The history of mankind is filled with brutal wars, the reasons for which have been different. But these topics are usually mentioned with sadness, while on “remembrance” days they sometimes tend to become oversaturated with politics. World War II is essentially the only war exploited for the reasons of propaganda, as well as to glorify war crimes, and there is one just country doing it – Russia. Each year, this pseudo-celebration is held in the entirety of Russia and anywhere in the world where a true Russian (compatriot) has emigrated to. With this I mean that it happens everywhere. This year, however, will be slightly different, as the global pandemic has implemented its own changes.
The military parade held on May 9 featuring half-operational newest generation tanks and the march of the Immortal Regiment where fake photographs of relatives are held on the Red Square have been postponed indefinitely. This was officially announced by master of the Kremlin Vladimir Putin himself. Who will suffer the most? It will, of course, be the Kremlin’s propaganda machinery that each year literally turned millions of regular Russians into zombies.
To add, this Kremlin-established farce is quite often attended also by Western-minded people and educated Russians residing not only in Russia, but also abroad. There is no need to mention the several hundred naïve European citizens, i.e. Spaniards, Italians, the French and Germans who have gotten a bit delusional, most likely from the good life in Western Europe. This year was meant to be the 75th anniversary since the victory over Nazi Germany. The war was started by the USSR and the Third Reich: more than 27 USSR citizens lost their lives in the war and the same number of lives were taken by the USSR.
This year, Russia foresaw a generous amount of money for the celebrations from its budget. But now, part of the unspent funds will most likely have to be used in a more meaningful way than in any of the previous years – to “save” people’s lives.
It is worth looking at other aspects of the so-called Victory Day as well. Historically, 9 May was never as important during the Soviet era – because of all the other ideologically important dates – as it is now in Russia during Putin’s tenure. Putin has succeeded in gradually turning the ribbon of St. George into an internationally recognizable symbol of chauvinism. The Immortal Regiment, fake veterans, children dressed in USSR military uniforms – all of this is a mockery of the memory of the war. Even in the former USSR states, the celebrations on this day don’t have that much to do with remembering the end of WWII, but more with the manifestation of Russian cultural, informational and ideological space.
It is clear that the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany does not exist separately from the Allied victory in WWII. One cannot also separate military contributions by the USSR from contributions made by France, the US and the UK in crushing Nazism, but it is often wrong to compare any numbers – a lot of the time the large number of casualties on the Soviet side was less due to actions taken by German forces, but more due to the irrationality of the Red Army’s leadership.
It is also true that historical facts and truths about this particular period of time are being constantly twisted in Russia, and this is taking place with Putin’s blessing and, of course, billions provided by Russian taxpayers. Historical evidence concerning WWII is being questioned during doctoral dissertation presentations in Russian universities. Russian historians reluctantly write about WWII, and those who do write in accordance with the Kremlin’s guidelines. “We were victorious. Those who are against us are attempting to rewrite history.” This is the narrative that is being forced upon the Russian population.
These alternate history guidelines can be best described like this: everything that happened before May 9, 1945 is considered “a time of chaos”, i.e. a time when the Soviet nation was just forming; and events after this date are considered the starting point – a point when the Soviet people became the Russian nation. You can look at the lineage of any popular Russian person. Some will have Kalmyks as their relatives, some will have Caucasians, Finns, Karelians or even a couple of Germans or Balts. But now they call themselves Russians and share a sense of belonging to the Russian nation. They listen to Russian music, eat – as they themselves assume – Russian food and celebrate the new year looking at the Kremlin clock in Moscow. They believe Russians won the war. They are the victors, the nation of victors. And it is a huge honor to be part of the nation of victors. If the Soviet state began forming in 1917, then the Russian national took its first steps only in 1945. A nation is united by common values and a common enemy. Everyone who thinks differently is the enemy, and in this case, it is the West.
The May 9 celebrations have for a long time been a part of the everyday lives of Western-oriented Russians. Even if a person possessing common sense is aware that there is nothing to celebrate, his relatives who have given in to the mass psychosis are ready to party any way they can. Each year, these relatives drive their German-made cars with signs “НА БЕРЛИН!” (TO BERLIN!) or “Спасибо деду за победу” (Thank you, grandpa, for the victory), signifying that deep in the subconscious the true definition of the Russian nation is unclear even to Russians themselves.
The current pandemic will bring about some changes, and it is difficult to predict if it will also affect future celebrations on the Red Square. But one thing is certain – Covid-19 is something the Kremlin did not foresee, because it resulted in postponed May 9 celebrations along with a postponed constitutional vote that would allow Putin to remain in power until he dies. Unfortunately, none of this will change the mentality of the Russian person, because media outlets will still be overfilled with the correct May 9 narratives and people will simply move the celebrations to the virtual environment, where they will boast to their friends about their Red Army uniform replicas which they have dressed their children in, or a decorated BMW with “TO BERLIN!” written on it.
In conclusion I would like to note that elsewhere on the European continent May 9 is Europe Day, while those who fell during WWII are remembered on May 8.
*Konstantin Zigar, Polish journalist and graduate from the Lomonosov Moscow State University as an historian.