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Russia: Bloggers Discuss Andrzej Wajda's “Katyń” Movie

For the first time in Russian history, Andrzej Wajda‘s [ENG] “Katyń” (2007) has been aired on Russian public television channel “Kultura” [ENG] provoking online discussions on Stalin regime, historical truth, humanism and Russian-Poland relations.

Katyń movie poster, Wikimedia Commons

Katyń movie poster, Wikimedia Commons

The Katyn massacre [ENG], a deliberate execution of almost 22,000 Polish officers by the Russian NKVD officers [ENG] in 1940 remains the main unresolved historical issue between contemporary Russia and Poland. Throughout almost 50 years official Soviet propaganda said that Katyn had been a Nazi war crime until in 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev recognized the NKVD murders.

Russian government's position on the issue was far from straightforward since that. In 1990, the Russian Prosecutor's Office started investigation of the horrible incident. In 1992, Russian president Boris Yeltsin shared a part of the secret archives containing evidence of the NKVD executions. But in 2004 (already under Putin), the case was closed due to the death of the guilty (executors). Polish officers shot in Katyn along with thousands of Soviet political prisoners were neither rehabilitated nor recognized as repressed. While in Poland Katyn massacre became one of the new nation-building symbols of martyrdom, there's no common view on the issue in the Russian society as there's a group of historians promoting Soviet point of view [ENG]backed up by communist party together with some veterans of NKVD. The Soviet version is still transmitted in popular newspaper like “Pravda,”[RUS] and by some popular bloggers like Russian intellectual Anatoliy Wasserman.

Followed by a serious worsening of relations between the two countries in 2005-2007 (Meat trade dispute [ENG], Missile dispute, etc.), things started to change in 2007. The prime-ministers of Poland and Russia launched the Commission on Difficult Issues [RUS], which mission was to settle down a large number of historical issues between the countries. The Katyn massacre stood as a central point of the debate. Most experts agree [RUS] that the appearance of “Katyń” on Russian public TV was due to the work of the commission and upcoming commemoration of the Katyń massacre.

“Katyń” was aired during Friday prime-time (19:40 – 21:30) with the discussion after the show. It was claimed that the Channel One (Russian leading TV channel) simultaneously Oscar-winning “Hurt Locker” on purpose but that turned out to be inaccurate (“Katyn” ended at 21:30, while “Hurt Locker” began at this very time). Interesting feature of the TV-discussion that followed the movie was that none of the Polish representatives was invited.

The online discussion of the movie gathered more than 2100 blog posts [RUS] and became #5 topic in the Yandex discussion rating. Bloggers were divided in their opinions. Some completely denied the version of NKVD murders (claimed to be the Goebbels’ version as the Nazis were the first to announce Katyn massacres). Among those who recognized the NKVD murders, opinions weren't uniform either. Despite some bloggers’ claims “Katyń” was “market-oriented,” “Anti-soviet on purpose,” “too outlined,”made to order,” the majority of Runetizens said they were deeply touched by the movie.

Most bloggers denounced the myth of the movie's hidden russophobia (anti-russian sentiment).
kir_mgd, for example, wrote:

Я, честно говоря, не воспринял фильм как русофобский хоть в какой-то мере.Что-то там действительно трафаретно и прямолинейно(флаг на портянки),но не примитивно и злопамятно. Впечатление очень сильное производит.

For me, frankly speaking, this film didn't seem russophobic at all. Something was a cliche and way too straightforward (tearing flag for socks), but not primitive or rancorous. I'm under very strong impression.

Moderator of the ru_katyn community dassie2001 wrote:

Никто другой в Польше не сделал бы НЕантироссийского (НЕрусофобского) фильма на тему Катыни. Вайде – удалось

Nobody else in Poland could make no-antirussian (non-russophobic) movie on the Katyn topic. But Wajda managed to do that.

One of the main current of those discussions was the search for the reason of the mass murders. “Usual” (in this kind of discussions) versions like “strategic necessity,” “revenge for 16,000-20,000 Soviet prisoners of war who died in the Polish camps after Soviet-Polish war“[ENG] and others were offered. LJ user Yasko repeated deputy Kosachev's explanation [ENG] of the massacre in terms of the essential blood-lust of the faceless totalitarian regime:

Совершенно гениально пан Вайда показал нам, что это работала именно машина уничтожения людей. А то, что эта машина – порождение именно западной мысли, западной цивилизации, это тема выходящая уже за пределы темы Катыни, в том ей масштабе, в котором надо было её сегодня раскрыть, что А. Вайда и сделал.

Mr.Wajda absolutely ingeniously showed us that it was a human-killing machine. And the thing is that this machine is a child of  the Western thought, Western civilization – this topic is much broader than the topic of Katyn in the given scale it should be revealed today. And this is what Wajda did.

