At the beginning of May 1945, the last battles of World War II were given in Europe. Nazi Germany suffered an irrevocable defeat to the armed forces of the anti-Hitler coalition and this end was to be “formalized” by a capitulation document. The first German Instrument of Surrender was signed at the start of the day of May 7, 1945 in France, at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in Reims, by representatives of the anti-Hitler alliance. But Stalin remained dissatisfied with the conditions in which the capitulation document was signed as he considered that Germany was to capitulate only to the empowered supreme commander of the Red Army. On Stalin’s insistence, the document of Reims was considered a preliminary one and the final capitulation ceremony was transferred to Berlin, where the general headquarters of Marshal Gheorghi Zhukov were. This way, on May 8, representatives of the USSR, the UK, France, the U.S. and the German delegation arrived in Potsdam in the suburbs of Berlin, where they signed the final German Instrument of Surrender that took effect at 11:01pm, the time of Central Europe, on May 9. A t that moment, it was May 9 in Moscow already and since then the West has marked the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, while in the USSR the Victory Day was celebrated on May 9.
Moscow made propagandistic efforts to hush up Soviet-Nazi alliance at first phase of World War II
Besides this difference in the approach to the chronology of World War II between the West and the Soviets, there is a different interpretation of its start. For the West, the war dates from 1939, when Germany attacked Poland on September 1, the USSR attacking Pound alongside the Germans on September 17. The Soviet ideological tradition borrowed by current Russia celebrates the Great Patriotic War that started on June 22, 1940, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union already. This chronological dichotomy is due to the fact that between September 1, 1939 and June 22, 1940, the USSR, being in an alliance with Hitler’s Germany, occupied by military ways half of Poland, the Baltic States, a part of the Karelian Isthmus from Finland and, surely, Bessarabia, which was Romanian’s territory between the Prut and the Nistru. Soviet Moscow, as the post-Soviet one, made considerable propagandistic effort to hush up the Soviet-Nazi alliance at the first phase of World War II and also the ferocious atrocities of the Soviet regime in the territories occupied in collusion with Hitler, identical to those of the Nazis in the territories occupied by Germany, the extermination by the Soviets of Polish prisoners at Katyn being one of the most relevant examples in this regard.
Indisputably, the victory over the German fascism, the Japanese militarism and their satellites during World War II is a remarkable event in the history of the world and a glorious page in the history of civilization. The fire tornado of this war that embraced large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa lasted for six years and involved 61 states with a population of 1.7 billion, which is approximately 80% of the total number of people who then lived on Earth. About 120 million of the most able to work population was mobilized, while the battles took place on the territory of 40 countries.
War against Ukraine was announced a year ago on May 9
It’s true that the Soviet Union suffered the biggest irremediable human losses in this war, these rising to 26.6 million. Out of these, 8.6 million soldiers of the Red Army and the Marine Corps died in battle. Approximately 4.5 million people were taken prisoners. Out of these, only 1.8 million people returned to their homeland after the war. This huge sacrifice made for the sake of victory in World War II and the Victory Day that is celebrated in Russia on May 9 generated contradictory approaches to the historical significance of these events. One of these controversies was launched by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, who gave a speech during the Red Square victory parade on May 9, 2021, speaking about the attempts by particular forces to “rewrite history”. He said that the Soviet people “were alone on the difficult, heroic and sacrificial path to Victory”, as if forgetting about the allies. Furthermore, in his speech Putin decided to recall modern Ukraine, saying that “all kinds of radicals” try to “put into practice” a large part of the Nazis’ ideology. Then, not many paid sufficient attention to President Putin’s accusations about the alleged Nazi ideology in Ukraine but these, during less than a year, grew to the dimension of a casus belli against the neighboring country.
Not at all accidentally, Vladimir Putin used the May 9 festivities to make the accusations about the Nazism that, as it were, became familiar to contemporary Ukraine. The significance of the Victory Day is used by the current propaganda of Moscow in a speculative attempt to equate the historical agenda with the speech and current political practice of the regime of Putin. But it becomes harder to hide the fact that May 9, due to Moscow’s intervention, during the last two decades became first of all a propaganda holiday of the Kremlin and less a holiday to commemorate the victims of World War II.
Reinvented symbols looking like propaganda
After the Soviet Union and the state Communist ideology collapsed, Moscow woke up in a symbolist vacuum given the lack of clarity as to the historical and ideological foundation of the new state power. The old stereotypes and the Soviet ideological symbols lost value and the Kremlin started feverishly to substitute them, realizing that it is very hard to renounce the old symbols and replacing them with something principally new. This is how the redesigned Soviet hymn appeared in Russia, the tsarist flag was re-brought and the Soviet cult of the Great Patriotic War was reanimated and inflated to surrealistic dimensions.
