30th Mar 2017

'Genocide' text points to limits of Polish-Russian reconciliation

  • Candles in Warsaw for the late president. Conspiracy theories are circulating in the Polish foreign ministry (Photo: Piotr Pawlowski)

MEPs have watered down a statement on the Soviet Union's killings of Polish officers in 1940 amid underlying tensions between Warsaw and Moscow.

The communique by the EU-Russia inter-parliamentary delegation was adopted on Tuesday (11 May) and said in reference to the fateful flight in April of the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski: "The presidential plane was carrying a delegation to Katyn, to commemorate a war crime having the character of genocide."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The first draft of the text, penned personally by Polish MEP Marek Migalski, who hails from the late president's right-wing Law and Justice party, had said more forcefully that the 1940 killings were "genocide."

Other deputies, including the delegation chairman, German centre-left MEP Knut Fleckenstein, forced the alteration.

They also inserted the phrase: "The Delegation thanks the responsible Russian authorities for their emphatic support of the investigation of this tragedy [the plane crash]."

Mr Migalski's first draft goes beyond what has been said on Katyn by the Polish sejm, by the Polish president of the EU parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and by Russian authorities.

He was sanguine about the change, saying: "For me, there's no great difference. If something 'has the character' of genocide, then it's the same thing as calling it 'genocide'." He intends to push for another Katyn statement at the level of the Brussels plenary assembly, however.

Mr Fleckenstein believes the change is important and says further statements are not needed: "It's up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to decide if Katyn was a genocide or not. The ruling is pending and we should wait."

The difference in approach is illuminating at a time when many commentators in western Europe predict a rapprochement in Polish-Russian relations on the back of the Kaczynski tragedy, but observers in Poland see a lot of unfinished historic business.

"Poland already plays the role of an expert in dealing with the EU's eastern neighbors. It is clear for Russia, when it approaches us to propose initiatives on the Kaliningrad circuit. It is clear for countries in the region interested in developing the EU's Eastern Partnership policy. And it is becoming clear for our partners in Brussels, where we are discussing a strategic partnership [with Russia]," the spokesman for the Polish mission to the EU said.

Another Polish diplomat suggested that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's recent warm rhetoric on Russia is merely a tactical move to increase Warsaw's influence in Brussels, however: "Tusk wants to become the main interlocutor between the EU and Russia in order to increase Poland's importance inside the EU."

Behind the political facade, many Polish officials still mistrust the Kremlin to the extent that they nurture private conspiracy theories about the Kaczynski crash.

"It took away in one fell swoop the whole anti-Russian Polish elite. Whose interests does that serve?" a contact said.

Another Polish source said: "They should have convened an international commission to investigate the crash right away. Instead they let Russia take charge of it. Russia is a hostile country to Poland. It's not a normal country."

The spokesman for the Polish EU mission put forward a different point of view: "I wonder whom it would serve to reinforce the faded cliche that there is anti-Russian elite in Poland? I am convinced that after the Polish presidential elections we will be able to calmly evaluate the effects on Polish-Russian relations of [Russian] gestures after the tragedy of 10 April."

The joint Russian-Polish probe is still ongoing, with investigators on Wednesday saying that heavy use of mobile phones by Polish passengers may have brought the plane down.

For his part, Mr Migalski said it would be "unacceptable, irresponsible" to speak of any plots before the official results come out. "Not for a moment did I think of this, that somewhere behind this could stand the Russian secret services," he said.

The article was updated on 13 April, adding the quotes from the Polish spokesman

MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus

A group of 72 euro-deputies have written to EU leaders, asking them to stop funding Europe's last dictatorship and increase their support for democracy activists instead.


Let's not lecture Trump, says top German MP

Europeans need to propose "projects of common interest" to the US president to preserve "Western unity" on Russia, Norbert Roettgen, the chair of Bundestag's foreign affairs committee said.

Tens of thousands challenge Putin's authority

EU and US call on Russia to free those who are detained, after tens of thousands protested against corruption in the biggest challenge to Kremlin authority in five years.


Let's not lecture Trump, says top German MP

Europeans need to propose "projects of common interest" to the US president to preserve "Western unity" on Russia, Norbert Roettgen, the chair of Bundestag's foreign affairs committee said.

News in Brief

  1. UK publishes 'Great Repeal Bill' plan to replace EU laws
  2. Scots share May's vision for Brexit deal, survey says
  3. Coalition talks leader expects Dutch government by summer
  4. EU commission allows ex-member Hill to join law firm
  5. Reuters: Greece and lenders move closer to deal
  6. Italy: Le Pen win would mean 'permanent political risk'
  7. Danish parliament misinformed on Nord Stream 1
  8. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  2. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  3. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  4. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  5. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  6. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  7. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  9. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  10. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  11. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Latest News

  1. Hungary attempts to stifle Soros-founded university in Budapest
  2. European right shows divisions on EU values after Brexit
  3. Transparency is key EU tactic in Brexit talks
  4. Russia building 'arc of iron' around Europe
  5. Französische und deutsche Wahlen 'entscheidend' für Putin
  6. EU trying to salvage US deal on data privacy
  7. MEPs draw 'red lines' on Brexit deal
  8. MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus