By Vladimir Rozanskij
On 9 May, Russia marks the defeat of Nazism, one day after the rest of the world. On this day, people remember the sacrifice of so many soldiers, and above all the glory of the country, bulwark for the whole of humanity. Stalin is still more popular than Putin today. Out of 68 heads of state invited for the occasion, only 20 showed up.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – In Russia, today is Victory Day, the day when Nazism was defeated. For Russians, the anniversary, in addition to marking the end of the Second World War, is a day heavy with significance.
Over the past 70 years, especially in the past decade, the event has undergone changes and re-evaluations. Once movingly commemorated to remember the sacrifices made to Mother Russia and humanity, with veterans at the centre of the attention (75,660 are still alive), the event is now centred on the triumph of Stalinist USSR, whose mantle of power reflects upon today’s Russia.
In his speech, Putin praised the “eternal value of the military triumph of our people. It was the people who defended and saved our Motherland, became the hope and a tower of strength for the humankind, the main liberator of European nations. [. . .] With every new year we come to a deeper realisation of the moral power of that unparalleled feat”.
He went on to say that the disposition of the heroes of that time is reflected today by the soldiers of contemporary Russia, whilst the idols of fascism and Nazism are raising in some countries.
Russia has the necessary power to defend everyone, as shown by the powerful weapons paraded on Red Square. For most Russians, as polls indicate, the 1945 Victory is “the greatest event in world history”. Patriarch Kirill, on the eve of the celebration, laid a wreath of flowers on the monument to the Unknown Soldier, on the walls of the Kremlin.
In the past, the memory united Russians with their allies in the war against Hitler’s folly, but today a breach has grown between them, as evinced by the absence of many guests of honour at the tribune on top of Lenin’s mausoleum. Out of 68 invited heads of state, only 20 showed up, mostly the few supporters of Russia’s current isolationist course. Alongside Putin sat Chinese president Xi Jinping as well as Kazakhstan’s “eternal leader” Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The 9 May parade has now become a propaganda tool to promote Russia’s new greatness, with special emphasis on the importance of the state in the history of war and victory. In its extreme form, this translates into the increasingly popular slogan that “Stalin won the war”. Thus, in the name of a higher patriotic ideal, the memorial slate of the bloody Georgian dictator is wiped clean.
In the 1960s, Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1957 had led ordinary Soviet citizens to view the Victory as the replacement of one totalitarian regime by another, as masterfully expressed in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1968 novel In the First Circle. Among Soviets of that time, Stalinism had no right to the glory of Victory, and the May festival was limited to the regime flexing its muscles, based on Cold War blinkers.
What remained closely associated with 1945 was the memory of the victims and the sacrifices of the soldiers, best exemplified by the moving quietness of the commemorations and the rancour for a regime that had won by sending to the slaughter ten times the number of soldiers as the vanquished did.
Since the mid-2000s – in particular since the conflict with Ukraine in 2014 – humane feelings of compassion have been increasingly replaced by revenge, so that the old victory becomes the starting point to envisage new perspectives of greatness. This is helped by the fact that the celebration is held on a different day than the rest of the world, the latter being 8 May, the day when the Soviets remembered their entry into Berlin.
Russia thus celebrates “its” victory, one that is different from that of the other victors (for Ukraine’s outgoing president, Petro Poroshenko, the Kremlin has privatised the victory). At the same time, ordinary Russians are re-evaluating the figure of Stalin, beloved in today’s Russia even more than Putin himself. The net effect is that what is celebrated today is Russia’s moral greatness rather than the victory of freedom and democracy over Nazi totalitarianism, a greatness the world needs in lieu of Europe’s exhausted and powerless democracy.
This, at least, is the sense of the triumphal song that five great military choirs performed, at the close of today’s parade, an anthem to the homeland, the great country, which was echoed in St Petersburg by Mikhail Glinka’s historic 19th century anthem, glorifying the Russian tsar, Russia’s first official anthem, which some would like to see reintroduced today.