The 70th Victory Day parade was truly a sight to see, the feeling was electric even when watching the RT feed. We can only imagine how amazing it must have been for the people present.
Today we will share an experience of someone who traveled to Moscow in solidarity.
I’ve always been fascinated by Russia. Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, the Russian Federation. As a child I read Russian fairy tales, children’s books and then graduated to the greats – Turgenev, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky. I often feel I must have Russian blood somewhere in the distant past of my ancestors.
For me, the 70th anniversary of the victory over fascism was an event I wanted to celebrate in Moscow, not London. Having studied Russian history at university and recently revisited my studies, I wanted to pay homage to the nation that truly defeated the Nazi hordes and paid such a great sacrifice. There are plenty of people in the UK who believe the Americans won the war, who diminish the Soviet contribution by citing the rape of German and Austrian women or claiming that the 25 million plus who died were victims of Stalin, not fascism.
I arrived in Moscow on the 8th as the finishing touches were being put on the preparations. Many areas were cordoned off, but I saw flowers being laid at the equestrian statue of Georgy Zhukov at the Manege Square just outside the entrance to Red Square.
The streets were lined with outdoor photo displays – joyous pictures of liberation and national celebration. Zhukov on his white charger, starting the first Victory Day celebration in 1945. A young soldier, grinning from ear to ear as he walks through the rubble of Berlin, a bust of Hitler tucked under his arm. Muzhiks greeting Red Army soldiers with gifts of bread and salt.
Military equipment, including rocket launchers, tanks and other vehicles were also on display near Manege Square. People lined up to have their photographs taken in front of the vehicles.
The mood during the whole weekend was joyous: there was no military triumphalism here, just a spirit of celebration. On the 9th, after the parade had ended, people gathered in parks and tourist centres to mingle and soak up the atmosphere. On the Arbat, people sang and danced. Veterans shuffled along, weighed down by their medals and supported by proud family members. Those who had taken part in the ‘march of the immortals’ could be seen walking the streets, still clutching on to the placards displaying pictures of their loved ones. Others carried flowers – red carnations typically – to place on statues.
Those thronging the streets were a mix of locals and tourists – from within Russia but also without. There were many Chinese visitors, following their Premier to Russia to pay homage. There were also Westerners like myself. I wore the St George ribbon with great pride, feeling extremely fortunate that I was lucky enough to be in Moscow on such an historic occasion.
What did I see through my rose tinted glasses? I saw a city of great bustle and activity – building works under way, clean streets and the bursting forth of spring renewal. There were only a handful of homeless or beggars on the street (I travelled throughout the city and further afield and saw only five beggars). Some would argue the homeless were driven from the streets, but in my day to day strolls around my home city I see many more homeless people than I saw in Moscow. I saw many children and young families. In fact Moscow seemed a very young city, counter to the theory that Russia has a catastrophic demography problem.
I asked someone if the sanctions had caused problems. He said no, not yet but maybe in a year. What they had done, he added, was rallied people around President Putin. In Soviet times the approval rating of Americans in the Soviet Union was above 80%; now in Russia it is 20%. It clearly demonstrated the folly of American actions, he said.
I also asked if people were disappointed that the US President had not attended the ceremonies. No, he said, Victory Day is a Russian Day and just as the Russians don’t attend the 4th of July, it is of no consequence that Obama or others didn’t attend Victory Day.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.