There is one very special monument in Moscow. It is called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – a memorial complex dedicated to all the heroes who sacrificed their lives to protect our Motherland, the Soviet Union, and defeat the Nazism.
It’s located in the Alexander Garden, right next to the Kremlin Wall – in the very heart of Russia. Part of this memorial complex is the Eternal Fire – a bronze star with flames coming out of its center. This fire is one of the symbols of Victory alongside a red star, Georgian black and orange ribbon and cranes.
The Eternal Fire never dies out regardless of weather conditions. It is a symbol of our nations’ everlasting memory of the courage and devotion to duty displayed by, as President Vladimir Putin said, Generation of Victors. It is a symbol of our people’s unbreakable will. And this will, just as our memory and our gratitude to our ancestors, will never die out.
On 9 May Russia, as well as many other former Soviet republics, celebrates Victory Day – one of the most, if not the most, important celebrations in Russia’s calendar.
This year, on this day we celebrate the 77th anniversary of the Great Victory over Nazism – the universal evil that unleashed the most destructive war in the history of mankind. Our country paid an enormous price to achieve the Great Victory and it explains why the Victory Day is beyond any controversies in public discussion in Russia.
For our country, that war became an era in its own right, the times of the severest trials. The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the armed conflict of WWII. It is at the Eastern Front, as the Western historiography dubs the theatre of war where the USSR and Nazi Germany confronted each other, where the Nazis’ main forces operated.
Germany and its allies had to keep from 95% (Summer 1941) to 74% (late 1944) of their ground forces at the Eastern Front spreading from White Sea to Black Sea. 85% of their military casualties the Nazis suffered while fighting the USSR and only 15% in the fight against Soviet Union’s allies in the anti-Hitler coalition.
During the war, the USSR suffered the loss of 26,6 million citizens. 8,6 million soldiers and officers of the Red Army died on the frontlines, but the major part of the casualties – the civilians – were killed by Nazi bombings, starved, as in Leningrad, or tortured to death due to Nazi atrocities on occupied territories. Besides that, our country has paid a considerable cost to liberate other countries.
Over 1 million Soviet warriors were killed in battles in Eastern and Central Europe, in the Balkans and in Asia, with 600 000 of them – in Poland, 140 000 – in Czechoslovakia, another 140 000 in Hungary, over 100 000 – in Germany itself. Just imagine: out of every 100 men born between 1920 and 1924 who had gone to war, only 4 made it back home.
Judging by these numbers alone, one can easily imagine the scope of response of Soviet people to Nazis aggression. Literally everyone stood up against the enemy, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or anything else. This was the only way to defeat an aggressor who had harnessed the economic potential of all the European countries which had been conquered by Summer 1941.
This is why this war is known in Russia as a patriotic one. The wars become Patriotic when not only the army, but the entire population rises to defend the Motherland. In Russia it happened in 1812 when a truly people’s war was waged against the ‘Great Army’ of Napoleon, and so it was in 1941 when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the USSR.
For the Soviet Union, victory in the war against Nazism was not a matter of mere political triumph or defeat. It was a matter of survival. If the USSR had been defeated like many other European countries, we’d suffered a fate that differed from that of other Europeans. According to Nazi theory of racial superiority, those of the Slavonic descent or other peoples living to the east from Prussia which wouldn't be turned into slaves, were to be liquidated or violently uprooted and moved to remote areas without any infrastructure and thus doomed to gradual extinction.
So, our very existence depended on the outcome of the Great Patriotic War. This is why the heroic deed of those who stood against the ruthless enemy, against the beast of Nazism, shall never be forgotten. It will never be forgotten in Russia, we assure you of that, as our memory of our ancestors’ sacrifice will never die out just like the flames of the Eternal Fire – one of the symbols of Great Victory.
And it shouldn’t be forgotten by all those countries whose citizens also shielded the world against Nazis with their insane racial superiority theories.
Indeed, WWII is a part of Russia’s and Europe’s common history, but we also share it with Africa. The Soviet Union and the African states were ‘on the same side of history’. In 1941-1942, while the Red Army was holding the onslaught of German forces on the Eastern Front of WWII, South African and Ethiopian troops took part in battles against Nazi Germany’s allies: against Fascist Italy in the North of the Africa and Militarist Japan during the course of the Madagascar operation.
Moreover, the South African military participated in escorting the Arctic Convoys which delivered crucial war cargoes to the Northern Soviet ports - Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. The heroic deeds of those who stood up against the Nazism and fought it to the best of their abilities must be honored and remembered. For us, there can be no exclusion.
Against this background, it is astounding to observe that the voices of those who call to rewrite history, distort, or even erase it, are not getting any quieter.
There are still attempts to make the USSR and Nazi Germany look equally responsible for the outbreak of WWII. What purpose does it serve?
Firstly, the West needs some sort of basis to justify the current anti-Russian policy in Europe, historical grounds for culturing of Russophobia. Some particularly civilized Europeans feel disturbed that they actually should be thankful to someone for something. The monuments to the Soviet warriors remind them of that and thus, irritate them.
Secondly, it’s the attempt to rewrite, or repaint their own history in brighter colours. There’s no concealing the fact that there was not only pandering to Hitler or collaboration with him - some European countries entered WWII ‘on the wrong side of history’. It is now beneficial to them to represent their collaborationism as a forced necessity to fight both Hitlerism and Stalin’s ‘dictatorship’.
Thirdly, nowadays Russophobia is paid for handsomely from certain capitals. Fourthly, some of our neighbours simply have nothing else to offer to the international community, nothing else to come up with in the global arena and make themselves somewhat remarkable, other than blatant Russophobia.
These political and mercantile interests lead to rewriting of history. This is what Russia is opposed to. Just as it is opposed to Nazism in all its manifestations. Nazism is still a threat to global security.
Ukraine, to our deepest regret, as we still consider Ukrainians as a brotherly nation, became a harbour for neo-Nazism with full approval and support of the West. That is very dangerous as WWII happened in vast part due to Western policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany. Nowadays they do the same thing to Ukraine, as if forgetting the harsh lessons of history.
Against this background, the Day of Victory hasn't lost a bit of its relevance. With neo-Nazism being on the rise, it is vital to remember the horrors and sufferings it brought upon humankind.
It is regrettable that over 70 years later since the day when the Soviet troops raised the Banner of Victory over the building of Reichstag, Nazi ideology still managed to find a fertile ground for itself in Europe, with Europe’s silent approval.
Russia will never reconcile with the Nazism. Russia will never forget the heroic deed of defenders of Motherland who not only saved USSR, but many European nations from Nazi threat. We remember. The Eternal Fire will burn forever.