During 20 years Stalin suppressed force of liberating Soviet soldier
The propaganda of the Kremlin didn’t feel inhibited by the historical contrariety about the tradition of celebrating May 9 that in time hasn’t been always at the same official level. After the first Victory parade of June 24, 1945, no such parades had been staged in Moscow during the next 20 years. Stalin was afraid of the high popularity and personal dignity of the marshals, generals, officers and soldiers – who emerged victorious in the war against fascism. To reinstate generalized fear – the basis of his personal power, Stalin triggered a new wave of repression in postwar Soviet society. He did everything possible to minimize the glory of the soldiers who won the war and those who were captured by the Germans were exiled to Siberia after the war as traitors, while the soldiers mutilated in the war were deported en mass to the main towns of the country in remote places of residence. For this reason, May 9 in the Soviet Union wasn’t a festive day until 1965. A powerful war cult was already launched in the epoch of Brezhnev, who for reasons aimed at strengthening his personal power, inflated up to grotesque the own role in the war. In the post-Soviet period, this cult became a real political pillar of the alleged decisive and even the exclusive role of the people of Russia in the victory against fascism, a form of justifying the pretensions of superiority of Russia at international level.
Bicolor ribbon – subversive actions against state sovereignty of former Soviet republics
As Russia didn’t excel in economic and technological development, when the level and quality of life of the Russian citizens could not compete with those in the developed states, the political regime in Moscow needed a major argument to satisfy national vainglory. The propagandistic paroxysms about Russia’s role in the war, including the invention of artificial symbols that weren’t used during the war, come from here. This way, in 2005 alone, on the initiative of the then ideologist of the Kremlin Vladislav Surkov, the ribbon of Saint George was widely introduced into the Russian Federation as a symbol of victory against Nazi Germany, launching then an annual event to distribute the ribbon to the population.
With special aggressiveness, the bicolor ribbon that was freshly invented by the propaganda of the Kremlin as a symbol of Victory was imposed in the former Soviet republics, imbedding this way at subconscious level the unity of the former Soviet space. In fact, it was and continues to be a subversive action against the state sovereignty of the former Soviet republics – now independent states – through the imposition of imperialist symbols of the former metropolis. Not accidentally, such states as Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan since the very start refused to use the Russian ribbon as a symbol of Victory in the war against fascism. In 2014, following the annexation of Crimea, especially in 2022, after Russia started its invasion of Ukraine, the ribbon of Saint George became a Russian militarist symbol associated with the war.
Ribbon repeats historical road of Nazi swastika
The victory over fascism in the harshest war in the history of mankind is justly commemorated all over the world as an event of special humanist resonance. It is blasphemy to use this event and all the associated symbols as war propaganda, as imperialist Moscow does now in Ukraine by making the Russian invading soldiers use the ribbon of Saint George. The Kremlin, by its war policy, ridiculed the bicolor ribbon, turning it from a symbol of victory against fascism into a symbol of the Russian occupant. The bicolor ribbon repeats the historic road of the Nazi swastika that was used as a Soviet symbol in the 1920s, but became categorically undesirable after it turned into the distinctive symbol of German fascism.
A test of affiliation to camp of national interest and humanist pacifism
In the Republic of Moldova, the pro-Kremlin antinationalist governments, without protecting large sections of the population from the noxious effects of the Russian propaganda, shaped the collective mentality in accordance with the imperialist interests of the current regime in Moscow. The Moldovan pro-European government’s timid attempts to oppose the war propaganda by banning by law the symbols associated with the war necessitate a sustained long-term effort accompanied by massive information policy to make the population realize the historical truth. As necessary is the delimitation, at the level of the coercive bodies of the state, of the ordinary citizens, many of whom are victims of the Russian propaganda, conscious and interested promoters of war symbols. Today, the propagation by politicians of war symbols banned by law in the Republic of Moldova – the bicolor ribbons, Z and V – is a distinct indicator of affiliation to the fifth column of the Russian imperialism and open defiance of national safety. The commemoration of the historical day of May 9 in the Republic of Moldova for each Moldovan citizen becomes an authentic test of affiliation to the camp of national interest and humanist pacifism or the camp of war and of the anti-national fifth column in Moldovan society. Many of the Moldovan citizens are yet to learn this history lesson in its full profoundness.
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.