Thursday, May 10, 2007

Day of Victory

Yesterday was the Day of Victory (over Nazi Germany) in Russia and the other post-Soviet states. It is celebrated one day later in the former Soviet republics than in the rest of Europe because they celebrate they day on which the German surrender entered into force rather than the day it was signed. It is a weird holiday. It is perhaps most weird in its contemporary context as you have countries that have worked very hard in most ways to distance themselves from their Soviet past (from intentionally painting government buildings bright colors you never would have seen in Soviet days to renaming every Soviet associated street in town) suddenly break out the Soviet military paraphernalia to parade about. It is odd because the Day of Victory was constructed as the creation mythos of the Soviet Union, if not its trial by fire, yet Soviet Union has disappeared into nothingness, but the holiday is still going strong. Essentially you have a holiday full of military parades (in Soviet and not modern military uniforms) and fighter jets flying overhead, flaunting the grandeur and military might of the former USSR. It seems more like mourning than anything else.

I don't mean to be cynical, certainly the Soviet Union lost the most lives of any country in World War II. The destruction on the territory of the Soviet Union was horrible, and million of Soviet soldiers fought valiantly. There is much to be celebrated in that, and the Soviet Union used the holiday to arouse patriotism on a yearly basis. I am just confused as towards what significance the holiday should have today, and I am not the only one. When I was in Odessa I watched a number of news reports where they tried different ways of arguing that the holiday is important for the post-Soviet generation, and in deed, the slogan for the Day of Victory in Odessa was "Day of Victory: A Holiday for all Generations!" I think finding relevance for the holiday is very tricky today, especially as the younger generation associates the symbols of the Soviet Union less with pride or heroism, but with the cheap souvenirs you can buy at the market or you see in counter culture.

It is also interesting because in Russian you have two names for World War II, you can either call it the second World War, or you can call it the Great Fatherland War. The second was the term of choice in the Soviet Union and politically charged as a result. Yet, it is that term that gets used in the media leading up to the Day of Victory. I suppose I am just surprised by the continued commitment to Soviet view of its involvement in World War II. The Soviet Union is still seen as a liberator that valiantly defeated evil Nazi Germany. I have two problems with that: 1. Yes the Soviet Union liberated, but it then took control of the countries and did not allow free elections so how a country can be considered to have been liberated when it is granted neither political independence nor allowed to hold free elections 2. There seems to be a complete lack of acknowledgement that at the time the Soviet Union was quite happy to carve up Eastern Europe with Nazi Germany and only went to war after it was attacked. There is also the issue of how horribly the Soviet Union treated its own soldiers, I don't even mean the horrible conditions, but the killing or deporting to gulags of returned prisoners of war as if the fact that they had not be killed proved they were German spies. I do think it is worth celebrating the sacrifice of the individual soldiers, but not of the Soviet leadership which showed a complete disregard for human life and not the grandeur of the bygone Soviet state.

3 comments:

Thiess said...

Then, after "liberating" eastern Germany, the USSR decided that, as reparations, they should be allowed to take a crapload of factories and other industrial infrastructure back home.

So we can also thank the USSR for the economic malaise the "Neue Bundesländer" are still suffering from.

ruth said...

in your list of den pobedy occurences you forgot to mention the hundreds of attractive russian sailors who march around. if they are trying to get the youth to start caring, they really should advertise this fact more widely

i am not going to address your more serious point because i feel like we can all agree on two things
1) the soviet union kind of sucked alot if you were not a native russian party member and even then it could still bite hard
and 2) russia tends to ignore the fact that they kind of treated the rest of the ussr like crap. and for that matter that they treated their own people like crap. but hey, every country does, just none of them are as big and did it for as long and as thuroughly as russia.

Barbarossa said...

Responding to Oliver's point:

Yeah, East (then Central) Germany wasn't liberated. I don't think they had even come up with that idea yet though (i.e. claiming that everyone in East Germany was communist and hence could be liberated).

The economic stuff is a bit more complicated, because immediately after the war they did pack up factories and rail roads to send back to Russia, but they later heavily subsidized the East German economy (intentionally mind you) with cheap oil and natural gas. Granted their encouraging of crazy communist economic planing probably didn't help.

For Ruth:

If anyoen can make the Day of Vicotry sexy the Russians can, but given the sexism in Russian I think they are far more likely to put hot chicks in sailors outfits then guys.

Russian chauvinism, Russian chauvinism, Russian chauvinism. It is amusing because that was a crime in the Soviet Union (especially in the first decade of the Soviet Union). They really do just ignor the harm that was done or try and play it down. I don't want to be unfair, I really like Russia in case you haven't noticed, but the fact that even my oldern educated logical Russian Russian teachers will freak out when I say v ukraine is telling (as in why do you care? Yes, Russian is your language, but it is there country/you forced your language on them remember so it is there's too).

Sort of interesting. I may have an entry in a few days about the monument fiasco in Estonia.