Since last week’s glance at Russia’s Victory Day parade, the Moscow Times has stated that 40,000 service personnel will take part in this year’s event on May 9th. That’s a remarkable figure; originally quoted in a broadcast by Ekho Moskvy Radio – although we have to wonder if we are slipping into “Chinese whispers” here. How long can a chain of news sources be before the data itself starts to degrade?
At any rate, last year’s event featured 16,000 (apparently), and 40,000 would fill a small town, and even overflow it in many cases. As a lay person it’s difficult to envision the logistics behind such an endeavour; literally the mobilisation of an army. Whatever point the Russian state is trying to make, it’s certainly being emphasised to the nth degree.
And the point, naturally, is about pride – and military might too (as well as remembrance). Does a titanic show of force sit well with a memorial event in any case? Here in the UK an equivalent would be Remembrance Sunday and VE Day combined. Imagine a massive show of force snaking it’s way through London on Poppy Day for instance. It’s slightly uncomfortable isn’t it? Our two minutes silence is certainly at odds with Russia’s vast mobilisation, although that’s not a particularly fair comparison.
The events of the day are not exclusively about the parade itself although the association predominates in our typical, Western mindset – along with vodka, bears and Ushanka hats. There is a tradition of giving flowers (red carnations, usually) to veterans in the street, in a strangely beautiful gesture of appreciation that bridges the decades.
In common with Western nations, there is the laying of wreaths at memorial sites – moments when we are truly in sync with the East. Then, the displays, programs, songs and wartime poetry featured in schools, and the family celebration/remembrance meals by way of commemoration.
Yes, the involvement of state and public is overwhelming, and if anything seems to be growing with the advance of years. Prime Minister Medvedev extended the time frame of the celebration in 2012 so that it now runs an official span from the 9th till the 12th of May. This, for an event that (in spite of its national significance) was not declared a holiday until its 20th anniversary (1965).
Having said that, I also discovered the following, on Moscow Russia Insider’s Guide
“The first Moscow parade was held on May, 1st, 1941, a month before the Nazis invaded Russia. The Soviet leadership was trying to repel Hitler by showing the Red Army’s strength”.
Naturally, that wasn’t technically a victory parade, but it certainly highlights the tone (in part) of the spectacle.
This May, Russia’s media output will naturally veer toward the significance and the history of the occasion with repeated films, documentaries and news items spread across multiple outlets. And then there’s the fireworks, what else? An oddly colourful and optimistic finale to the sombre parade day itself.
But thankfully so, this ultimate icing is certainly at odds with the grim, grainy TV footage of monolithic ICBMs on their launch vehicles, ponderously snaking through Red Square during the 1960’s height of Cold War. An image somehow made worse by its presentation in slab-like monochrome; as if engraved on a tomb for the entire planet.
[Photo by takazart]