Today Russians look at Victory Day through the lens of the war in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s Syria military operation. However, it might bring about three negative implications both for Russia and the world.

Victory Day and the memories about the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War with Fascist Germany are still seen through the lens of the current international events. Photo: RIA Novosti

Last year Russia celebrated the 70th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany with a great deal of fanfare and pageant. However, this year the May 9 celebration is going to be much more modest. Moreover, in comparison with last year, it seems to have become a sort of routine like previously, with the streets decently decorated and a few military vehicles and tanks ready for the parade.    

However, this routine, or a comeback to normality, is illusory in its nature. In fact, Victory Day and, generally, the memories about the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War with Fascist Germany are still seen through the lens of the current international events, including the Ukraine crisis and the Kremlin’s Syria campaign, despite the temporary lull on the international arena.

Two campaigns of 2014-2016 – the war in Eastern Ukraine and Russia’s military intervention in Syria – were presented by the state propaganda as the symbolic continuation of the World War II and interpreted in the context of the 20th century.

Thus, the Ukrainian leadership became “Kiev’s fascist junta”, which killed peaceful civilians in the Donbas Region of Eastern Ukraine. The leaders of the U.S. and European countries became the behind-the-scenes puppeteers of the “Ukrainian fascists”, according to propagandists. Even the Western sanctions on Russia were seen as an attempt to conquer Russia and were implicitly compared with the actions of Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler.          

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In the case of the Syrian campaign the direct comparisons were very difficult to conduct, but nevertheless, the Russian state media succeeded in it.  Before the start of the Kremlin’s Syrian gambit, President Vladimir Putin repeatedly called for the need to create an anti-terrorist coalition, comparing it with the anti-Hitler coalition.  With all the decisive victories in Syria being compared with the Stalingrad Battle, (one of the most memorable events on the Great Patriotic War), the Kremlin likened the terrorism threat to the plague of the 21th century, based on the comparisons of fascism with “the brown plague of the 20th century.”

The authorities used the heritage of the Great Patriotic War as the ideological foundation for Russia’s new foreign policy for a good reason: It is the most memorable historical event for ordinary Russians and they are very sensitive to this mythology and see it as a positive sign of the nation’s great victory.   

Indeed, the historical memory of defeating Hitler is a huge source for manipulation, which helps Russia’s political leaders keep political control by creating and maintaining certain stereotypes in Russia’s public opinion.

However, the Kremlin doesn’t seem to think about the implications of such tactics, which could affect the Russian society and go beyond. There are, at least, three of them, which are easy to witness today. 

First, previously, the memory of the 1945 victory was natural - nobody imposed it throughout 365 days of the year and didn’t support this memory artificially. May 9 was the nationwide holiday, when Russians showed sincere signs of care about veterans and were proud of their great deeds. However, today there is a sort of immunity against this holiday among many Russians: No more do the talks about the war and the great victory stir emotions and strong feelings.

This means that Victory Day as the nationwide holiday bringing people together doesn’t exist anymore. It is hardly likely to be perceived as something sincere like it was previously, before the state propaganda killed it.  Another reason for this is the fact that many veterans of World War II are passing away.    

Second, some propagandists assume that they help ordinary people to identify enemies and friends in international politics by projecting the historic narratives of the Great Patriotic War to current events. However, they are forgetting about the fact that they use a wrong model of international relations that exited during the global war, which by definition might be dangerous.

Fortunately, despite a great deal of instability and complexity of today’s world order, another global war doesn’t seem to be looming on the horizon. However, if one of the world’s most important powers keeps indoctrinating its population and promoting the idea that today’s geopolitics is the same as in 1945, it is not ruled out that this “forecast” might come true sooner or later. 

Third, returning war into the current political discourse is, in fact, a negative sign: If Russians read about the fight against fascists, if the reincarnated Stalingrad Battle comes back to the agenda, does it mean that the victory in 1945 was incomplete? Does it mean that today we are celebrating May 9 to mark the “tactical” success as one of the rounds of the perennial struggle of “the Sacred Russia” with foreign invaders? Does it mean that the war is ongoing and in the future it might be even more tough and bloody?

These ideas seemed unimaginable just five years ago, when Victory Day was seen within Russia not as the triumph in the war, but rather as the triumph over the war, the most hideous event, which should not take place anymore.

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There are many people in today’s Russia who are sure that the war in Ukraine and, especially, the Kremlin’s military campaign in Syria had a favorable impact on the nation in general by having brought Russians together. Now they believe that Russia returned to its great power status and they are proud of being citizens of such a country. That’s why they see Victory Day as a very important and symbolic event, which allows the older generation to hand over the victory to their ascendants. 

At the same time, it would be reasonable not to perceive Victory Day as the only psychological support for Russians. Without doubt, it is necessary to remember the great deeds of our ancestors during the World War II, but one should always keep in mind that even the most sacred memory about the war won’t help Russia succeed and prosper in the time of peace, especially today.   

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.