The idea that the pomp and pageantry around the annual festivities commemorating Victory in the Great Patriotic War constitute a sort of foundational myth of the Russian state is a popular one.
The Kremlin is faced with a dilemma in reconciling Stalin with Victory. Promoting the Victory isn’t only feelgood propaganda. It is very useful. It stokes the social cohesion that Russia needs to consolidate itself, and to actualize her shift towards sobornost’ (the catch-all term for a deep sense of internal peace and unity between races, religions, sexes, etc, within a society). It also creates powerful bonds with other peoples of the erstwhile USSR, buttressing the Kremlin’s drive to (re)gather the Russian lands. For this reason, under Putin, Russia has devoted lavish attention to the public spectacle of Victory. The Victory parades in Moscow become ever more impressive, – indeed, imperial – with every passing year. Under the initiative of Kremlin-affiliated youth movements, the Ribbon of Saint George was popularized as a symbol of Victory since 2005. This harkens back to the Medal For the Victory Over Germany, which was awarded after the war to all the soldiers, officers and partisans who directly participated in live combat actions against the European Axis. A medal dominated by Stalin’s visage.
Since then, the trend has, if anything, accelerated, with the grassroots emergence of the Immortal Regiments marches, a much more humane and introspective ritual that emphasizes the human costs of the war to ordinary Russians.
But this was in 2010. The current year is 2018, and a lot of things have become much clearer since then, often in a depressing direction. It’s time for a reconsideration.
1. The Soviets themselves didn’t make a big deal of it.
The main holiday under the Marxist-Leninist regime was always May 1, the internationalist labor holiday. This is hardly surprising – the Soviets thought they were boldly marching to the victory of the global proletarian revolution, and considering Victory Day as the apex of their history would have seemed insane to them. It’s worth stressing that May 9 only became a public holiday in 1965, which also marked the second ever Victory parade in Moscow. The third was in 1985.
1985. Only the third ever Victory Day parade in Moscow.
It was only when the Soviet order started disintegrating that Victory Day started becoming sacralized. The next one appeared in 1990, on the eve of the USSR’s collapse. And they became yearly event in 1995, at the absolute nadir of Russia’s decline. Essentially, the post-sovok elites created it as a palliative to draw attention away from the fact that everything else had been lost – and their own looting. Consequently, it is worth noting that the vast majority of the veterans of the Great Patriotic War lived most of their lives without Victory Day being an annual religious event.
Now one might rejoinder that the non-Communist Russian patriot might rejoinder that Victory Day is by far not the worst Schelling point around which to base modern Russian identity – after all, it has connotations of patriotism, unity, self-sacrifice. The following points will address this.
2. You cannot sanitize Victory from Communists.
You can certainly try, and the Kremlin certainly does, but ultimately Stalin is as canonical a figure as Churchill in Britain, or F.D. Roosevelt in the US. Dissociating it from Communism is hardly feasible when the current denizens of the Kremlin watch over the Victory parade from a cheap cardboard pedestal, while the soldiers and war machines drive past the imposing granite monolith that is the tomb of the malevolent founder of the Soviet state, with his name prominently inscribed upon it. The former seems fleeting, insecure; the latter powerful, eternal. At least in their current form, Victory Day celebrations are a permanently running, lowkey legitimization of the multinational mafia that took Russia hostage and killed millions of Russians along with Hitler.
3. It is a celebration of idiocy.
The entire ruinous war would have been averted if not for the decades of Bolshevik treason, extremism, and stupidity that had preceded it and helped lead to it.
Russia was slated to be on the winning side of World War I. The Bolsheviks, and especially Lenin, need to take the credit from grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. Conversely, Germany’s defeat would have been all the more comprehensive, making its future resurgence – with pro-Russian kingdoms installed in Bohemia and Poland – all the more improbable.
Without the memory of the Red Terror and the reality of Stalin’s tyranny, there would have been no bourgeois reaction against Leftism and “weak” democracies in Europe; the Nazi coup was an incredibly close-run thing as it was. Even a relative “moderate” at the Soviet helm, such as Nikolay Bukharin, who was open to cooperating with Social Democrats, would have been sufficient to forestall that timeline.
Even all that aside, a Russia that avoided a decade of lost industrial development due to the Civil War, around 15 million deaths due to the Civil War and recurring famines, a sullen peasantry that was initially willing to welcome the Germans before their depredations became known, the Red Army purges, and the persecutions of Tsarist technical specialists would have been much better positioned to counter a German invasion, without the vast sacrifices (27 million Soviet dead) that they actually entailed.
French post-war plans in 1915.
The USSR in 1945 merely acquired the territories that the Russian Empire would have otherwise acquired or vassalized after WW1 (minus Finland, Tsargrad, and Greater Armenia). Not that Russians ever benefited from it – in 1947, “victorious” Russia experienced another major famine with 1.5 million deaths (that’s thrice more than the worst famine under late Tsarism, but hardly anyone knows about it), because grain was requisitioned to feed the “defeated” Germans in order to politically solidify the GDR. It then fostered hate against itself by locking the countries it had occupied, along with itself, into four decades of economic idiocy – before proceeding to give it all away in exchange for empty promises.
