How did ‘Victory Day’ become at the heart of Putin’s conception of Russian identity?

Today, Saturday, Moscow held a rehearsal for its annual military parade on May 9 to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, in what has become known as “Victory Day.”

This year’s celebration coincides with the continuation of the Russian offensive against Ukraine, which began on February 24 under the name “a military operation to eradicate Nazism and disarm Ukraine.” It also has a special resonance now, with some expecting a dramatic announcement from Russian President Vladimir Putin: either declare victory in Ukraine, or step up the offensive.

During this year’s holiday, some families across Russia will remember their ancestors who gave their lives in the fight against Nazism, or will toast to those few fighters who are still alive. Others will take a bolder approach in line with the official narrative, such as turning their children’s chairs into a tank, or writing “In Berlin” or “We can do it again” on their cars.

According to official accounts, this is exactly what Russia is currently doing in Ukraine, as the Kremlin used the language and images of World War II to describe the attack on its neighbor.

‘Obsession after victory’

Although other explanations have been offered for the attack on Ukraine, fears of NATO enlargement, contempt for Ukrainian culture, Putin’s isolation over the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgence of Soviet glory, the perversion of victory rhetoric and the fight against the Nazis over the last two decades have played an important role in this war.

During Putin’s two decades in power, Victory Day has become central to Putin’s concept of Russian identity.

A few years ago, critics referred to the “victory mania” with “pobedobesie”, a derogatory sum of Russian words for victory and obscurantism, and a rough English translation of “Victorymania”.

As this “victory obsession” spread year after year, the phenomenon took on increasingly bizarre forms: schools held performances in which children dressed as Soviet soldiers; The portrayal of some people as captured Nazis, followed by the classification of opponents of modern Russia as Nazis, neo-Nazis, or Nazi collaborators.

In modern Russian narratives of Soviet war efforts, a number of facts such as the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact and the subsequent partition of Europe, or the internal expulsion of entire ethnic groups by the Stalin regime during the war, are found. ignored.

Mystery over “Nazi identity”

The image of the “Nazis” has also become increasingly blurred, as Russian history books talk little about Hitler’s policies, his rise to power, anti-Semitism or the Holocaust, while considering that the main feature of the “Nazis” is that they attacked. Soviet Union. By that logic, anyone who threatens modern Russia has become a “Nazi.”

This developed gradually during the long years of Putin’s rule. In 2000, Victory Day came just two days after Putin became president for the first time. On that day, Putin addressed a group of war veterans, stressing the importance of historic victory, saying: “Thanks to you, we won. Victory flows in our veins, something that will help our generation in times of peace and help us build a strong and prosperous country ”.

And the Guardian saw that this legacy of victory, and Putin’s talk of it, was a rare historical bright spot for a population traumatized by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic chaos of the 1990s.

Gradually, however, talk of the past became less important on Day D, instead shifting more toward highlighting Russia’s new power under Putin.

In 2008, Victory Day parade was marked by the appearance of heavy weapons for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. After three months of celebration, Russia invaded Georgia.

In 2014, the Russian propaganda machine claimed to be fighting the current Nazis in Ukraine, focusing on a minority of fighters with far-right views. Russian television portrayed the killing of 48 people, most of them pro-Russians, in a fire in Odessa in May 2014 as a “deliberate fascist massacre.”

Russia’s “new religion” victory

After Crimea was annexed by Russia, Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-appointed “puppet leader” of Crimea, appeared at a rally in Red Square, wearing the “St. George ribbon” orange and black jacket instead of the tricolor. rus. And he spoke about the protection of Crimea from the massacres of Ukrainian fascists.

The “Ribbon of St. George” is an integral part of the Order “St. George”, which the Russian Empress Catherine II gave to her officers in honor of their victories on the battlefields and for their services to the Russian army; It is the main symbol used in connection with D-Day. Since 2014, the symbol has become more controversial in some post-Soviet countries such as Ukraine and the Baltic states, because of its connection to pro-Russian and separatist sentiments.

The Guardian added that in the absence of other strong ideological bases of the Putin regime, the victory in 1945 and its twin in 2014 became the reason for the existence of the regime. Victory became the new religion of Russia. In a 2015 interview, then-Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, who now heads the Russian delegation to stalled peace negotiations with Ukraine, criticized historians for trying to use archival evidence to prove that some Soviet war myths were decorated or invented. “We must view victory in the same way as the Saints in the Church,” he said.

The concept emerged with the dedication of a large cathedral to the armed forces outside Moscow two years ago. Amazing and nasty at the same time, the interior of the cathedral combines military and religious elements into a series of large mosaics. The exterior is made of molten metal for captured Nazi tanks, with guides encouraging visitors to feel like they are stepping on fascists as they enter the building.

In 2020, the altar servant said during a tour of the cathedral: “Only the Russians are able to sacrifice themselves to save humanity, as Jesus did.”

“The ideological heir of the Nazis”

Near the cathedral is a new World War II museum, where a guide talked about Soviet feats and sacrifices, while graphic diving screens and loud explosions made it feel more like a computer game than an educational experience.

The guide said: “Hitler wanted to destroy two-thirds of the Slavic peoples using concentration camps, the most famous of these camps was at Auschwitz. And we decided to combine the Holocaust talks with the Slavs because you should not divide the victims into of race ”.

At this point, the paper considered, the concept of “Nazism” in Russian discourse was removed from any context except the 1941 attack on the Soviet Union.

With Russian television broadcasting endless stories with scary stories about Western intentions towards Russia, turning it into today’s events is not a big step in the imagination for many people.

Ivan Fyodorov, the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, said that when he was abducted by Russian soldiers in March, one of the reasons they gave was that World War II city veterans had been disrespected and beaten.

The newspaper stressed that if Russia celebrates “Victory Day” in the ruins of the ruined city of Mariupol, many viewers will already be convinced that Russia has “liberated” the city from Ukrainian “Nazis” and their American supporters. But few people abroad would agree, even among those who were sympathetic to the Kremlin messages before February.

In return, the Ukrainians responded to Russia’s accusations. Instead of denying the importance of the Soviet victory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sought to remove control of Soviet symbols and myths from the Russians, describing the Kremlin today as the “ideological heir to the Nazis.”


Through his aggression, Putin helped create “a united national pride in Ukraine, which has been divided in national identity and history for three decades; now, Ukrainians have gathered around their flag and many Soviets have fought until death to defend their country., though a They had previous suspicions about their leaders. “

Now, Ukrainians refer to Russian soldiers as “Rashisty” (a combination of “Russians” and “Fascists”). The collaborators who agreed to work for the Russians were called “Gaulieters,” a term given to senior Nazi officials in the occupied territories during World War II. Kiev is also packed with posters comparing 1941 to 2022, two years in which the city was attacked by an outside malevolent force.

Zelensky gave the title “Hero City”, a Soviet custom, to countries that strongly resisted Russian attack. An American aid program was also called a “lease,” after the wartime Soviet Union’s aid program.

“In short, the Russians became Nazis in their narrative,” the newspaper said.

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