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The Katyn Massacre occurred over six decades ago in 1943, with resonating implications of Katyn for Russia-Polish relations continuing into the twenty-first century. Notably, the events of Katyn, specifically the systematic slaughter of 20,000 Polish soldiers, have been purposefully obscured by the Russian government, with evidence suggesting that resistance to releasing confidential documents highlighting Russian responsibility for the murders has continued long after the massacre; this, in turn, has created sociocultural tensions resultant from a longstanding injustice that has yet to be resolved. This research project proposes an investigation of how the Katyn Massacre has been presented within popular culture, including the 2007 Polish film focusing on the tragedy as a massive cover-up for which the Russian government has yet to accept responsibility, and the resonating sociocultural tensions between Russia and Poland due to the massacre's treatment in the international political arena.


Much of the recent discussion of Katyn has highlighted Russia's intentional obscurity over the events of the massacre. Initially, it was the Nazis who were blamed for the slaughtering of 20,000 Poles, with the Soviet Union refuting responsibility; the bodies were found on Russian land, but the bullets used were German in origin. Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the events of Katyn were not well understood; this was due to obscurities emerging from the nature of Soviet government. Contemporary evidence highlights that Katyn's events would be easily categorized as genocide under the Genocide Convention, warranting that attention be paid to the continued resistance of the Russian government to admitting guilt for Katyn. Zawodny cites that "the present Government of the People's Republic of Poland seems unable to live down Katyn. The evil and injury of Katyn lives on and embitters relations between the people and the government. From time to time a little news trickles out of Poland on this subject. Originally the Polish communists decided to meet the Katyn affair head on." The events since the time of Zawodny's words, including the fall of Eastern European communism, have not significantly changed the state of affairs between the two nations with respect to Katyn.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the events of Katyn have been framed in both popular culture as well as political discourse as the Katyn Lie, with the film Katyn particularly concerned with the Soviet deception associated with the tragedy. Evidence suggests that the failure of the Russian government to release relevant documents and admit guilt for Katyn has substantial and resonating implications for Russian-Polish relations, with Western nations and the international political dimension failing to place appropriate pressure on the Russian government to aid in the Katyn investigation. Media focus has increasingly targeted the Russian government for its failure to aid in the investigation as well, with popular culture potentially pressuring the Russian government more than political mechanisms to disclose the Katyn events. Gerson (2012) highlights that while Russia did admit guilt for Katyn during the 1990s, they have adamantly resisted support for the investigation which would highlight why the cover-up took place and, more importantly, who was responsible for the orchestration of both Katyn itself as well as the obscurities surrounding Katyn in the decades following World War II. In essence, while Russia has admitted that the Katyn massacre was the work of the Soviets and not the Nazis, any additional information has been hidden.

This project focuses on the investigation of the following problem: The circumstances surrounding the Katyn Massacre remain largely unknown due to Russia's refusal to aid in the investigation of the tragedy and, by extension, no justice has been delivered for the deaths of 20,000 Polish soldiers. Popular culture has begun to represent the massacre consistently in light of Soviet obscurity and deception, which has hindered Russia's relationship to both Poland as well as other nations. The media, both in film as well as journalistic contexts, has framed Katyn in terms of strategic, borderline corrupt actions on the part of Russia, exacerbating Russian-Polish tensions.The project's objectives are three-fold; to examine the events surrounding the 1940 massacre in conjunction with the immediate international response during World War II and the Nuremburg Trials (1); to frame the historical Soviet response in light of the current Russian response (2); to investigate the sociocultural and sociopolitical implications of the Katyn cover-up for Poland, Russia, and the global community at large, sourcing the Katyn film as well as news references from the media (3); to frame the massacre as genocide under contemporary law (4); to argue for a necessary response by the Russian government in order to justify the deaths of the men killed in the Katyn tragedy (5).


Gerson, Allan. "72 Years Later: Still Seeking Accountability for the Katyn Forest Massacre." Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 44, no. 3: 605-610.

Katyn. Dir: Andrzej Wajda. Poland Film.

Sterio, Milena. "Katyn Forest Massacre: Of Genocide, State Lies, and Secrecy." Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 44, no. 3: 615-623.

Zawodny, J. K. Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1962.

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