The celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in Russia were in top headlines last week. Grand events, commemoration ceremonies, nation-wide media campaigns – Russia has been preparing for this day throughout the whole year. This time such a significant date for Russians, however, made a different sense in the context of the tense relations with the West.
Over the past 20 years the Victory day in Russia has transformed from the day of remembrance of the victims into the annual festival with open air concerts and spectacular military air shows. The Victory itself became an instrument of legitimization of the authoritarian regime. President Putin, largely supported by his people, keeps circling back to the Soviet Union imperialistic ambitions, this time manipulating with the sacred for the Russians sentiment – almost every family lost someone for the sake of the victory that freed Europe from Nazism. Russians now experience serious difficulties in self-identification as a nation and the Victory day has become a sought uniting pillar.
Moscow marked the 9th of May with a most sumptuous and expensive parade in history. Remarkably, the tradition to hold a Victory parade annually was born just several years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This year 16 thousands of soldiers marched on the Red Square including contingents from the armies of Serbia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan as well as Indian grenadiers and regiments of the guards of honor of the Mongolian and Chinese armies.
About 200 armored vehicles and 145 military aircrafts showcased at the main Victory parade successfully met the challenge to show Russian military might. But not only to the West – the authorities wanted to show to the citizens that 400 billion dollars allocated for the last national armament program are actually spent. Some of the models of the newest armors demonstrated on the parade are not even officially tested and approved. Among other types of weapons, new intercontinental ballistic missiles were displayed.
In his opening speech President Putin expressed concern that nowadays “forced block thinking” tend to deepen and it threatens the global peace and development. He also greeted the foreign guests of the parade and expressed appreciation to those who fought the Nazism and Japan militarism.
The Ukrainian crisis caused severe disagreements between Russia and the former Allies. Number of those world leaders who rejected the Kremlin’s invitations is impressive. One must have a strange feeling seeing Putin surrounded by the Presidents of China, India and Venezuela, non-recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the main ceremony of the Victory day. Now it is hard to imagine that only five years ago American, French and British soldiers marched along with their Russian counterparts on the parade and the Western leaders were obviously glad to pay a visit to Moscow.
The symbolic of patriotism
Symbolic plays a big role in promoting an ideology. This year the mass “patriotic” campaign produced a new symbol of the Victory – the ribbon of Saint George. Historically, these gold and black stripped ribbons served as the military award decorations given in the exceptional case, for a heroic act and were a great honor to wear. It was instituted in Catherine the Great time, prohibited by the Soviet authorities after the revolution but then reestablished in the WW II time. In 2005 the ribbon became a symbolic of the campaign with the motto “I remember. I am proud.”
Today the rhetoric of patriotism in Russia got most preposterous forms. The celebrations of the anniversary of the Victory were accompanied by numerous scandals because of inappropriate use of the patriotic symbolic. Saint-George’s ribbons in the obscene night-club commercials, fake veterans on the parade and the accidently placed pictures of Luftwaffe soldiers on congratulation posters is not the complete list.
This year for the first time everybody on the Moscow Victory parade from the President to the soldier had the Saint George’s ribbon pinned on the coat lapel. The awareness black and gold ribbon widely used as a patriotic attribute in Russia became a symbol of Russian imperialism and nationalism in the former Soviet countries due to the Ukrainian crisis. It is strongly discouraged to wear the ribbon in particular in Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic States.
At the same time Russia started the anti-swastika crusade. The term “fascist” is now used to describe anybody who is loyal to the current Ukrainian authorities or supports the Euromaidan movement. In the course of the year the Constitutional court adopted the law prohibiting display of any symbolic connected to the fascist organizations and the law establishing criminal penalties for the “rehabilitation of Nazism”. Human rights and civil society activists are concerned that the laws might be used against the academics and researches who may criticize actions of the Red Army or decisions of Stalin during the war.
However, first domain to be washed by the “anti-fascist” wave is the art. Recently Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning comic book Maus became a major focus of public attention. The world’s bestseller, story of a Holocaust victim that sends a powerful anti-fascist message, was removed from bookshops for the image of swastika on its cover. Before the celebrations of the Victory day Moscow city authorities announced the “raids for detection of the goods with extremist symbolic”. For instance, the toy soldiers in SS uniform, withdrawn from commerce, became their target.
The frightening tendency of rising nationalistic sentiments in Europe is a reality in modern Russia as well. 70 relatively peaceful years in Europe must have taught us that this can have horrible consequences. Instead, confrontation on ideological grounds between Russia and the West escalates. After all, the present-day situation will be exposed to the analysis of the most severe judge – the time.