TO CELEBRATE OR COMMEMORATE ?
THE DAY OF VICTORY
By Stephen Wilson
Moscow -- "We don't celebrate the Day of Victory in Israel because the Russians refused
to aid the Warsaw uprising in 1944. They stood back and let the Germans
crush this uprising when they could easily have advanced into the city and
supported it. They call this event a celebration rather than a regrettable tragedy.
The main message of this day is 'We won the war and we could win it again"
declared Georg Skorobotatov, who is currently visiting Moscow . He informed
me that is grandfather had fought in the war from the age of 14. He is also scathingscathing of how it took so long for the allies to open a second
front as late as 1944! How come it took so long ? Georg's answer and the views
of other people I have spoken to indicate how so many people perceive the war
in a distinct way at odds with so many official versions which would prefer a
straightforward and over simplified version without intrusive unpleasant facts.
For example, how newly released Russian prisoners of war were sent to new
Russian prison camps, how Stalin was still interfering with strategy in such away
it hindered an earlier capture of Berlin in 1945 and the facts that not only did
Russian soldiers rape German women but Polish and Yugoslavian. All those
inconvenient facts are either swept under the carpet or even 'rationlised' or
'contextualised'. Sociology forgives everyone.
I replied to Georg that I thought most Russians really commemorate rather than
jubilantly celebrate it in a urrah patriotic way. For instance when I attended the
Day of Victory march by the 'eternal regiment ' I witnessed a more sombre and
sad mood amongst the marchers than exalted militaristic mood. This is starkly
indicated by the number of people holding up placards of photos of their
deceased members of the family who often fought and died in the war. The faces
are often lined with grim anxiety , pain and suffering.
When I joined the marchers going from Beloruskaya railway station I was struck
by the never ending swarms of people gathering. The underground metro was
filled to the brim. For hours columns of ordinary people marched by wearing
raincoats, military caps and holding photos. An estimated 850,000 people are
thought to have gathered in Moscow alone, and 700,000 in Saint Petersburg.
Some critics see those long celebrations as an attempt by the government to
distract them from more pressing day to day concerns such as growing poverty,
unemployment and state repression.
My daughter Anna stated : " Why don't they also remember the people who
died in Afghanistan , or Chechnya ? "
There is doubt that that the real voices of the Great Patriotic war are often
drowned out or ignored by nationalist politicians and the mass media . The
real voices which should be heard are those from the war veterans. However,
they are often reticent . A Russian actor , Boris Gakin stated : "My whole family
fought in the war and none of them liked to talk about it ". When Svetlana
Georgineyvna asked a female veteran about the war she laconically answered:
"It was mud, blood and rot ! This was monstrous grief and strife. Don't ever ask
me about this again. "
I spoke to an old friend Andrei, a journalist from Tambov about the war. He told
me he could recall two of his grand -relatives who fought in the war but only
has information about one of them. Andrei told me : "the average life span of a
soldier who fought at Stalingrad was two days ! I was told that one of them ,
Alexandr Pavlovich Zoroastrov was badly wounded there and somehow suvived.
That was a miracle ! He had been so badly wounded in the head that he could
not sleep on one side of his body, could not bear being touched on the head
because it was so painful and could not stand loud noises ".
Many people once predicted that as the years passed, the war would be forgotten
and become a mere historical curiosity. But this has not happened. Russians
still treat the war with reverence and respect despite a few calculated attempts to
make money and impose their own interpretation of the war on people. A recent
survey by Kommersant taken from 20-27th of April, found that as many as 49.8%
of those polled regard 'The Day of Victory' as a deeply personal date because
their relatives fought in the war while 39.4% consider it 'a day of national unity.'
Only 10.8% casually treat it as another day off !
On this day I witnessed one poignant moment which still lingers on in my mind.
I saw an old officer who was a frail war veteran being helped by his daughter
to lay some flowers. He could hardly walk without her support. The officer
was adorned in a blue uniform and cap and wore many medals. He stopped
just outside a new bust of a famous commander, Ivan Danilovich Chernyakhovski.
(1907-1945) He mustered enough strength to walk up alone to it, saluted the
memorial , laid down some flowers, and then saluted him again. It was as if he
was saluting a real living person . It reminded me of a phrase which Rokossovsky
had used in reference to this general when he remarked : " It was clear that in
the army they very much loved him " . They still do love him !