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12 May, 2015

Victory-Over-Freedom Day

The anniversary, instead of being a demonstration of peaceful aspirations, has been transformed into its opposite

…A Land Cruiser with an orange-and-black striped St. George ribbon hanging from its rear-view mirror and a bumper sticker saying “Thanks to Grand-dad that we won!” is parked in the yard on the only pathway leading to the building entrance. This same “grand-dad” is limping home from the nearest grocery store with a pack of kefir and a loaf of the cheapest bread, muttering curses under his breath as he tries to squeeze by to his apartment entry. The driver whose patriotism has sent him into such transports looks on lazily, giving the old man a bit of advice now and then how not to scratch up his expensive car in passing.

...Russian neo-freedom fighters—cossacks decorated with intricate, imaginative knots of the same orange-and-black stripe—are in the process of raiding nightclubs to determine whether Orthodox traditions are being upheld there.

... Here and there, kids in camouflage with the same St. George’s ribbons on their chests march through the streets of Moscow.

…The Minister of Defense in a surfeit of patriotism tweets a cute joke about riding into Europe, not on bikes, but on tanks. The vassals roar with laughter. The Night Wolves bikers’ club that was refused entry into Europe growls “We’ll get you.”

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...The handful of heads of state who have confirmed that they will attend the 70th anniversary of “Pobeda” include North Korea, Cuba, Mongolia, Vietnam, India, and China. The rest will find out where crabs spend their winters in the not-too-distant future, as soon as these kids in camo grow up...

Tied up in orange-and-black ribbons, the country is going mad, grimacing and hooting in an absolute frenzy of patriotism. Well and truly fertilized with 18 months of hatred towards Ukraine, Europe and America, Russia has locked itself around its new spiritual yoke, the jubilee of Victory. The luminous yet sad commemoration that this day deserves to be has turned into a Night on Bald Mountain that has drawn every imaginable and unimaginable foul thing to itself. The 70th anniversary of Victory has blown away any doubts and shreds of common sense, laying bare the main component of Russian “patriotism”… the Great National Pride of Great Russians mixed up with a harsh contempt for all that is other and alive.

The upcoming anniversary, instead of being a demonstration of peaceful aspirations has been transformed into its opposite. Not long ago, the “granddads’ fight” meant the memory that served as a foundation on which would be established the peaceful life of the grandsons who promised not to betray what their granddads had achieved. Today, the “granddads’ fight” is a stoplight, a break that threatens to stop any movement in the wrong direction.

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Meanwhile, the word “allies” has pretty much disappeared from the victorious lexicon: this is our celebration and ours alone. And when officials do somehow mention allies in passing in their speeches, it’s to note that they fought only for their own convenience, for their own liberation from Nazism, while the Soviet Union was concerned about the entire world. By and large, the allies were not the victors, but rather the heirs of Hitler, and European liberalism is really the younger brother of Nazism. And their American and English “granddads’ fight” was strictly to save their own skins, while soon after the war their sons and grandsons quickly went down the wrong path.

The obedient Russian people really do not want to see or know any of this. National memory is a strange creature: where it should be long, it turns out to be short, and where it should be shortened, it stretches endlessly. For instance, try telling the average Russian citizen that the St. George ribbon was never a symbol of victory, that it was invented by Vladislav Surkov as a huge PR project launched in 2006—they simply won’t believe you. Explain that this ribbon was introduced by Catherine II in 1769 during the Russo-Turkish War and that afterwards it was added to the Order of Glory and the Medal “For Victory over Germany,” and they will laugh at you: “What have you been eating? What does Surkov have to do with this? Our granddads fought with this ribbon.” But if you tell them that veterans will not be included in the Victory Parade in Moscow on May 9, and the average Russian will take it completely in stride. “I mean, Moscow’s not exactly elastic.”

Among freedom-loving folks in Russia—yes, yes, there still are some around, strange as it may seem—, you can hear more and more concern being expressed that Russia is turning, slowly but surely, into the USSR at the height of Stalinist repressions. And although mass executions have not started, it seems like the situation with brainwashing is far worse. All permeating terror, born in 1917 during the civil war, then the dekulakization and finally repressions. Soviet citizens chanted “Glory to the Great Stalin!” and “Shoot them all like rabid dogs!” Everyone knew: if you don’t shout today, tomorrow you will be screaming in the underground cells of Lubianka. There was simply no choice. The least hint of dissent meant death.

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Today, Russia is governed by a generation that never felt that fear. Today, no one will shoot you if you aren’t with everybody claiming your great love of Putin, if you don’t wear the black-and-orange ribbon and if you sing Ukraine’s national anthem of Ukraine instead of Russia’s. Today, the people of Russia are doing everything voluntarily. And that’s far scarier than the 4 million denunciations of 1937. This is the unforgivable betrayal of memory that has suffocated to death, hanged on that same St. George’s ribbon that is now a symbol of treason.

The “Great State” is preparing to celebrate 70 years of Victory. Russia’s own, personal, not-to-be-shared-with-anyone, privatized—and trampled—victory.


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