Victory Day undergoes a long-awaited paradigm change in 2014 when celebrations commemorating those who died in the Second World War take place on May 8, on the eve of traditional celebrations of victory in the Great Patriotic War.
During Yanukovych’s presidency, Victory Day was celebrated in a typically Soviet fashion. In 2011, an attempt was made to legalize the presence of Soviet flags during celebrations. The law was passed by Parliament and signed by the President, but it was finally deemed unconstitutional. Attempts to use Soviet symbols in particular and the overall sovietization of the holiday during Ukraine’s independence, when a national vision of the role of Ukrainians in the war began to materialize, led to additional civil strife in society and became another fault line between its citizens.
In Russia, Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 is one of the main state holidays, and officials consider it to be an important factor in consolidating society. The consolidation takes place at two levels – the pro-Soviet one, bringing together Soviet-minded citizens, and the Russian nationalistic one, which reinforces the idea of the invincibility of the Russian people and their special mission in the world. Victory Day serves an important function for the Putin regime, being a tool to rehabilitate the Soviet past. The victory over the Nazis is being used to justify the greatest crimes of the Soviet government and of Stalin personally. Such a justification is much needed by the country’s leadership, as the idea of restoring the Soviet Union forms the basis of Russia’s modern ideology. Viewing the Second World War as the Great Patriotic War and the revival of the Soviet tradition of celebrating Victory Day is also used to restore and strengthen Russia’s ideological influence in the post-Soviet sphere.
In the majority of post-Soviet republics, Victory Day is celebrated on May 9. In contrast, other countries in Europe and America honor the end of the Second World War on May 8, the day when Nazi Germany signed its capitulation, celebrating Memorial Day and honoring those that died in the war. In the UN General Assembly resolution of November 22, 2004, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Second World War, May 8 and 9 were declared days of memory and reconciliation.
Many things need to be adjusted so that Victory Day celebrations do not continue reinforcing the model of Soviet imperialism. First of all, the Soviet cult of war should give way to a tradition of commemorating the soldiers who died for their homeland. Instead of war parades, which in fact propagate war, veterans should receive assistance, and the deceased should be honored. The Soviet propaganda concept of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 should be abandoned for the concept of the Second World War of 1939-1945, with special attention to the period of conflict when the USSR was allied with the Third Reich.
This year, Ukraine has made an important step toward changing the paradigm of celebrating the end of the Second World War. An event commemorating the first minute of peace after the Second World War took place in the Park of Eternal Glory in Kyiv on May 8, thanks to the common efforts of the Institute of National Memory and the Ministry of Culture. The celebrations were held under a new symbol – the red poppy, a European symbol to memorialize those killed during the war. This idea and its design resulted from cooperation between the Ukrainian National Memory Institute and the National Television Company of Ukraine. The symbol is accompanied by a logotype containing the slogan “Never again,” since it is in our hands not to allow the horrors of war and troubled years of wartime to be repeated, specifically those of 1939-1945. On the evening of May 8, memorial candles were delivered to Kyiv’s less well-known destinations commemorating war heroes, followed by a gathering in the Park of Eternal Glory. The event ended with a performance of the EU anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
By Alya Shandra, edited by William Risch