In Eastern Europe, ‘Immortal Regiment’ marches eclipse Europe Day

Girls dressed as Russian World War II soldiers at the "Immortal Regiment" march in Sofia, with a Russian flag in the background. [ClubZ website]

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.

WWII: A new ‘religion’ for Russia

Each year, Russia’s WWII victory celebrations become more grandiose and spectacular. In recent years, the cult of the Great Victory has become a quasi-religion and the main basis which unites the Russian society, writes Oleksii Polegkyi.

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.

Russia disappointed with EU leaders about WWII parade

Speaking to the press in Brussels on Tuesday (5 May), Russian Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov conveyed the message that the EU leaders who decided not to attend the 9 May celebration of the allied victory in World War II are in fact offending his country, who, in his opinion, made the greatest sacrifice to defeat Nazism.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ukraine officially commemorated those deceased during World War II, not the victory.

However, in Kyiv too, the “immortal Regiment” marched.

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