09 May 2016

Thoughts on Victory Day

The ninth of May is, of course, the day on which the end of the Great Patriotic War is celebrated in Russia, as the fascist menace in Europe was brought to a stop. It is when we look at the sheer scale of the number of victims of that war – both civilian and military – that we realise what a massive sacrifice was made by the people of Eastern Europe and Asia. Though we Americans like to think of ourselves as the victors of the Second World War, in truth the greatest brunt of the cost fell upon Soviet – that is, mostly Russian – shoulders. Somewhere between 9 and 14 million Soviet soldiers fell fighting the Nazis between ‘41 and ‘45, and a comparable number of Soviet civilians perished as the war went on. It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that a country which has suffered so much and fought so hard, would see fit to remember the day that it ended, using the imagery which had been used at that time.

Of course, displays like this have the danger of drowning out historical truth, and this is something understood all too well by veterans of the Great Patriotic War, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose experiences in the war, whose witness of crimes committed by the Red Army against the civilians of defeated Germany, led him to critique it loudly enough to result in his arrest and his interment in a gulag. The historical truth already is served by the cause, in that fascism itself was a falsehood – a kind of neopaganism erected around the worship of the nation, of the national destiny, of the race, of the leader – which deserved to be destroyed utterly and finally. I am convinced wholeheartedly, both as an American of Eastern European Jewish descent, and as an Orthodox Christian, that the Soviet Union happened to be on the right side of this conflict. Hitler killed my relatives for their heritage; Stalin and his proxies did not. Stalin could, in this instance, be negotiated with; Hitler could not. But authors and soldiers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would tell us: that truth is what we fought for, and we do that cause a disservice by lying about what was done in fighting for it.

The celebration deserves to be had; the ribbons of St George deserve to be flown; Rodina Mat’ deserves to stand tall. But let the celebration be truthful; let the ribbons fly soberly; and let the Motherland stand in forgiving, but full, knowledge of herself and her children.

No comments:

Post a Comment