of authoritarian bishops with in-house Roman educations, it is heartening to know about intellectuals like McCabe who could flourish even in a church that, in McCabe’s words, can be “quite plainly corrupt.”             

Dick Gaffney
Keene Valley, N.Y.

Published in the 2010-11-05 issue: 
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