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Adrienne Warren

A Bittersweet Remembrance: Victory Day in the Post-Soviets

On May 8-9, millions of people around the world celebrate the Victory Day, commemorating the day Nazi Germany surrendered in 1945, ending WWII. The holiday is celebrated on May 8 in most parts of the world, and May 9 in the former Soviet states, due to time differences.  This year marks the 68th anniversary of the end of the war, commonly considered to be the deadliest conflict in human history. An estimated 28,000,000 people were killed in the Soviet Union alone, making Victory Day an especially significant landmark in the Post-Soviet region. 

Victory Day, Riga, Latvia. author: Sergey Melkonov. source: Flickr

Victory Day in 2012, Riga, Latvia. author: Sergey Melkonov. source: Flickr

Many have argued that Victory Day in the former Soviet states is a hollow and bittersweet celebration–as it commemorates the victory of yet another foreign oppressor, and the continuation of another 5 decades of community dictatorship.  In other parts of Europe, the 9th of May has other connotations--the EU’s “Europe Day” (1950), and for Romania, Independence Day (1877).

In spite of this claim, in his Victory Day speech during today’s parade in Moscow’s Red Square, President Vladimir Putin called Russia “the guarantor of world security‘, saying that Russia would do “everything in order that no one ever dare unleash war again.”  Putin extolled Russia’s roll in bringing WWII to an end, saying:

“We will always remember that it was specifically Russia, the Soviet Union, that undermined the abhorrent, bloody, supercilious plans of the Nazis and kept them from controlling the world. Our soldiers saved freedom and independence by defending their motherland without sparing themselves, liberating Europe and claiming a victory whose grandeur will live on for centuries.”

While Victory Day is considered Russia’s most important secular holiday, takes a look at how the holiday is regarded in other parts of the Post-Soviet space…

Bronze Soldier, Tallinn, Estonia. author: LHOON. source: Flickr

Bronze Soldier, Tallinn, Estonia. author: LHOON. source: Flickr

Victory Day is no longer officially observed in Estonia, locals mainly of Russian origin celebrating the holiday, gather at the Defense Forces Cemetery in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, to place wreaths and flowers at the foot of the Bronze Soldier statue. A Soviet memorial statue which sparked controversy in 2007.

This year, Latvia also met with controversy last month after initially approving the first  draft of a law that would forbid the public display of both Soviet and Nazi symbols. The bill was given an urgent status in the hope that it would be passed before the celebration of Victory Day–largely celebrated by Latvia’s Russian population (estimated to be about a quarter of the population as a whole).  The bill was ultimately removed by Parliament. Latvia’s official position is that it was occupied by the USSR from 1940 through 1991. Russia, as a successor to the USSR, does not recognize the occupation.

In Lithuania  visitors crowd on May 9, 2013 at the Antakalnis memorial in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

Russia has a long standing contention with the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, as well as Poland, over what it sees as an attempt to diminish the Soviet role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, and allegedly re-write history.

In neighbouring Belarus, Victory Day is revered as one of the most important national holidays. In his Victory Day greetings today, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko praised the Soviet Union’s heroism and conveyed his respects, saying:

“This great holiday embodies the unparalleled heroism of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War and the triumphant joy of the nations saved from enslavement.The most horrible war in the history of mankind left an indelible mark on every Belarusian family. Respect for the generation of victors, the continuity of the glorious military and labor traditions are the manifestations of our commitment to protect peace, security and well-being of the Motherland.

Victory Day, Minsk, Belarus. author: Alexander Kuznetsov. source: Flickr

Victory Day, Minsk, Belarus. author: Alexander Kuznetsov. source: Flickr

Belarusian documentary film-maker Jury Khashchavatski, in an interview with Charter97, explains another important side of Victory Day which should be commemorated:

“… this war has a different side: the occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and practically occupation of the countries of Eastern Europe. It was the policy of the “evil empire” – the Soviet Union. We must not forget about that either. We should understand that there was everything in the war: heroism,  glory, great people, who fought the fascism. But their heroism was used by the authorities, who extended the empire, suppressed and enslaved nations. Everything must be remembered.”

In Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych congratulated veterans and compatriots for bringing “peace and freedom” to Ukraine on this day 68 years ago, saying:

“Today we pay tribute to those who sacrificed themselves, saved our land from fascist enslavement and brought us peace and freedom. The bright memory about millions of our deceased compatriots will remain forever in our hearts. I am confident that Ukrainian people will never forget the sacrifice and military valor of their liberators and will always be proud of their immortal feat.”

According to Interfax statistics, Victory Day is considered a significant holiday by 82% of Ukrainians, and a estimated 75% planned to celebrate the day–with a large parade taking place in Kyiv, the nation’s capital.

In Moldova the Russian Embassy hosted a concert with Russian singers in the Central Square in the capital Chisinau–the decision was met with protest by some, who have proclaimed the 9th of May as a day of mourning for Moldovans. Dozens protested in front of Chisinau town hall this week in the lead up to the Victory Day celebrations, claiming that the day should also commemorate the Moldovan victims of the Soviet regime.

Armenia is marking the day with an event, entitled “Battlefront Photograph from Family Archives,” which will be held in two of Yerevan’s parks. The two parks will be transformed into war memorials, presenting military photos provided by the event participants, which will be gathered in an exclusive album of the recollections of World War II. Concerts of war songs will be held, as well, and the visitors will learn about Armenian heroes, and their contribution to Armenia’s victory over fascism.

The 9th of May is also the anniversary of events during the war in Nagorno Karabakh in the 1990s – the liberation of Shoushi

Georgian veterans of the World War II gather in the park of Vake in downtown Tbilisi at the memorial of Unknown Soldier to mark the Victory Day over the Nazi Germany (a gallery of the event can be found here).

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited the monument of  Hazi Aslanov, a Soviet war hero. Aliyev laid flowers at the monument in memory of the 350,000 Azerbaijani’s who died on the battlefield during WWII. More than 680,000 Azerbaijanis, including 11,000 women, took part in fighting at the front battles.

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Check out images of Soviet WWII Veterans

Watch highlights from the Victory Day Parade in Red Square

sources: charter97, Huffington Post, Kyiv Post 

Feature image source: Facebook

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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