Celebration of May 9th, or the Victory Day, has been an important date in Soviet Union, but in the past decades it became a quintessential pillar of Putin’s regime. Against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the significance of this date became even more evident. This year Russan language media focused on former Soviet republics dismantling monuments of WWII, banning the celebrations, the St. George’s ribbon and letters Z and V.
Although until the mid-1960s the Second World War remained in the minds of contemporaries in the Soviet Union as a particularly traumatic experience that is better to be left in the past, the Soviet propaganda machine, over the course of a few decades, turned the Victory Day into a backbone of the mythology of the Soviet Empire. Vladimir Putin, aware that today's Russia has practically nothing to be proud of, has over the last couple of decades done everything in his power to recreate this mythical significance of Victory Day in today's Russian society. May 9th has thus become Putin's promise to ordinary Russians that they will regain their faith in their empire and their sense of meaning in sacrifice, and submission to the crushingly anti-human conditions of their daily routines.
No stranger to historical revisionism, as Vladimir Putin himself relates his leadership with the ‘glorious victory against Nazism’ in the past. ‘De-nazification of Ukraine’, which was provided as one of the main reasons to start the invasion, is not the first time the history of World War II is used to build Kremlin’s ideological lines and propaganda narratives. Back in the times of the Cold War, experts listened to the speeches given by Soviet leaders on May 9th, trying to predict the course of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. This year, the eyes of the world will be turned to the Red Square yet again, as some believe that in his address Putin might announce the expansion the war outside the borders of Ukraine or a full-scale mobilisation.
Due to the deeply mythical worldview of Russian society, the Kremlin regime likes to attach its initiatives and actions to important ideological dates, and the Victory Day might be the most significant. The review of communication carried out by DebunkEU.org from April 18-May 1, 2022, revealed that 125 publications related to the Victory Day and Lithuania were published in Russian language sources – slightly more if compared to the previous year (104). Most of them expressed outrage that before the celebration of May 9th, the St. George ribbon, letters Z and V were banned in Lithuania. At the same time, authors rejoicing and thanking to Belarus, which introduced a visa-free regime. Now, some articles stated, ‘Lithuanian and Latvian citizens with a healthy outlook on the results of World War II’ would be able go to any Belarusian city or village and celebrate the Victory Day there. Moreover, it is emphasised that Lithuanians and Latvians can be at ease, because in Belarus nobody gets punished for wearing the St. George’s ribbon, unlike in their homeland.
Another large group of articles focused on the information that Putin approved annual payments to participants of the Great Patriotic War in the amount of 10 000 rubbles and that the document was also addressed to those veterans who live in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. This financial support to the veterans is given out every year, therefore, there was increased amount of coverage showcasing the ‘generosity’ of the Kremlin.
Indeed, on April 18, the Baltic States were accused by vz.ru of trying to eradicate Victory Day in order to please Ukraine, while a strong-worded article with a flashy headline was published on April 21 by regnum.ru, announcing, that ‘Regimes in the Baltics are degenerating’. In the article, residents of the Baltics were given a name of ‘necrophiles’ with ‘perverted consciousness’:
In the understanding of normal people, wherever they live, modern Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are mentally degenerate outcast countries. Necrophiles. To raise to the shield those who served Hitler - for this you need to have some kind of completely perverted consciousness.
The author of the article, Mikhail Demurin, expresses his concern about the future of Russians in the Baltics, claiming that ‘the next May 9th will show a lot’. He also derogates the countries saying that:
(…) they spoke about Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as kind of a “bridge” between Russia and Europe. And after all, it has long been clear that this “bridge” is not only rotten, but no one needs it in Russia, and yet everyone continued to “search for common ground” (...)
Lithuania was also accused to be ‘ruled by the Landsbergis family: the founder, under Hitler, participated in the extermination of Jews, his son, being an informer for the KGB of the USSR, promoted anti-communism and worked for the collapse of the Soviet Union, his grandson drowns Lithuania in a swamp of grovelling before the West and Russophobia’.
Another interesting case was when radiosputnik.ria.ru used the words of Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson of the UN Human Rights Office, that they do not yet have enough data on the genocide in Ukraine, and allegedly exposed Lithuania's attempt to misleadingly call 9 May 'the day of remembrance for the victims of the genocide in Ukraine'.
Traditionally, Lithuania was widely portrayed as a Russophobic country in relation to May 9th: on April 23, politikus.info claimed that ‘those wishing to celebrate May 9th are being threatened with layoffs’. The article stressed that people fear that special services will monitor participation in festive events. Meanwhile, on April 24, ont.by published an article with the headline ‘Vilnius Preaches Russophobia Throughout Europe’, accusing Lithuania of joining the fight against May 9th and saying that ‘Lithuanian authorities work against their own citizens… of a different nationality’ and that ‘blaming others for their problems, emphasising the topic of nationality and national memory seems to be something like a tradition for the Lithuanian authorities’.
The recent renewed campaign in Eastern Europe to cleanse the legacy of the Soviet occupation traditionally has attracted a much-heated attention. On April 29, stoletie.ru published a headline ‘When Russophobia Goes Mainstream’, questioning the decision to dismantle the monuments and claiming that those remaining are subjected to vandalism by individual “enthusiasts”. The idea was supported by the article on vz.ru on May 1, with the headline demanding that ‘Eastern Europe must answer for war on monuments’, which sounded very macabre in the face of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Unfortunately, many people in the West, in both Old and New Europe, do not realise the importance of the imperial ideological heritage for the mythical consciousness of the Soviet people. That is why, even more than 30 years after the crumbling of the Soviet empire, the public spaces of the former occupied countries are still full of symbols of political slavery of the Kremlin's occupation. This, in the eyes of Westerners, unjustifiably sensitive and tumultuous reaction of the Kremlin's mouthpieces to the cleansing of these symbols only shows once again how politically important their silent existence really is for the vitality of the imperial idea.