Friday, May 12, 2023

Putin has Been ‘Privatizing’ May 9 Holiday Since Coming to Power, But Russians Can Keep Its Original Meaning, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – There are now two May 9 holidays in Russia, Andrey Kolesnikov says, the May 9 for those who want to remember Russia’s victory in World War II and a second group who accept the privatization of that day by Vladimir Putin who seeks to use it to advance his current causes rather than memorialize the past.

            That distinction is critical because many who do take part in the holiday now, including the leaders of former Soviet republics, do so not because they agree with the privatized version of the day but because they like most Russians still believe that May 9, 1945, was and remains the most important memorial day they have.

            By his actions, Kolesnikov says, Putin has profaned the holiday; and that process has only gotten worse since the Kremlin leader began his expanded invasion of Ukraine last year. In Putin’s view, his special military operation is a direct continuation of World War II in a double sense (

            Not only is his current war a continuation of the war in the past, but it is the same: once again, at least in Putin’s mind, the West is attacking Russia and Russia has no choice but to come out swinging, the commentator says, in “a just defensive war” that everyone in Russia must support.

            According to this vision, “Hitler was not simply the head of the Nazi state. Together with him the West as such attacked us … and this very same West, now equated to Hitler, is attacking again now.” Given fear and passivity, many Russians go along with this reinvention of the past even though more thoughtful ones recognize that it has nothing to do with May 9.

            “Putin needs Victory Day to legitimate himself” and to provide “moral justification for his regime” and its war, Kolesnikov says. He has appropriated May 9 for this purpose because for many Russians, May 9 in its original meaning was the most important thing for them and the even they are most proud of.

            As Kolesnikov observes, “Stalin was the coryphaeus of all sciences, but it is enough for Putin to serve in that capacity for history. That is enough to turn people into an obedient mass and instill in them a sense of the historical correctness of anything he and his regime may do,” including in Ukraine.

            This represents a vulgarization and misuse of history, the commentator says. “But each of us is free and has the right to celebrate his or her own May 9th. Many Russian families still hve their own genuine memories of the war,” although their numbers are dwindling and that has given Putin an opening.

            But because of their real history, they retain the right, whatever Putin says or does, to mark the May 9th that is important to them, and not just May 9th, but June 22nd and also all the dark days of 1937.

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