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Victory Day?

In Eastern Europe there is a popular saying born out of the long Soviet occupation: “I won’t believe it until the Kremlin disproves it”. The saying reflects the reality experienced by the subjects of the Red Tsars, not only in the former Soviet Union but in all the “allied” countries of the Warsaw Pact, because every time the Kremlin denied something, the bad news was a reality. Lies and propaganda were the common currency of the communist leadership and media, although ironically the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin was “Pravda” (The Truth). The old Soviet traditions are alive and well in today’s Russia and, unsurprisingly, the Victory Day speech was a propaganda exercise to justify the invasion of Ukraine. “Preventive war” in the face of “preparations for another punitive operation in the Donbas, for the invasion of our historical lands, including Crimea” is one of the most absurd lies repeated since the beginning of the war. If the Ukrainians planned to attack the People’s Republics, Russian recognition and the sending of peacekeepers, which was done before the invasion, would have sufficed, and likewise, an attack on Crimea sounds as credible as an attack on Moscow. The Nazis, Ukraine’s non-existent nuclear weapons (Kiev surrendered its nuclear arsenal in exchange for Russia’s promise to respect its territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum), and the Western enemy (NATO expansion that could incorporate Finland and Sweden thanks to the Russian invasion) completed the rest of a discourse that would fit perfectly into the last century.

This year’s Victory Day speech had generated high expectations because of the Pope’s statement that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had told him that “the Russians have a plan and on 9 May it will all be over”, or the insistent rumours of the announcement of a general mobilisation. However, at the great national celebration of the new Russia there was nothing out of the script, except for the idea that the war will continue. For the time being Putin cannot celebrate another triumph because of fierce Ukrainian resistance which, aided by NATO intelligence, has resulted in the deaths of ten generals, heavy loss of life and property, and even the sinking of the Russian Black Sea flagship, the “Moskva”. But why is Victory Day so important?

Victory Day, the military parade to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, has become the great myth in Russia today as it was in the Soviet Union before. There is no family that does not have a relative who did not fight in the “Great Patriotic War”, so the myth linked Soviet citizens with Stalin and Soviet leaders, as it does now with Vladimir Putin’s government. According to Novayagazeta’s Yulia Latinina: “It is essentially a cult of the new Russian totalitarianism, whose ideology is very simple. Russians are the kindest, most self-sacrificing, most humane nation, and anyone who does not recognise this is a Nazi. And the Nazis must be exterminated mercilessly and to the end. Stalin fought the Nazis and banners in Ukraine, and Putin is fighting the Nazis and banners in Ukraine”.

There was no decommunisation in Russia and those in power today are children of the Soviet system. This explains why the language used by the communist regime is still being used and the invasion of Ukraine is being presented as a war of liberation against the Nazis, or why new monuments to Lenin, Stalin and other criminals are being erected all over Russia and in the cities conquered in Ukraine. Needless to say, in many of the former Soviet countries, such as the Baltic countries, Victory Day celebrations are a reminder of the occupation and the thousands of compatriots killed and deported. In fact, these countries have banned events held by members of the Russian minority in Soviet uniforms and red flags at memorials left by the Russians during the occupation. The speaker of Latvia’s Saeima (parliament), Ināra Mūrniece, announced on 2 May that the Soviet monument in Riga will be demolished because it represents the occupation of Latvia. “We see what the occupying forces are doing in Ukraine before our eyes. Exactly the same ‘liberation’ that happened here, an occupation with all the atrocities, deportations, murders and war crimes that also took place in Latvia”. May 9 has been declared a day of remembrance for the victims of the Ukrainian war and the St. George ribbon has been banned as a symbol of Russian aggression. Lithuania has also banned the ribbon and Estonia is to ban it soon.

However, almost all former Soviet republics belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with the exception of Belarus and Tajikistan, have decided not to celebrate Victory Day with the usual military parades. Kazakhstan, for the fourth year in a row, has not held a parade. In the last three years, the Kazakh government appealed to the pandemic situation to cancel the event, but this year the excuse was budgetary expenditure. Ruslan Zhaksylykov of the defence ministry pointed out that the parade costs nine million dollars and that this money is better spent on “combat readiness”. The Kazakh government’s decision has provoked unrest in Russia and even a diplomatic incident with film director and TV presenter Tigran Keosayan. Keosayan, husband of Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT and Rossiya Segodnya, threatened Kazakhstan in a recent YouTube video for not organising the parade: “Take a good look at Ukraine, think it over”. In response, Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said he could be banned from entering Kazakhstan for comments deemed “offensive”. Kazakhstan has also refused to recognise the independence of the Donbass People’s Republics.

Kyrgyzstan also decided to cancel the 9 May military parade. Instead, a demonstration was held at which symbols related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and military uniforms with the letter ‘Z’ were banned. For the Kyrgyz authorities these symbols encourage “incitement to inter-ethnic hatred”. Uzbekistan did not organise a parade either, as it is celebrated there as Remembrance and Honour Day, with events dedicated to veterans. Although the St George ribbon is not officially banned, its use is increasingly restricted.

In Moldova, President Maia Sandu wanted to call for “peace” on Victory Day as well as celebrating Europe Day. The situation in the “poorest country in Europe” is extremely tense with its separatist neighbours in Transnistria, a communist country supported by Moscow, which for the same reason did not celebrate Victory Day either. On 14 April, the Moldovan parliament banned the display, on pain of a fine or community service, of the “Z”, the “V” and the St George’s ribbon as symbols of support for the war in Ukraine. Tension has also been the reason for the cancellation of events in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Azeri government’s accusations of alleged Armenian bombings in Nagorno-Karabakh, where in 2020 there was a war won by Azerbaijan, may start a new conflict.

If we were to use Victory Day as a yardstick to measure the support of countries that remain tied to Russia in the CIS, the result is rather poor. The longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the more likely it is that the former Soviet republics will break away from Russia and the further away Victory Day will be.

Source: El Correo de España

By Álvaro Peñas

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