Appeal of the Memorial directorate
Although the appeal which follows was made by the Russian branch of . Memorial. , it certainly concerns both Ukraine and Belarus.
On 17 September 1939 the so-called . liberation of the West Ukraine and West Byelorussia by the Red Army. was begun.
There is no doubt about the moral, juridical and political assessment of this event: the Soviet Union became the accomplice to the nazi aggression against Poland and the actual Hitler. s ally at the first stage of WW2.
The invasion of 17 September opened a consecutive tragic chapter in Polish . Russian relations. The invasion was followed by the massive terror on the captured territories, by the Katyn massacre of Polish officers, by a shameful inaction of the Soviet troops on the Wisla during the Warsaw uprising of 1944, by the coercive sovietizationof Poland. Poles, as other peoples driven to the socialist camp, experienced all terrors of the totalitarian communist regime. Even those repressions, which were performed by the Polish security service, were ascribed by the Polish public opinion to Moscow.
The load of the past is still pressing on the relations between Russia and Poland, and this load does not become lighter while the government of Russia . the successor of the Soviet Union . keeps silent. We are sure that it is necessary to give a complete assessment of the events of 1939 and their consequences, it is necessary to call a crime a crime. This also concerns the governments of Ukraine and Belarus.Meanwhile the Ukrainian authorities decided to celebrate 17 September as the . 60 thanniversary of the reunion of the Ukrainian people. . The celebration of this day as a positive historical event is, in our opinion, not politically correct with respect both to Poland and to citizens of their own country. People in West Ukraine remember very well how much grief was caused and how much blood was shed by the . liberators. . Many Ukrainians in the West (and in the East, too) regard 17 September as a tragic date.
The absence of the official position concerning . the liberation. on the side of Russia weakens the hopes to improve relations with Poland and other victims of the Soviet aggression in 1939 . 1940 and disorients the Russian public. So, in most textbooks on the newest history the . liberation. is described, at best, in a very fuzzy way; other textbooks and related materials treat the . liberation. according to the good old Stalin approach.
Possibly, the silence of the Russian government and prominent political leaders is explained by their unwillingness to sprinkle salt on the wounds. They are mistaken, because this silence is one of the important reasons of the present watchfulness of the USSR. s former satellites.
As to the Russian public, it must be said that the important part of it is . alas! . indifferent to this problem, regarding it as the . cut-off. past. Many Russian citizens do not understand this problem entirely and ask in a puzzled way: . Why do not they like us?.
At the same time we must understand that both in Poland and other neighbors of Russia there exist forces which use tragedies of the past in their own political interests, insistently repeating the theses on the . historical guilt of Russians before Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians and so forth. , on the . well-known danger from the East. and such like.
Under such circumstances the responsibilities of those public structures, which understand that the historical memory of peoples is not an empty abstraction, must be increased. The today. s Europe is united not only by economic links and similarity of political ideals, but also by the common memory of the past. The common memory is the reflection of the common lot of European peoples in the national consciousness of each people. This equally concerns both East and West.
On of the most important tasks of . Memorial. is to break through ideological obstructions and national-patriotic blockages to the historical truth, to the truth which may not be replaced by any myths.
In particular, we believe that the idea of the historical guilt of one people before another is, at least, incorrect. It is high time to learn to distinguish between the concepts of guiltand responsibility.
The leaders of the Soviet Union who took, at first in the collusion with German Nazis and then quite independently, criminal decisions, which had tragic consequences for the peoples of the neighboring countries, in particular, for Poland, are undoubtedly guilty,in those concrete crimes which were committed relative to Poland and her citizens, as well as relative to other peoples of Europe. The concrete executors of the criminal orders are also guilty, although the extent of guilt for these people can be determined only in an individual investigation. However, the people, who are guilty in the crimes of 1939, are not alive, and it is too late to start the punishment.
But, as to the peoples of the Soviet Union and, in particular, those of Russia, the term guiltis not applicable to them, the more so when we mean new generations.
On the other hand, no one can liberate us, citizens of Russia, of absolutely any age, from our civil responsibilityfor those crimes, that were committed on behalf of our country, regardless of the date: sixty years ago or later.
The concept of the civil responsibility, shared by . Memorial. , denotes not only external and loud manifestation of the past sins, but the steady and systematic work for studying and comprehending the past; besides, it includes efforts to correct the consequences of the past sins, if it is possible. In the case of Poland our civil responsibility must be directed, first of all, to the decision of historical and legal problems resulted from the mass repressions on the territories grabbed by the USSR in 1939 . 40 or controlled by the Soviet Union after WW2.
It is impossible to raise from the dead the victims, or to cure those who lost their health, or to recompense torture and degrading treatment, or to put right the distorted lives of millions of convicts and the exiled.
But we have the duty of memory before all victims of the repressions. We must not permit their names to be forgotten, every victim must be named.
We have a debt before those, who are still living: Russia must recompense their sufferings, at least in the symbolic sums, which are given to the victims of political repressions among Russian citizens.
And, finally, we have a debt before future generations: we must find the truth on the past and tell the truth to our children.
. Memorial. works in the above-stated directions from the moment of its birth. Our many-year partner in this work is the Warsaw center . Karta. , and jointly we have obtained not so insignificant results. Certainly, we ought to do more, and we are happy to have like-minded colleagues in Poland. We are sure that this collaboration should be continued. We regard out joint work as a contribution to creating normal relations between our peoples.
Directorate of Moscow . Memorial.
Moscow, 14 September 1999