What is 9 May? For most in the EU, it’s Europe Day, in commemoration of the 1950 Schuman Declaration, the cornerstone of what is today the European Union. But in Eastern Europe, Russia has in recent years promoted a different kind of celebration, more in the vein of Cold War era parades.
In all post-Soviet countries, 9 May is remembered as the “Day of Victory”, marking the end of World War II, which is in Russia called “The Great Patriotic War” and cost the USSR 27 million dead, according to Moscow.
Unlike Western Europe, where V-day is celebrated on 8 May, Russians mark the capitulation of Nazi Germany on 9 May, because the news was announced by the national radio to the Soviet people one day later.
But in recent years, 9 May celebrations in Moscow have become an increasingly ostentatious display of military might and almost religious patriotic fervour.
On Wednesday, two days after the start of his fourth presidential term, Russia’s Vladimir Putin watched advanced jets carrying a hypersonic missile he has touted as invincible scream over Red Square.
Putin looked on as thousands of troops marched past and columns of tanks rumbled across the famous square in a show of military might reminiscent of those displayed during the Cold War.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 EU leaders have shunned the Red Square parade on 9 May.
For this year’s parade, Putin had the company of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Moscow for talks on Syria, as well as Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
— Maxim A. Suchkov (@MSuchkov_ALM) May 9, 2018
The Moscow parade was one of many that took place across Russia on Wednesday, involving a total of 55,000 troops, 1,200 weapons systems and 150 warplanes in 28 Russian cities.
But similar processions were also held in EU member Bulgaria, in EU candidate countries Serbia and Montenegro, or in the Serb entity of Bosnia, with marches to mark Victory Day held under the almost identical protocol.
‘Immortal Regiment’ processions, held annually to mark WWII Victory Day in Russia on May 9, will be staged in several cities in Serbia, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska and Montenegro this year.https://t.co/BXK5rl4rof pic.twitter.com/uRxQaHCPyp
— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) May 9, 2018
Since 2012, the so-called Immortal Regiment processions have seen people marching with flowers and portraits of the loved ones who died in World War Two, in a public act of remembrance. The marches are attended by representatives of Russian embassies, local politicians and the general public.
In Belgrade, the Night Wolves, known as “Putin’s motorcycle club”, were also present.
Even in Berlin, the “Immortal Regiment” procession marched from the Brandenburg Gate.
#VDAY2018: The Immortal Regiment procession marches from Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) May 9, 2018
In Sofia, the Russian embassy twitted that the “Immortal Regiment” march attracted more than 2,000 Russian and Bulgarian veterans, Russian nationals and local people.
— Посолство на Русия (@RusEmbBul) May 9, 2018
The website ClubZ published a photo gallery focusing on Kornelia Ninova, the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), participating in the festivities and sporting the black-and-orange Ribbon of St. George, which has recently been associated with Russian nationalism.
On social media, many Bulgarians squabble about the significance of 9 May, often accusing opponents of either being Russian scourges or promoters of “Gayropa”.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Russia uses the “Immortal Regiment” marches as an element of hybrid warfare.
— UNIAN (English) (@unian_en) May 9, 2018
Ukraine officially commemorated those deceased during World War II, not the victory.
Russia celebrates the Victory Day in a militaristic passion, having bristled up against the whole world, and we, together with the whole Europe, commemorate the deceased – @poroshenko https://t.co/nTa35NaRCC
— Nicholas Molodyko (@molodyko) May 9, 2018
However, in Kyiv too, the “immortal Regiment” marched.
— Hromadske Int. (@Hromadske) May 9, 2018