Saturday, May 21, 2016

Victory Day!

By Stephen Wilson

Victory Day Parade in Moscow, Russia May 9th!

Moscow, Russia -- It was an amazing sight. In every train carriage there were passengers carrying placards or old photos of their relatives who had either served in the Great Patriotic War, perished or had gone missing.

             There were  great grandchildren as well as grandchildren of soldiers who were carrying their photos to converge on the city centre for a huge memorial rally. It was as if the dead faces of the long buried past had opened their eyes again.

             An estimated 300,000 Russians participated in the march of the Immortal Regiment. 10,000 soldiers marched
on Red Square as well as 135 different kinds of military vehicles.

             Two days later while I was waiting for an English student the door of a building opened and a war veteran crept up to me with his walking stick adorned in a uniform with his medals.

              He asked if I was such waiting for him but I told him I was due to take an English lesson. Without waiting to be prompted he then told me, 'I fought at Stalingrad and sailed across the River Volga ... The whole city and all around had been flattened ... The River Volga was even on fire ... God forbid that we should ever fight such a terrible war like that again ... Where are you from?'

               I answered I was from Britain and had a family here. 

               "That is great. I have nothing against the British. It is governments which keep people divided." I was struck by how forthright and outspoken he was as most war veterans I had encountered tended to be reticent about the war. I never got round to taking his name!

               When I finally arrived to teach my young student, a 9-year-old boy called Roman, he showed me all the medals, photos and a torch which his great grandfather had got from the war. His great grandfather also fought at Stalingrad. "Just after the war had ended he went to help someone push a vehicle. Unfortunately, he stumbled and fell on to his wounded leg. That very same day he died."

               It is stories such as those which the founders of the Immortal Regiment sought to preserve by appealing to families to send them their stories to a network site. For the past few years, the Immortal regiment has been publicly calling for families to send them their stories about what really happened during the Great Patriotic War. The
enthusiastic response they obtained surpassed their expectations.

               People who don't even know much about what their relatives did during the war can click on this site and receive a lot of information. Oksana Chebotareva clicked on the sight and told me: " I simply inserted the name of my grandfather and then suddenly I got all this wealth of information about what medals he won and how he was wounded in the war. I didn't expect to find this at all!"

               What kind of stories might you find? Well, one hero of the Soviet Union Nicolai Ivanovich Sechkin told how he fought in the resistance and then when he was 18, won a medal for crossing over the River Dneiper and planting a flag in the German side. He recalls:

               "Before us was Rokossovski who made a speech saying he needed five brave volunteers to be the first to cross the Dneiper and place a flag on the other bank. I was the first to volunteer. We sailed across on a boat in cheerful spirits. The Germans noticed us and began to fire at us. All around us were explosions, bullets whistling and we uttered a protective charm. It was a prayer which a woman had said over us in a forest. The boat was hit by shrapnel and began
to sink. But we were in one piece! We swam across to the German trenches, threw grenades, planted a flag and changed out of our wet overcoats to storm the Heights."

               The idea of the Immortal regiment was inspired by Sergei Lapenkov and his friends who simply wanted to establish a political organisation  which would preserve and keep alive the memory of those who died in the Great Patriotic War by collecting stories, and asking people to come on marches with the photos of their relatives to commemorate them. It was largely a spontaneous movement which emerged at a grassroots level without official support or approval. Sergei Lapenkov recalls that his grandfather had fought at the Battle of Moscow, Kursk and many other places. He was severly wounded three times. Lapenkov recalls how he never watched any war films.

               Although the first mass demonstration was held in 2012 at Tomsk, Lapenkov modestly denies that it was his or anyone's idea. In an interview with Rodina, an historical journal, Lapenkov states:

              "We were not the inventors of, say, this idea. Gathering in Tomsk in 2012 our immortal regiment, we did not invent anything new which had not been previously tried. And in our Soviet childhood not so long ago, when people were alone in Sevastopol or Tumen, columns of school children would carry on the streets photos of soldiers up to the eternal flame." Lapenkov states: "Our grandparents
were all united in one group. Let us be grateful to them that we are alive and are different, and become like one regiment on the 9th of May. We can stand together without flags and lofty  speeches, and without ambitions and advantages'. If you look at the charter drawn up by the founders of the movement you can read: Firstly, the task of the immortal regiment is for very family to preserve their personal memory of a generation of the Great Patriotic war'. The second point calls for families to go on to the squares and streets in columns with pictures and photos of their relatives and go to special memorials. 'Point three declares that:

              "The Immoral Regiment is not a commercial, political and government initiative'. What the example of the Immortal regiment indicates is that people can carry out projects without vast resources, funding or state support. The main point is to retain the beautiful simplicity of the original goal.

               Unfortunately, not everyone appreciated those aims and politicians and businessmen attempted to take control of it. They saw a lot of political prestige or cash to be made from this. To make things worse, a 'placard of patriotism'  has emerged where people are trying to use the memory of the dead to promote more conflict with other countries. In a later interview Sergei Lapenkov expresses anxiety that the memory of the Great Patriotic War might be used to justify yet another war. He is certain that the vast majority of war veterans would not have welcomed such a scenario.

               Now there is another "Immortal Regiment of Russia' which has been created to serve the agenda of establishment politicians.

               Although people have attempted to abuse and take control of the Immortal regiment, most Russians are still just taking to the streets with their own photos and pictures to carry out the original aim which is to remember the dead. Therefore, the founders should not be downhearted by attempts to distort their goals. This is because the Immortal regiment march has become so vast it is impossible to hold back or control the waves of the sea. So any self-seeking
politician or official attempting to control the waves will be as impotent as King Cnut striving to hold back the sea. He will
be lost in the crowd.

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