President decorates Mrs Karolina Kaczorowska: photo - PAP/ Artur Resko
The president viewed an exhibition concerning a proposed Museum of Remembrance of Siberia, describing the Bialystok project as “a great and beautiful idea.”
Several thousand people are expected to take part in Friday's march, including survivors of WWII deportations of Polish citizens by the occupying Soviet regime.
The museum itself would explore the entire legacy of Russian deportations of Poles to Siberia, from the 18th to the 20th century.
“Remembrance is absolutely essential for the endurance of the nation, it is absolutely essential for the maintenance of identity, it is absolutely essential so as to understand not only the past, but to know more about today,” the president said.
Nevertheless, Komorowski particularly stressed the importance of reconciliation between nations, reflecting on last month's much publicised declaration to this effect in Warsaw by Poland's Roman Catholic Church and Russia's Orthodox Church.
The president bestowed medals on former deportees who have been active in social initiatives. These included Karolina Kaczorowska, widow of the last president of the Polish government-in-exile in London.
Ryszard Kaczorowski, who himself grew up in Bialystok and survived deportation by the Soviets, handed over the insignia of state to President Lech Walesa following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Kaczorowski died in the Smolensk air crash of 2010.
Thursday also saw an international conference devoted to the Polish experience in Siberia over the centuries, with academics noting Polish contributions to the development of the region, including those by number of scholars who were deported there.
After Poland was erased from the European map in the late 18th century, the principle waves of deportation to Siberia occurred following two failed uprisings against Russia in 1830 and 1863.
During World War II, twenty years after Poland had regained its independence, Stalin sanctioned the deportation of at least 310,000 Polish citizens (to Siberia and other parts of the Russian Empire), although historians are still divided over the figures, with wartime Polish authorities claiming over a million.
Noted historian Andrzej Paczkowski estimates that 10 percent of the deportees died as a result of the ordeal, although thousands survived owing to an official amnesty following the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1941.
Poles were allowed to form an army from among the deportees, a force that duly fought under General Wladyslaw Anders as part of Britain's 8th Army. (nh)