Not everyone accepted the notion of faceless machine. LJ user Maxilla_k wrote:

Однако, хватит врать, автор у этой “машины” безусловно есть, и он в фильме показан. “Эффективный менеджер” смотрит со стены в сцене приговора “тройки” генералу польских войск. Зачем он то делал, – не знаю.

However, let's stop lying, there's a definite author of this “machine” and he's shown in the movie. “The Effective Manager” [a reference to Stalin's description in the new Russian teacher's manual – GVO] looks from the wall in the episode of the verdict given by “troika” to the Polish general. Why did he do that – I don't know.

The humanism topic was raised by popular movie critic kinanet:

Подлинная опасность ленты Вайды, которой испугались в нынешней России многие перестраховщики, заключается как раз в человеческом измерении политической трагедии, не заканчивающейся выяснением всех обстоятельств случившегося в Катыньском лесу.

Мы ж привыкли поклоняться лживым кумирам, фальшивым идеалам, а главное – любить не отеческие гробы, а могилы вождей и их прихлебателей на Красной площади. И потому пребываем в тоске по прежнему величию, которое тоже было дутым, поскольку имело своей основой кровь и насилие. Так люди ли мы, человеки ли?

The true danger of Wajda's movies, which frightened contemporary Russian overcautious politics, is in the human dimension of the political tragedy, which doesn't end with the investigation of all circumstances in the Katyn forest.

We got used to worshiping false idols, false ideals, and most importantly – to love not fathers’ graves but the tombs of leaders and their spongers at the Red Square. And this is why we miss the former grandeur, which was overrated, because it's basement was built on blood and violence. So are we humans?

It seems that the movie had an effect. After viewing it, Yelena Tokareva, editor-in-chief of the tabloid “Stringer,” publicly said she was [RUS] sorry for the negative reviews that were published in her magazine.

The effect was especially significant for those Russians who were not aware of the issue. If not in a historical but at least in a moral way. As eli_prophet put it:

Я был приятно обрадован тем, что хоть и спустя 3 года после выхода, хоть бы и не по самому центральному каналу, но этот фильм был показан на государственном телеканале в пятницу (и не простую, а страстную пятницу), в самый прайм-тайм. Это не огромный шаг, но шаг достойный уважения. И мне кажется важным, чтобы как можно больше людей в нашей стране получили возможность посмотреть на события Второй мировой войны другими глазами, с другого ракурса.

I was quite pleased that even after three years after the official release, even if not on a very popular channel, it was showed on the public TV on Friday (and not every Friday but Easter Friday) during prime-time. This isn't a huge step, but a step worth of respect. And it seems important to me that as many people in our country would have a possibility to look at the events of the World War II with the naked eye, from a new angle.


  • Emigre

    This issue has truly been the deal breaker in the Russian-Polish relations in the last decade.

    It obviously had happened and the Russian government needs to acknowledge it officially. The Poles dont mean to drag this on, but they want some closure on this atrocity.

    Russia-Poland-Ukraine should be the leading force of New Europe, if the new generation of the Slavic can work together, than the future of Europe belongs to the East. Anybody who has traveled throughout Europe recently has seen it first hand, the new generation of Eastern Europeans is a lot more enterpreneurial and resourceful than than their counterparts in the West.

  • Mariusz

    “Russia: Bloggers Discuss Andrzej Wajda’s “Katyń” Movie”

    As a polish contributor I must add to your great post what I see about polish – Russian relations. We strongly believe new world does not need us fighting about our past, we must remember our history, our roots but now it’s a time to start making future together, not apart but united. Katyń is not a proud for Russia, but we are not saint either, we have our sins too. When I was growing up, often I heard from adults like German are bad, Russian are bad and also Jewish, Baptists so generally all different people are bad,it was a product of small minds, people who lived years under occupation, so that’s only world they knew, only one to put into our heads, hopefully we did not take it as they wanted. Their fear is not our fear and we live our lives in present times next to you and all other people on this world so we have chance to make something good for all of us, for our children, for everybody. I was in your country years ago, it was amazing experience, I felt impressed and people I met were more than kind to me, I felt much better then in my own country. Respect for You, I hope polish will understand like American dream was not for us and our close neighbors are the most important.

    • Thank you for very touching comment!

    • Joan

      I pity you for circles you move in. Because they are hatefull and xenofobic. I am probably living in another country, because nobody taught me so hatefull ideas. Is it really the Poland you live in?
      We can’t build our future without true, and if we forget about history it might repeat itself.
      Frendship is build on trust, trust is based on truth.
      And its “Truth” that russian politics have so much trouble with. We don’t deny our faults, and want this same from others.
      It’s too much?

  • Michael NYC

    To find out the truth about what really happen at KATYN, we have to ask Russians and British. UK have files from WWII on that subject. Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt know about the Katyn forest massacre and who done it, FDR and Churchill needed the Red Army to defeat the Germans in Europe, while FDR counted on Soviets helping them in defeating Imperial Japan, so they kept quiet. Brits aint no saint ether! one thing for sure Nazi`s did not do it, different time frame!

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