Bucha massacre and ribbon of Saint George. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu


Given such a perspective, the current government has the duty to take all the legislative, political and other kinds of measures and to also mobilize international emergency assistance for increasing the Republic of Moldova’s resilience to the ongoing hybrid aggression and to also discourage and prevent a potential conventional aggression on the part of Russia against our state...


Anatol Țăranu

The images of a large number of Ukrainians killed in Bucha city near Kyiv, who were discovered last week by the Ukrainian forces immediately after the withdraw of the Russian troops from the area, produced a real shock in the civilized world. The videos showing bodies of tens of civilians on a street in Bucha, which was re-conquered last week by the Ukrainian troops, made the headlines on television all over the world. Some of the victims had their hands tied and were shot in the nape. After the multiple bodies were discovered in Bucha, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitro Kuleba said that this was “a deliberate massacre” by the Russian troops that withdrew from the region.

Univocal reactions of condemnation

The most important international leaders reacted publicly to this crime. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said she was appalled by reports of unspeakable horrors in areas from which Russia is withdrawing. “An independent investigation is urgently needed. Perpetrators of war crimes will be held accountable,” she posted on Tweeter. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned Russia’s brutality against Ukraine and announced that the United States would be “looking hard to document” Russian war crimes throughout Ukraine so that those to blame are held effectively accountable. The former chief prosecutor of United Nations war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Putin is a war criminal,” said Carla Del Ponte.

The tragedy in Bucha is just an episode of the many crimes committed by the invading Russian army in Ukraine. The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch recently published a report on cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include cases of killing of civilians by the Russian army, including of women and children. In reply, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia said the images of dead civilians in Bucha were “ordered” by the United States as part of a plot to blame Russia. In fact, the Russian propaganda copies the methods of Hitler’s propaganda of 1939, which, after the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica, which was bombarded by the German aviation during the Spanish Civil War, tried to shift the blame for this crime onto the republican forces.

Reediting of “Big Lie”

A number of communication experts pointed to striking resemblances between the techniques used by the Russian propaganda and the variation of Hitler’s Big Lie - a Nazi propaganda technique that insists that if a political leader repeats a colossal untruth enough, people will eventually believe it. A leading authority on Central European history and the Holocaust, Timothy Snyder, recently published an essay entitled “Putin’s Hitler-like tricks and tactics in Ukraine” in which he says that “Putin’s claim about “de-Nazification” is “grotesque” because he’s trying to justify invading a democratic country - led by a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust - by claiming he’s there to fight Nazis.”

In this connection, the embracing by their Russian propaganda of the Big Lie method causes generalized repudiation reactions in international opinion, making even the most prudent political players to express their reprehension of the genocide practices of the Russian army. In Chisinau, for example, the Bucha massacre produced a political reaction twist in the government. Contrary to the prudent policy pursed by the Moldovan authorities for a period for the purpose of avoiding irritating motives in the relations with Moscow, this time things were named clearly, without any caution. In the name of the Republic of Moldova, President Maia Sandu said that she was shocked by the macabre in Bucha near Kyiv, alongside the entire world, condemning unequivocally this illegal and unprovoked war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine. April 4, 2022 in the Republic of Moldova was declared a national day of mourning for the innocent victims of the war in Ukraine.

Inevitable trenchant position

It is known that the Republic of Moldova didn’t subscribe to the international sanctions against the Russian Federation due to the war in Ukraine, but partially implements them in the banking sector, for example. Responding to the critics of this position of non-subscription to the program of sanctions, President Maia Sandu made it clear that this attitude of the official Chisinau was agreed with the Western partners, which accepted it owing to the security and economic vulnerabilities to which the Republic of Moldova is exposed in the relationship with the Russian Federation. But any prudential policy loses sense against the background of war crimes even when the state security is critically undermined. In the near future, the Moldovan authorities will come face to face with a public event that will necessitate a principled reaction that can make the relations with Moscow tenser. It comes to the day of May 9 that traditionally divides Moldovan society into two parts, causing serious dissentions in the acceptance of the values of national history by the Moldovan citizens. This year, the historical significance of May 9 will be inevitably interconnected with the war in Ukraine, updating the history in the direct perception of the everyday life as never before.

Undoubtedly, the idea of the victory in the so-called great patriotic war in the Russian version became a foundation stone of the state ideology in the Russian Federation and a complex argument of the Russian national performance at international level. The fierceness with which Moscow imposes the glorification of this victory outside Russia, primarily in the post-Soviet space, derives from here. But any ideologeme is profoundly imbedded in collective memory by different symbols that can be easily propagated and are easily digested by collective mentality. This is how the tricolor ribbon, the so-called the ribbon of Saint George that wasn‘t widely used in the Soviet period, was invented by the Russian imperial propaganda as a symbol of the victory in the anti-Hitler war and was reinvented in the geopolitical interests of post-Soviet Moscow.

“Ribbon” and “Z”, banned in the world

In the 19th century, under the colors of this ribbon of Russian militarism, tens of nations were occupied by blood and sword by the tsarist empire and were then denationalized and Russified. Ironically, during World War II, this ribbon was widely used by the Russian collaborationist army of Vlasov, who fought on the side of Nazi Germany against the Soviet army. By the way, General Mannerheim, as former lieutenant-general in the Imperial Army Russian and also as President of Finland that was attacked by the Soviets in 1940, wore around the neck the Cross of Saint George an also the German Iron Cross. Al these embarrassing moments for the Soviet ideologists influenced the nonuse of this tricolor symbol by the Soviet propaganda. But the avatar of the Russian imperialism after the implosion of the USSR led to the invention and utilization of new symbols, with the propagandists of the Kremlin reinventing the ribbon of Saint George in stylized form of the symbol of Russia’s victory in World War II as a main element of the Russian imperial revenge propaganda.

Fully realizing the danger of the Russian imperialist propaganda, Ukraine in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, banned the use of the ribbon of Saint George as a symbol associated with pro-Russian separatists, while the Ukrainian authorities decided to celebrate Victory Day on May 9 by using the Red Poppy symbol. Also, Belarus and Kazakhstan announced that they will celebrate Victory Day without the ribbon of Saint George. In people’s culture, the controversies about the ribbon of Saint George led to the widespread use of the pejorative expressions ”Colorado Ribbon” or “Colorado Beetle Ribbon”.

In the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russian soldiers widely use the Colorado ribbon, alongside the signs “Z” and “V”, as a sign of affiliation to the invading army, the ribbon becoming, in international opinion, a distinct marker of the Russian imperialism. An increasing number of countries ban by law the use of the Colorado tricolor symbol in public events. Today, the acceptance and use in public of the ribbon of Saint George point to open support for the Russian war against Ukraine, to the approval of the war crimes like the Bucha massacre.

As topical, as late

In this connection, the Moldovan Parliament’s intention to ban the use in public of war symbols, such as letter “Z” and the controversial ribbon of Saint George, is both topical and late. The fact that the authorities of the Republic of Moldova have hesitated to officially appraise the resuts of World War II in accordance with the national interests of the Moldovan state, in particular of the historical significance of the day of May 9, makes Moldovan society to continue being hostage of Moscow’s distorted perceptions of these events. When, amid the Russian military aggression against the neighboring Ukraine, there are politicians in the Republic of Moldova who openly plead for celebrating May 9 according to the tradition of the Russian militarist ideologeme, this points to the enormous vulnerability of Moldovan society when the danger of a foreign military invasion persists. This also shows open dissociation from the heroic fight of the Ukrainian people for its freedom and for our freedom. In fact, such statements reveal the intentions of the Russian fifth column in the Republic of Moldova to come out and openly attack the official position of Chisinau on the war in Ukraine. Given such a perspective, the current government has the duty to take all the legislative, political and other kinds of measures and to also mobilize international emergency assistance for increasing the Republic of Moldova’s resilience to the ongoing hybrid aggression and to also discourage and prevent a potential conventional aggression on the part of Russia against our state

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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