This is what “Victory” amounted to. Pure, distilled idiocy. SO WHAT ARE WE EVEN CELEBRATING?
4. It fosters the spread of idiotic attitudes and values.
Intelligent people, such as Americans, don’t want to die for their country – they want foreign bastards to die for theirs. Soviet cretins celebrate Russians dying for the “victory of the Soviet people against fascism.”
This leads to an entire complex of harmful and self-defeating attitudes.
First, it contributes to the sentiment that the guys in epaulettes – most personified by the Georgian mustachioed one – know best and cannot be questioned. This implicitly encourages subservience to power, even in the face of the most self-evident incompetence, corruption, and betrayal of national interests. Do you think that Mutko, Russia’s Sports Minister, who has overseen the discreding of Russia in international sports and has become a byword for incompetence and venality, isn’t qualified to manage a food stall let alone be promoted to the Deputy Prime Ministership in charge of housing? Do you think the pot-bellied 90 IQ cockroaches at Roskomnadzor should not have the divine right to determine what you can and cannot read? Too bad. You need to suck it up, because blind sacrifice for the glory of the country is the right thing to do.
Second, it deludes Russians into thinking that they died to “protect the world against fascism” or something similarly silly. In reality, they died – due to Communist incompetence, in far greater numbers than was necessary – to prevent themselves from being exterminated by Germans. After all, Stalin’s USSR was far more dangerous to Russians, even Communist ones, than Mussolini’s Italy, the birthplace of fascism, which over the two decades of its existence executed just nine people (most of them terrorists). This prevents Russians from clearly understanding the deep undercurrent of racial hatred that animates European Russophobia and fosters harmful delusions to this day, such as the absurd preoccupation with the German relationship.
5. It twists historical facts to impose a politically correct multinational ideology.
Walking through the Ekaterininsky Park in Moscow, near the Central Military Museum, one gets the distinct impression that it was Caucasians and Central Asians who won the war while Vanya drank vodka in the rear.
Reality was of course quite different.
The contributions of Central Asians were minor relative to their populations, and their presence often lowered rather than raised combat effectiveness (even in the late USSR, they were disproportionately assigned to the lowest-quality Class C rearguard divisions). Meanwhile, mobilization in the Muslim North Caucasus, especially Chechnya, failed entirely; collaboration was so extensive that deportation of their entire people to Kazakhstan was more humane than the “legalistic” alternative, which was the execution of most of their menfolk.
Still, history has always been used to service present-day political priorities, and as this constitutes multi-nationalism in the Russian Federation, everything else follows.
6. Even so, it is not even effective at that.
The Near Abroad is drifting away from Russia regardless, because few young Uzbeks are interested in “celebrating with tears in their eyes” what is to them the conclusion of a foreign country’s military campaign three generations ago.
In 2016, Kazakhstan canceled its Victory Day march even as it accelerated the transition to the Latin alphabet. The Immortal Regiments marches, perhaps the one genuinely grassroots Russian expression of Victory, have been getting banned in Tajikistan (a quarter of its GDP generated by remittances from Russia) and now Belorussia (which enjoys cheaper gas from Russia than Russians themselves).
Nor can Victory in WW2 be used as a vector of soft power – not when the vast majority of Westerners know of the USSR’s contributions though German generals’ war memoirs and believe that it was the Americans who were responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany:
The East Europeans, and after the Maidan even official Ukraine (which now marks only the Western May 8 Victory Day, using the remembrance poppy it pilfered from Britain as its symbol), consider the Russian version of Victory Day as a disgusting celebration of Russian chauvinism and imperialism. At some level, these attitudes are of course understandable – the Communists robbed their national futures, just as they did Russia’s. But mention the Germans’ plans for them, and most will consider you a troll.
And it’s likely that, over time, Central Asia, Armenia, and Belorussia will follow in the same footsteps. All the signs are there.
Thanks to Russia’s loser status, its continued association with loser ideologies, and its catastrophic lack of any soft power (RT and Sputnik exist just to troll Westerners), things can hardly be otherwise.
7. People stuck in the past have no future.
Going back to the first point, recall that even the Soviets – blasting the first man into space and dreaming of world proletarian revolution – would have thought it insane to make Victory in WW2 the lynchpin of their history.
This is doubly insane for Russian civilization, which should not be confused with the entity presently calling itself the Russian Federation, which has always had trouble justifying its own existence.
In the past decade, the only addition to the national myth has been the reincorporation of Crimea, which was entirely right and proper, but it’s lame and gay to make what is ultimately just a marginal adjustment to Russia’s 17th century borders a cornerstone of the national ideology. Relative to the dreams and ambitions briefly unleashed by the Russian Spring in 2014, the blatantly politicized celebrations over Crimea – up to and including making its anniversary coincide with the date of Putin’s elections – sooner make a mockery of the entire affair.
Here are a few real national ideas worthy of Russian civilization:
- The regathering of the Russian lands
- Genetic IQ augmentation
- Atomically blasting Imperial Russian Navy battleships off into space
These are all cool, WINNER ideas that self-respecting Russians can get behind.
Participating in this lame Soviet LOSER ritual, designed in its present form under Yeltsin to mask the fundamental hollowness of the Russian Federation – thanks but no thanks.