Staunton, May 9 – More than a decade ago, the Immortal Regiment movement was founded by opposition figures in Tomsk to try to generate empathy for war losses, but then Vladimir Putin hijacked the movement in order to convince Russians that the West was trying to take away Russia’s victory and thus to justify his war in Ukraine, Aleksandra Arkhipova says.
But the original meaning of the movement never entirely disappeared, and last year, almost two dozen Russians were arrested for carrying pictures of those who have died fighting in Ukraine, always a possibility given the original basis of the movement but something Putin could not accept, the Russian anthropologist says (verstka.media/interview-antropolog-aleksandra-arhipova-o-meniayuschemsia-otnoshenii-k-prazdniku-9-maya).
As a result, this year, Putin withdrew official support for and even sought to suppress the Immortal Regiment movement lest it become something around which opposition to Putin’s war could crystalize and even threaten his rule, completing a trajectory that says much about how the Kremlin leader prepared Russians for the war and why that preparation carries with it risks.
Arkhipova and her colleagues have been investigating the movement for some years; and they have concluded, she says, that Russian attitudes toward World War II and its commemoration vary widely. Those who had the most immediate losses from the war remember it as it was originally intended. Younger Russians or those without such losses don’t.
The latter as Putin intends equate the Great Fatherland War and his current war in Ukraine, she continues. In their view, “we are again struggling with the values of the collective West and in order to win this war, we must constantly display the heroism that our ancestors did in the past.” Their ancestors are invoked not out of sympathy but as models.
Many Russians under Putin’s direction have concluded that the West wants to take away their victory, and so such an argument attracts support, Arkhipova says. And as a result, they focus not on the tragedy and sacrifice of the war but on “pride, victory and heroism,” values that can be used to support the current war.
In the interviews she and her team have done, the anthropologist says, “people really have said that the West intends to take away their values and the memory of the war.” At first, Arkhipova says, she thought that this was simply “frustration and would pass,” something that would have happened had there not been a new war. But the war keeps that view alive.
But the original view of Victory Day survives below the surface. And last year, more than 20 people were arrested for carrying pictures of Russians who had lost their lives in Ukraine alongside those who had died in the Great Fatherland War. That represented a danger sign to the Kremlin, and so the Immortal Regiment movement was sidelined.