Polish WWII massacre families not seeking Russian damages

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Relatives of some 22,000 Polish officers slain by the Soviet Union in 1940 said Monday they would not seek damages for their loss, after Russian lawmakers finally blamed Joseph Stalin for the World War II massacre.

"We're not expecting damages from Russia. There's no price for the death of a husband, a father, or a brother," Krystyna Brydowska, 74, vice-president of Federation of Katyn Families, told AFP.

"How can you put a value on the life of a Polish officer? It's priceless," said Brydowska, whose father was among the prisoners of war shot around Katyn forest in western Russia and other sites.

Brydowska was reacting to comments by Poland's conservative opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, after Russia's parliament Friday agreed a text that broke years of official reluctance to admit that Soviet dictator Stalin personally ordered the massacre.

Like other Polish leaders and the families' federation, Kaczynski had welcomed Russia's move, which came ahead of a visit to Poland by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

But he also said the question of damages should be on the table when Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski hosts Medvedev on December 6.

"Jaroslaw Kaczynski is not a member of our federation, which is the only organisation empowered to speak out on the issue of damages," said Brydowska.

Kaczynski's identical twin, president Lech Kaczynski, died along with 95 other Poles, including top officials and Katyn relatives, in a plane crash on April 10 in Russia as they landed for a 70th anniversary ceremony.

The officers were captured by Soviet forces who had invaded Poland in 1939 following a pact with Nazi Germany.

The massacre long strained Polish relations with Moscow, notably because it could not be blamed publicly on the Soviets until Warsaw's post-war communist regime collapsed in 1989.

Moscow pinned the murders on the defeated Nazis until 1990, when then Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev admitted its guilt, a year before the Soviet Union itself crumbled.

But the crime was rarely acknowledged in public until this year's plane disaster which sparked a Polish-Russian rapprochement.

© 2010 AFP

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