Russia: what to expect from the May 9 commemorations?

A holiday created by Leonid Brezhnev on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the surrender of the Nazis in 1965, the celebrations of “Victory Day” on May 9 have undergone a lasting change since the end of the Cold War.

The Yeltsin Era: Minimal Service

The 1990s marked a “pause” in the course of the commemorations and in the importance attached to 9 May. This post-Soviet period is primarily characterized by the disintegration of the USSR, the shocks of economic reform and the transition from a planned state economy to a capitalist system of market economy. “These celebrations are not necessarily brushed aside and are celebrated on May 9th,” explains Anne Le Huérou, a lecturer at the University of Paris-Nanterre. However, they are no longer a priority and an inevitable patriotic ritual in a country where the population is more concerned about its survival and its purchasing power. †

May 9, 1995 remains an exception during these ‘difficult years’. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany, Boris Yeltsin, in the midst of the Chechen war, invites his American counterpart Bill Clinton, a sign of a thaw and a normalization of diplomatic relations between the two powers. British Prime Minister John Major also made the trip to pay tribute to the heroism of Red Army veterans.

Russia – Yeltsin, Clinton among leaders in honor of

May 9 ‘poutinien’: The show must go on

The coming to power of Vladimir Putin on December 31, 1999 marks a new turning point in the memory and a renewed performance of the “Victory Day” celebrations. The 2010s finally freeze May 9 as a patriotic holiday against a backdrop of political recovery.

“We are now witnessing commemorations in all republics and oblasts (administrative unit, editor’s note) of the Russian Federation, with new initiatives such as drawing and writing competitions,” explains the lecturer at the University of Paris-Ouest-Nanterre† Abandoned at the end of the Cold War, “patriotic-military” education is resurfacing in Russian society, in particular thanks to the “rebirth of cadet schools” that prepare and train the youngest for military careers, “unheard of since the period of the Imperial Russia,” explains Anne Le Huérou. The Soviet past is also making a comeback with an idealized image and a variable geometry view of history, “not questioning the Katyn massacre or the German-Soviet pact” in official discourse.

Vladimir Poutine assigns a special importance until May 9, a single commemoration raised in “sacred cause.” The Kremlin chief is working to preserve this collective memory, a sign of a new Russian patriotic identity. After the military parade, the march of the “immortal regime” has been organized every year since 2015. This originally apolitical initiative, launched by civil society in Tomsk in 2012, “was gradually taken over by nationalist movements and the power turned it into an almost mandatory parade” celebrating heroism and patriotism. Each family scrolls with a portrait of a relative or ancestor who fought in the ‘Great Patriotic War’. In 2015, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Kremlin chief opened the march in Moscow wearing a portrait of his father.

March of the “Immortal Regiment” on the occasion of the 74th anniversary of the victory on May 9, 2019 in Moscow.

Emin Dzhafarov/Kommersant/Sipa

An official declaration of war on Kiev on May 9?

Due to the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s active support for the breakaway republics of Donbass, Western leaders had turned down Vladimir Putin’s invitation to attend the 1970s commemorations.and Victory Anniversary. The parade in Red Square gathered nearly 16,000 soldiers. The presentation of state-of-the-art military technical means would have been perceived in the West as a ‘disturbing demonstration of violence’. †

A few days before 9 May 2022, there is plenty of speculation in the West about a possible escalation of the conflict. On the side of the Kremlin, Sergei Lavrov rejects any hidden or hidden military goal to be achieved by the Russian army on the occasion of May 9. “Our military will not artificially adjust their actions to any date, including Victory Day,” the Russian minister said.

Asked on LBC radio, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace estimated the Kremlin head could take this opportunity to launch another call for mobilisation. “I think he’s going to try to get out of the ‘Special Ops’ logic.” He [Vladimir Poutine, ndlr] set the stage to be able to say ‘Look, it’s a war against the Nazis now and what I need is more cannon fodder. †

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price also commented on rumors that Vladimir Putin was using “Victory Day” celebrations to “formalize” a declaration of war on Kiev. “It would be a great irony if Moscow used VE Day to declare war. » Ned Price agrees with British opinion, a formalization would allow Moscow to « increase manpower locally. †

Denazification is “the red rag that has been shaken by the Russian authorities since 2014.” Bandera, Ukrainian nationalist”, emphasizes Anne Le Huérou. This anachronistic, “denazification” argument has become “the leitmotif of the Russian authorities,” an effective argument “aimed at creating a parallel to World War II” in society. In these latest statements, Sergei Lavrov did not hesitate to compare President Zelensky with Hitler. †

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