Saturday, May 12, 2018

Victory Cult in Russia has Little to Do with World War II and Everything with Saving Putin’s System, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – The growing ‘Cult of the Great Victory’ in Russia has ever less to do with the actual events of World War II and ever more to do with saving the political system Vladimir Putin has put in place in that country and preventing the disintegration of the Russian Federation, according to Vadim Shtepa.

            The editor of the Tallinn-based portal, After Empire, says, in an article for Estonia’s International Centre for Defense and Security, this becomes obvious if one considers the history of the day since 1945 and the messages that Putin has used it in recent years to deliver to the Russian people and the world (

            While Stalin was alive, he points out, May 9 was a day off for people only until 1947 when the Soivet dictator decided that celebrating it would “increasing the significance of military figures who had become dangerous for his personal power.” Consequently, in the last years of his reign, the day was not celebrated officially at all.

            Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, also ignored this theme because he wanted Russians to focus on the future rather than the past. But after he was ousted, Leonid Brezhnev felt the need for some kind of ideological justification and a distraction from the fact that Moscow wasn’t able to fulfill its promises.
            And because the future looked less than bright, his ideologists sought to get people to look to the past, “to the heroic cult of ‘the Great Victory.’”  It became a centerpiece of the regime’s self-definition, and “as soon as the cult weakened” in Gorbachev’s time when people again began to think about the future, “the empire fell apart.”

            Consequently, the May 9 holiday declined in importance; but beginning in 1995, “parades in Red Square again became an annual event, and with the coming to power of Putin, the rhetoric of ‘victory mania’ has only continued to grow.”

            The most widespread symbol of this cult in Putin’s time has been the Georgian ribbon, an innovation the Kremlin came up with 2005 as a response or “remake” of the orange ribbons Ukrainians wore during their revolution of that name in 2004.  That event terrified Moscow and it responded in this “’creative’” way.

                 Polls show that for Russians, Victory Day is becoming ever more significant, “a paradox given that the further this event recedes in history, the louder and more triumphal its anniversaries are celebrated.”  The obvious reason is that post-Soviet Russia does not have any significant achievements it can point to as occasions for celebration.

            “In order to conceal this dangerous truth,”  Shtepa continues, “the authorities are loading up society with proud myths about ‘the glorious past.’” And these are myths because “the historical truth about World War II for the authorities is also dangerous” be it the Soviet-Nazi alliance, the division of Poland, the attack on Finland or the occupation of the Baltic countries.

            “If in Brezhnev times, the USSR, albeit through clenched teeth, recognized the role of the Western allies in the war, then in today’s Russian propaganda, these former allies are ever more frequently portrayed as enemies, with Russia being the only savior of the world and the guardian of global justice from ancient times.  And this is no joke.”

            The Kremlin seeks to involve ever more Russians in such demonstrations of fealty to past victories and hence to their continuation by the current leadership. It is pleased that more than 10 million Russians took part in the marches and parades this year. As sociologist Denis Volkov puts it, Moscow views their participation as a response to meetings of protest against it (

                The Immortal Regiment program has not only involved millions of Russians but is now being extended to other countries as well, and this year its events took place in “more than 70 countries,” nominally autonomously popular but in fact organized by the Russian state and thus forming, Shtepa suggests, “a kind of ‘new Comintern.’” 

            The Putin regime is trying to use this cult against the West, presenting itself as the only true anti-fascist force even as it behaves in a fascistic way with its open celebration of war and conflict, something that marks a clear and disturbing departure from Soviet times, the After Empire editor say

            In Brezhnev’s time, this was a holiday “with tears in one’s eyes and the main slogan was ‘as long as there isn’t a war,’ today everything has been turned upside down. It has become fashionable to dress young children in Red Army uniforms and propagandists shout almost in ecstasy ‘we can do it again!’”  
            “It is possible,” Shtepa argues, “that the growing absurdity will blow up this campaign from within. Poet and publicist Aleksey Shiropayev suggests what will happen if the cult of ‘the Great Victory’ disappears: ‘Everything – personalities, peoples and regions will be able to reconsider their situation and have a chance at a new fate” (
            That is a danger that Putin and his regime will do everything they can to counter, Shtepa says; and it is clear that they will seek to impose “‘victory mania’” on the population as long as they can lest everything they care about disappear as it did the last time the peoples of this region turned away from celebrations of the past and began to focus on the future.

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