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619 WŁADYSŁAW STEPNIAK DISPLACED COLLECTIONS AND ACCESS TO ARCHIVES THE SOVIET UNION established a framework for its relations with Poland after World War II with respect only to problems it considered important , while disregarding its partner’s sovereignty with respect to resolving those problems. The list of issues regulated by international accords did not include the status of archive materials, even though changes under the border agreement of 16 August 1945, imposed on Poland, and the mass transfer of collections during World War II created a situation that demanded solutions through international law. That is why, after the Polish transformation of 1989, the problem of cultural property was assigned high priority. Since the Soviet side appeared receptive to Polish overtures in this area, on 25 May 1990, Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski and Minister of Culture and Art Izabella Cywińska appointed the Polish members of the Polish-Soviet Commission on Archival Heritage, set up for the purpose of “addressing certain problems relating to cultural heritage, particularly the return . . . of [and restitution for] Polish cultural property. The Polish side will strive to recover national mementos and cultural property essential to Polish science and culture and possessing special symbolic significance for the Polish people.” However, the commission never held any plenary sessions. The clear signs that the Soviet Union was disintegrating induced the Polish side to refrain from conducting such meetings, even though Moscow was sending encouraging signals that many problems could be resolved. Still, work conducted at that time led to the compilation of documentation related to archive materials that once were of Polish territorial provenance but had been held in the Soviet Union. In November 1989, the Polish Historical Society took a stand on the matter: it issued two memorandums concerning the return of Polish archive materials and access to such materials in Soviet collections. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and Pres. Boris Yeltsin’s decision to grant the Polish side access to the Katyn documentation invigorated contacts ˛ 620 WŁADYSŁAW STEPNIAK ˛ and cooperation between the state archives of the two countries. An agreement on cooperation between the Head Office of State Archives (HOSA) and the State Committee on Archives of the Government of the Russian Federation was signed on 27 April 1992. As for the issue of the return of cultural properties and access to Russian archives, the provisions contained in several points should be particularly noted: points 2 (“Search for documents on the history of the partner country and exchange of copies”), 4 (“Assistance to researchers in using collections and guarantee of access to finding aids”), and 6 (“Parties have agreed that archival documents constituting the property of the other side shall be returned to their rightful owner. The return of such materials shall take place in line with mutual arrangements”). In addition to signing that agreement, the parties signed a special protocol and a memorandum that detailed the form and scope of the mutual obligations. It was decided to establish a group of experts (three persons per side) to monitor any problems with cooperation. Point 2 of the memorandum was of historic significance: it provided for joint work on the publication of Katyn-related documents. The Head Office of State Archives treated these provisions with all seriousness and took various steps to implement them. The Russian side, however , was not fulfilling its commitments concerning the return of cultural goods and archives. The Russians advised HOSA that matters relating to the return of collections could be settled only through diplomatic channels. As a result, the joint group of experts was not established and no actions envisioned under the agreement were implemented. Polish authorities repeatedly communicated with their Russian counterparts on these issues, as evidenced by several volumes of correspondence, diplomatic notes, and minutes of talks conducted by politicians (the presidents of Poland and the Russian Federation also became involved), diplomats, and HOSA representatives. On 13 January 1992, Lech Wałęsa wrote to Boris Yeltsin, “You, Mister President, and I are opening a new era in Poland’s relations with Russia. I believe that the return to Poland of all our archival materials stored at the Special Archive would affirm the breakthrough taking place in our relations. Thus, I am asking you kindly to cause the return of these records to Poland.” Wałęsa also asked Yeltsin to grant the Polish side access to archival materials concerning Polish prisoners of war. The letter opened the way for the disclosure of documents connected with Katyn but...


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