Victory Day in Moscow

I had come to Moscow to see the military parad on May 9th. I wanted it to be huge, martial, like on TV. Masses of tanks, soldiers, nuclear weapons, aircraft et cetera. Just like the practice run for the parade in Yekaterinburg three days earlier, but a hundred times bigger. Measured against my expectations, reality ended up being a complete disaster 🙁

I had spent most of May 8th walking around the Red Square, scouting for the best location to take pictures. The tribunes were already up, the barricades were ready to be put up, and a lot of police and other uniformed security personnel were present. I asked around in English and broken Russian and tried to find out where the barricades would be the next day. According to the plans in the newspapers, the parade would pass Tverskaya Uliza (Тверская улица) from the Moscow-Smolenskaja train station (Москва́-Смоле́нская) in a suburb down to the Iberian Gate (Воскресенские ворота, Woskresenskije worota) directly at the Red Square. Lots of people also mentioned this street on the Internet, so I was counting on being able to position myself somewhere along the road as close to the Red Square as possible.

But when I came to the area on May 9th around 7:00 AM, the barricades had been put up much farther from the scene as expected. Many side roads had been blocked on lengths of more than 200 meters, and it was impossible to see anything. Also it was very cold and cloudy again. May 9th is supposed to be a cloudless day in Moscow due to the military using silver iodide to artificially create rain the day before, but this year it had been to no effect. We had to be happy that it wasn’t pouring down.

After walking around for an hour and then waiting for another two and a half, these three shots are the best ones I could manage:

That was it. There wasn’t more to see. As you can see in the following video, only soldiers, security forces and journalists were on the streets. All the other open streets and spaces in the surroundings had been cleared.

We had to fall back to watching the livestream of the actual parade via WiFi on our smartphones 🙁

Due to the bad weather the airforce couldn’t be part of the parade this year, but the arctic forces participated for the first time.

It’s clear that the parade is also a demonstration of military power, but it’s really all about remembering the victory over Nazi Germany, the effort of the Russian people, their sacrifices and the veterans. Every Russian family was affected by the war.

Until the Annexation of Crimea, many foreign heads of state used to participate in the May 9th celebrations. Gerhard Schröder was there in 2005, Angela Merkel laid a wreath on the 65th anniversary in 2010. In 2010 members of the United States Military, the British Armed Forces and the French Armed Forces marched in the parade alongside the Russian Forces:

So I hadn’t reached my goal, the main reason for the whole trip. But a day is what you make of it, and the parade is only a part of the whole event. The people want to celebrate too, and they do it with flying colours!

As you can see, the Russians have a much less critical relationship to their past than we Germans. It felt as if someone had bought a years’ worth of red fabric and Stalin portraits and dropped it over Moscow. The veterans used to come to the streets too, but 72 years after the end of the war not many are still alive. So millions of Russians have started to march in their stead and become part of the “Immortal Regiment”. Putin headed the Immortal Regiment again, holding a picture of his father who was severly wounded near Leningrad.

The few surviving veterans pull on their uniforms for a day and let themselves be celebrated. It is very common to buy a bouquet of flowers and hand them to veterans with a “спасибо” (“thanks”). Nowadays a Selfie might be part of the custom too…

Some young adults invest some serious effort and appear in costumes. All kinds of uniforms from former soviet republics and all kinds of branches of the military could be seen.

Even the children can be part of this, something we would probably handle… very differently in Germany, to say the least 😉

But I was equally surprised when a big group of Hare Krishna suddenly danced through the streets!

After the parade, the celebrations traditionally move to Gorky Park. There people listen to the orchestra, continue to celebrate the veterans and get food and tea from the field kitchen.

Julien Dassin, son of french singer Joe Dassin (quite well-known for the song Les Champs-Élysées) is following in the footsteps of his father and has been appearing with Russian military choirs for a while. Judging from the number of autographs he had to give, he seemed to be quite popular already!

Nice idea: Film the event with a historic camera on actual film 🙂

Let’s now move to a discipline very popular with Russian kids: “Turning historic war material into a playground” 🙂 Another thing which would probably not be possible like this in Germany…

The rocket launcher Katyusha, in Germany well-known under the nickname “Stalin’s Organ”, is of special importance in Russia. It was developed in just about 18 months, and just a couple of hours after it was signed off for production use, the German troops invaded Russia. It is unknown how many were produced, but supposedly the sub-type BM-13N-16 accounted for over 6.800 units alone.

The Germans lived in constant fear of the Katyushas. The units could move in very quickly, launch up to 48 rockets and then disappear within minutes. The rockets emit a loud, high-pitched noise, hence the German name “Stalin’s Organ”.

The name stems from the war-time love song Katyusha (Катюша, “Little Katharina“). It is about a girl which receives a letter from her boyfriend at the war front. The “counterpart” among German soldiers was the love song Lili Marleen.

But the celebrations weren’t limited to Gorky Park, they were everywhere. Big companies like the State Railway of Russia had erected small stages in front of train stations and people were dancing in the streets. Even Burger King was playing old resistance songs in an endless loop 🙂

I was completely worn out in the evening and returned to the hotel. Shortly before midnight the day ended with a colossal theatre performance on the Red Square, followed by fireworks (2015 video).

I fell into bed and into a deep sleep. And because the weather didn’t get any better, the next two articles will be about things below ground! 🙂

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