Victory Day is 9 May in Russia, a day later than in the West because the Germans capitulated on their Western front more hastily.
This day wasn’t a public holiday until 1965, and no Red Square parades were held. Stalin, and Khrushchev after him, didn’t want to make too big a deal of the occasion, possibly because they were reluctant to have to answer – or rather refuse to answer – all sorts of uncomfortable questions.
Such as, “Why did the Soviet Union start the Second World War as Hitler’s ally?” Or, “If the purpose of the Soviet-Nazi Pact was to prepare for war, how come we lost practically the whole regular army in the first few months, with the Germans taking over 4,000,000 POWs between late June and early December?” Or, “Why did we continue to suffer much higher casualties throughout the war?”
Under Brezhnev, Victory Day became more prominent, but still military parades were held in Red Square only every five years. Now it’s every year, with Putin regaling the troops and TV audiences with rousing speeches about the rise of Russophobia necessitating vigilance and battle readiness. (Russophobia is defined in those quarters as less than enthusiastic support for Russia’s crimes.)
Now that the real veterans have mostly died out, the aspiring faux-veterans respond to Putin’s sabre-rattling with posters and bumper stickers screaming “On to Berlin!” and “We can do it again!” So propaganda does work, as if we needed any more proof.
The war, in which the Soviets lost 28 million people, is being broadcast hysterically at the masses day and night, the way communism used to be under Khrushchev. Like communism then, the war is the ideology now.
Putin’s regime is all about whipping up and exploiting chauvinistic frenzy to cover up its real objectives: robbing the country blind to enrich the Great Leader and his jolly friends. A worthy goal though that may be, it can’t function as the official raison d’être of the state.
Hence the war, sacralised and draped in the new imperial mantle, has to take up the slack. Hence also the recent death warrant to history as an academic discipline: any attempt, no matter how factual, to equate Hitler and Stalin or dispute the noble, liberating mission of the Red Army will be punishable by up to a fiver in prison.
Since any conscientious researcher is bound to uncover similarities galore between the two evil dictators, serious history of the war is in effect banned. Only propaganda and pagan processions are allowed.
The war has been turned into a bull’s head on top of a totem pole, with the poor, brainwashed populace expected to genuflect and worship. Ignorance and bellicosity are being raised to high civic virtue, a piety in all but name.
Real veterans wouldn’t have fallen such easy prey to indoctrination. They knew what that war was like, and adulation was the last thing on their minds.
This is what the writer Victor Astafiev (1924-2001) had to say, and he earned the right to tell the truth. Himself a veteran of that war, he was twice wounded, the second time grievously. Astafiev only saw the dawn of the Putin era, with its glorification, and sacralisation, of the war – but he read the signs unerringly:
“Soviet militarists are the most strident, most cowardly, most evil, most stupid of all who have ever existed. It is their kind of ‘victory’, a 1:10 casualty rate! It is they who tossed our people into fire like straw – and Russia is no more, the Russian people are no more. The land that used to be called Russia is now barren, grown over with weeds. And what is left of our people have fled into towns to become rabble, those who left the village without arriving in the city.
“So how many perished in the war? You do know and remember. Yet it is terrifying to cite the real number, isn’t it? If you did so, then, instead of your dress uniforms, you’d have to don hairshirts and beg your people’s forgiveness for the ineptly ‘won’ war, in which the enemy was buried under Russian corpses, drowned in Russian blood.”
Thus spoke a true Russian patriot, for whom the war was a national tragedy, not a pagan pageant. Hear, hear.