For Poland, a Time of Mourning, Reflection

In 1943, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the leader of the Polish wartime government, died in a plane crash in Gibraltar. No foul play was proved there, but many Poles believe that he was murdered because of his resolute determination to expose the Katyn massacre -- which the Soviet Union blamed on the Germans.

Now another Polish president, closely involved in the same issue, has died in an all-too similar manner.

History Recalled 70 Years After Katyn Massacre

In April 1940, when Soviet secret police took Polish officers, professors, priests, doctors and writers and shot them, leaving some 22,000 from the top level of society in mass graves, they blighted Poland's history and its immediate future.

The massacre has been a thorn in Polish-Soviet relations for decades.

For 50 years, the Soviets attempted to cover up the crime, blaming it on the Nazis, and the authorities in Moscow did not accept responsibility until 1990, when President Mikhail Gorbachev said the Soviet Union carried out the killings.

On Wednesday, April 7, 2010, Prime Minister Putin stood shoulder to shoulder with Polish PM Donald Tusk and became the first Russian or Soviet leader to attend a memorial for the massacre.

Putin said, "We bow our heads to those who bravely met death here," and admitted that the Katyn victims were "burnt in the fire of the Stalinist repression."

Tusk said to the Russian PM, "Prime Minister Putin, the eye sockets of those killed here by a shot to the back of the head are looking at us today and waiting to see whether we are ready to turn this lie into reconciliation."

President Kaczynski, whose policies often clashed with Russian officials, was not invited to participate. Instead, he was leading a separate memorial on Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary.

But unlike Tusk's visit, which had a lot of coverage in Russian media, Kaczynski's plans to attend Saturday's commemoration were all but unmentioned. A few weeks ago, the Russian foreign ministry publicly griped that Kaczynski had not sent official word of his planned visit. The ministry had heard of his arrival from press reports, officials said.

The two PMs were both eager to make sure the tragedy does nothing to extend decades of animosity between their nations.

Tusk said condolences were pouring in from around the world but noted that "the first came from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev."

In spite of widespread grief on Polish streets after Saturday's disaster, few predict a national breakdown after 20 years of Democratic rule.

Journalist Says Polish-Soviet Ties Could Improve After Recent Tragedy

"Poland has strong institutions," says Jerzy Pomianowski, a prominent expert on Polish politics and Russo-Polish relations. "It is the most resilient country in Europe's post-communist sphere."

In an ironic twist, Polish journalist Kurczab-Redlich says that the tragic loss of Kaczynski, seen as a Polish nationalist, is likely to improve the country's political prospects with Russia.

"The value of this tragedy is that both sides will recognize this moment as an opportunity to move ahead. It's a great opportunity for both Russia and Poland to go beyond the rapprochement that existed yesterday,". Kurczab-Redlich said in a telephone interview from Warsaw. "And the outpouring of sympathy from Russians about what happened is sincere and may actually help."

Dragana Jovanovic is an ABC News reporter living in Belgrade, Serbia. Since 1992, she covered the breakup of former Yugoslavia, the war in Chechnia, and other current events in Central and Easter Europe for ABC News. She grew up in Poland and Soviet Union during the Communist era.

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