Thursday, May 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Not All of Russia’s Nationalities View Victory Day the Same Way

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Even as Moscow promotes Victory Day as a demonstration of the unity of the people of the Russian Federation, activists in non-Russian areas remain very much divided on what that holiday means, with some, in the words of one writer, counting their medals and others their losses during World War II.

            The media of almost all nationalities in the Russian Federation from the predominant Russians to the smallest communities having their own media have published materials on the contribution of their groups to the Soviet war effort and on the impact of the conflict on their national fates.

            In an article on today, journalist Elena Meygun surveys some of this commentary and argues that while some ethnic activists are “trying to divide the victory in the Great Fatherland War along ethnic lines,” most Russian Federation citizens still view the victory as their common property (

            Last week, she reports, the Federation of National Cultural Autonomies of Russian Germans put out a statement asking Russians not to blacken the reputation of those Soviet Germans who fought against the Nazis by repeating the accusations against them leveled by Moscow but then rejected by the Soviet government in 1964.

            The Association of Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples of the North, Meygun continues, issued a statement listing the number of medals awarded to various Northern peoples and recalled the special role that the region’s reindeer herders played in moving military supplies in the northern portions of the USSR. Almost all of the 7000 reindeer involved died in this effort.

            Some Tatar nationalists struck a more negative note.  Nail Nabiullin, the head of the Azatlyk movement, said that World War II was “a tragedy for the Tatar people” because the Tatars “gave the empire their best sons” and the empire “pain them back with ‘mass russification.’”

            Another Tatar activist, Ildus Sadyik, said that Russians have done everything they can to “minimize” the heroism of Tatars who served in the Soviet army.  And Rafiz Kashapov, a leader of the All-Tatar Social Center, suggested that Victory Day has become a holiday “only for Russians” who are held up as the authors of the triumph it celebrates.

            These and other Tatar activists are also opposed to the widespread use of the gold and black Georgina ribbon to mark the anniversary.  They say it offends the feelings of non-Orthodox Christians and propose that it should be replaced at least in Tatarstan with a red-green ribbon.

            Vladimir Zorin, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, suggested that such comments do not reflect the opinion of most people in the Russian Federation regardless of nationality.  Instead, they are the views of “not very numerous representatives of radical nationalistic movements.”

            According to Meygun, most ethnic Russian activists agree with Zorin and note that “the leaders of ethnic Russian organizations have not raised the question about the cost of Victory for the Russian people, despite the fact that precisely this people bore the greatest losses during the Great Fatherland War.”

            The journalist adds that from what she observes, “ethnic Russians everywhere continue to show their attachment to the idea of a single multi-national people” and thus that 1945 was a victory “of one for all.”  But she notes, “it is curious that this position is viewed by certain non-Russian nationalists as a sign of the ‘weakness’ of the Russian people.”

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