First and foremost V-Day honors the Soviet people which fought and won against the Nazis. The worst of the pro-western Russian liberals deliberately miss the point and instead pretend it is foremost a celebration of Putin's state
New Yorker has recently ran two provocative articles on the subject of Russia’s celebration of Victory Day --by Masha Gessen and Masha Lipman --both "exposing" Russian militarism, fixation on the State and its leaders, parado-mania, Putinomania and other topics that Russian liberal intelligentsia finds irresistible.
"Putin's Victory day, not my Grandmother's" -- the title of Masha Gessen’s essay clearly summarizes her position, while Masha Lipman’s “Victory Day in Moscow” provides historical background to various phases that Soviet commemorations of WWII went through, suggesting, that it has always been politicized, always depended on the whim of a leader, be it Stalin, Khruschev, Yeltsin, or Putin.
These articles and similar Russia- and Putin-bashing essay provocatively titled, “How Russia Lost The War” penned by a well known contemporary writer, Mikhail Shishkin, for NYT (and insightfully deconstructed by Paul Robinson) -- deliberately miss the point on what is actually being celebrated – by relativizing, politicizing, and obscuring the real message behind the Great Patriotic War, as WWII known in Russia.
In other words, these critics are doing exactly what they blame Putin for: Putin, according to Lipman, “reduced the holiday to a celebration of state glory”; these critics however, blatantly reduce the holiday to the attack on Putin’s empirical ambitions, on his glorification of the state power, on the state-sponsored pageantry and nationalistic symbolism of the celebration. Speaking on behalf of her late grandmother, Gessen comments that even though her grandma always celebrated the holiday despite the regime’s attempts to appropriate it, she would have had difficulty doing it this time.
"The holiday, which has taken a variety of shapes and sizes in the last seventy years, has finally turned into a war-mongering orgy of such proportions that even the memory of triumphing over Hitler might pale in comparison,” declares Gessen triumphantly. This bombast accomplishes what, in fact, it pretends to expose: the attacks on Putin and his political moves reaches such proportions that the triumph over Hitler, the heroism of Soviet soldiers, and the magnitude of their sacrifice and commitment, clearly pale in comparison.
Already from the early church fathers, we know that the fallibility of the priest does not diminish the holy nature of sacrament. As St. Augustine put it, "As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled."
So, frankly, one can spend a lot of time, exposing Putin, Stalin, and other Soviet leaders, their stupid and destructive orders, their propaganda and pageantry. But the light of people's sacrifice, their serious commitment to die for their land, is hardly diminished by any pageantry.
It is the common Soviet people who won the war. They dug their heels, they were slaughtered in unprecedented numbers -- by Germans, by friendly fire, by Stalin's henchmen, and yet, they won it by killing Nazis -- also in unprecedented numbers. And that's what stops wars. When you take out five million of the enemy soldiers, as opposed to half a million taken out by Americans and British.
People can complain about this two hour parade as much as they want, but as somebody calculated recently, if one can imagine all the regiments of all fallen Soviet soldiers marching through the Red Square, it will take nineteen days for all of them to pass through. And each of them deserves to be seen, remembered, and honored.
So surely, Western leaders could have spent a few hours on Red Square honoring these nameless and faceless divisions, even if they don’t agree with Putin on how to conduct military parades or how to treat a neighboring country.
Discussing one of Chekhov's wonderful heroines, Tolstoy writes, referring to the objects of her love and devotion: "Kukin's surname is absurd... the timber merchant with his respectability, the vet, even the boy -- all are absurd, but the soul of the Darling, with her faculty of devoting herself with her whole being to any one she loves, is not absurd, but marvelous and holy."
So no matter how much fault these critics can find with the absurdities of modern day parades, what they should have stressed from the beginning, is the marvelous and holy nature of Russian suffering, the mind-boggling scope of Soviet losses, and that strength of people’s devotion to their land and their loved ones, that led them to victory.
So frankly, Russians can celebrate this day in any way they want: with pompous parades, with getting drunk, with visiting the graves of the fallen and leaving a peace of bread and a shot of vodka on the ground there. It is their day and they deserve to celebrate it or cry over it without snide remarks pronounced by petty politicians and even pettier journalists.
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