Poles around the world continue look on with shock and grief as the thousands of candles laid outside the Polish presidential compound slowly extinguish. Today, as the acrid candle smoke slowly rises amongst the mourners, it carries with it grief laced with tinges of hope. Seventy years ago the smoke coming from the streets of Warsaw carried only death and destruction.
The seventieth anniversary of the Katyn massacre is significant for Poles. The secret execution of tens of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest, eliminating Poland's elite through systemic genocide, was the emblematic crime of Stalin's regime. For half a century the history of this massacre was marked by Russian disinformation, sabotage and denial. Relatives of the victims were prevented from finding the truth. Questions brought death or a journey to Siberia. In 1970, one relative was overheard blaming the Soviets; within the week she allegedly disappeared never to be seen again. Tensions eased after the collapse of communism and Gorbachev's admission of guilt in 1989.
Katyn is emblematic too for Poland and President Kaczynski's tense attitude to Russia in recent years. Kaczynski's experience of Communism made him publicly wary of Russia's attitude towards Poland. He viewed Russia's growing influence with anxiety, taking a tough-line towards Russia and its historical crimes. During his presidency, public figures were subject to a "McCarthy-esque" investigation to uncover possible communist collaborators.
A number of major Polish figures were forced to resign, including the Archbishop of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus. Visiting the White House In 2007 President Kaczynski criticized Russia for still treating Poland like a wayward satellite state. This was consistent with the former presidents' deeply catholic values. These beliefs made Kaczynski a highly controversial figure in his homeland.
The first Katyn tragedy was a low-point of 20th century madness; the second embodies hope. Another generation of Poland's political elite was devastated but this time Russia is making a remarkable effort to demonstrate support and exorcise past deceits; including ordering that Andrzej Wayda's film Katyn (which graphically shows NKVD (KGB) officers meting out genocide) be screened on primetime local television. The image of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, embracing the Polish Prime Minister as he stumbled in grief exemplifies an emotional breakthrough in previously strained Polish/Russian relations.
In the 1791 constitution, Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's Shakespeare, described Poland as the "Christ Nation" destined to suffer. His poetic words echo today as the peoples' suffering turns to new hope for the future.
Paul Dabrowa is a Polish-Australian who stood as a candidate in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections