Monthly Archives: May 2013

Nazi Radio Propaganda in Latvia 1941-1945

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Latvian made radio receiver

The head of the Nazi propaganda Joseph Goebbels recognized radio as the most advanced tool of propaganda. At the age of the printed press, posters and leaflets radio was truly the most modern way of political communication. During the interwar period the radio broadcasting became more advanced and radio stations were established all around Europe. The Latvia got its first official radio station in 1924. Radio became fairly popular in Latvia before the World War II. In 1939 the Latvian Radio had 154 400 subscribers. Latvian main industrial company the VEF produced modern radio receivers. Also many radios were imported from Germany. Before the WWII the main frequency range was the longwave (150-375 kHz) and the mediumwave (AM) (535-1600 kHz). However already in the late twenties broadcasters started to use shortwave band (1600-2900 kHz) that allowed to send signals in more further areas. With usual pre-war receiver Latvians could tune to stations from Germany, Great Britain and Soviet Union. After the Soviet occupation in 1940, the registration of radio receivers begun and many people had their radios confiscated. Not only because of the possibility of receiving “rouge” situations, but also because the ownership of radio receiver indicated that the owner belongs to bourgeois class.

At the very beginning of the German invasion on June 22 1941, German radio station called “Vineta”  located in Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) started broadcasting in Latvian language. Radio transmitted the German declaration of war and Hitler’s address to the German nation. Germans understood the importance of broadcasting their propaganda in Latvian maiden language. The listener is always more positive to information in his own language.  Radio issued calls to Latvians not to resist the Germans and not to support the Soviets.

On July 1 as the Red Army was retreating away from Riga, the non-soviet Latvian Radio begun its work. An hour before the German soldiers appeared the director of company “Latvian Films”, Albets Jekste took over the main radio building. He did this with the consent of the German colonel Walter Ulersperger also the commandant of Riga. The radio broadcast begun at 10:00 with the opening speech by colonel Ulerspeger who declared that Riga was liberated and ended his speech in Latvian by saying “God Bless Latvia!” After that the Latvian anthem was played followed by Jekste announcement.  The announcement was “Greet the German soldiers with jubilant gratitude and give a  helping hand everywhere you can!   Because once and for all the end has come to communism and Jewry in Latvia!” The slogans of the Riga radio broadcasts were completely adjusted to the needs of the Nazi propaganda. There is a myth that during the first days during the Nazi occupation Latvians had time for their self action against the Soviets and Jews. However, the transcripts of the Riga radio broadcasts shows that the Latvian “free action” did not last for a second.  Everything was under according to German instructions. Latvian radio just as press sparked large anti-Semitic propaganda.

On October 1941 the Riga Radio was included in the Reich Radio Structure RRG (Reichs Rudfunk GmbH”. The Ostland (the official name of German occupied Baltic States) radio group was made. The Alberts Jekste was replaced with Hans Kreigler who took charge of all transmitters within the Baltic states. Latvia had radio transmitters in Riga, Madona, Kuldīga and Leipāja. The board of the radio was replaced entirely by Germans. Latvians kept their jobs but was under German command.

The Ostand radio had following orders: fight the British and Bolshevik propaganda, show British as traitors and reveal the Bolsheviks as the main enemies of the Baltic people. Also show the Jews as the main initiators of the war and financiers of the Allies. The Germans were to be portrayed as the saviors of the Baltic nations. Radio also issued provisions and orders. Positive information about Germany and introduction about the Nazi ideas was also included. Commentaries about world issues and military events followed. All materials came from the main German Bureau of information (DNB). Nothing else could be broadcasted. The German sent materials were translated into Latvian. Local news was taken from Nazi approved newspapers. There were also cultural programs playing music or reading poems. The Latvian radio program broadcasted usually for 15-20 hours and was filled with music.

However, those who owned the receivers could still tune to the enemy broadcasts. BBC World Service had a transmitter in Sweden and Radio Moscow could reach Latvia. German propaganda called Latvians not to listen to the Jewish propaganda that only causes chaos and misunderstanding. The Radio Ostland was enough and listening to the German radio was the sign of loyalty of the Eastern nations. When that was not enough a punishment to the “irresponsible” listeners were issued. A punishment was arrest and radio confiscation or even death sentence.

German propaganda warning not to listen to the enemy broadcasts because its forbidden and unjust to the German liberators. Also warning is given not the spread the rumors made by those stations for one who does that becomes sick with "rumor plague".

German propaganda warning not to listen to the enemy broadcasts because its forbidden and unjust to the German liberators. Also warning is given not the spread the rumors made by those stations for one who does that becomes sick with “rumor plague”.

German authorities were worried that many Latvians are listening to the Radio Moscow. Others tuned to the BBC World Service. There was a case when two Latvian workers living next door to the German soldiers were caught listening to the Radio Moscow. They were listening the radio too load and alerted the Germans.  To curb the enemy broadcast listening rumors about special radio direction devices were spread.  People were warned that their radio receivers will be located when tuning to restricted frequencies. However, there were no such devices and most people was reported by their neighbors and colleagues. Even today the radio direction is mostly experimental.

German authorities constantly monitored the enemy broadcasts. On 1944 German authorities were alerted by the fact that clandestine broadcast called “Soltadensender Calais” (Calais Soldiers Station) can be received in the Baltic area. This station was made by the British to demoralize German soldiers. As the hopes of German victory became even weaker more and more reports were made about listening the allied broadcasts. Germans constantly criticized the propaganda made by the BBC and Radio Moscow. But people were tired of German propaganda. Some were tuning to BBC World Service to hear the news of the coming allied landing on the coast of the Baltic sea. Others listened Radio Moscow to know how close is Soviets to Latvia. Many were just curious and wanted to know different opinions on what is happening.

German radio propaganda in the end proved ineffective. Radio receivers were not widespread. Most people relied on newspapers.  Another factor that German radio propaganda was targeted more for the Germans rather than Latvians. Most air time was just rebroadcasts from Berlin and targeted for soldiers. Latvian listeners received little attention. Most local information was about the local economy and everyday issues.  So it was no wonder why people tried to listen to allied broadcasts.

On October 12 1944 Soviet Army approached Riga. The Germans destroyed the radio transmitter tower and evacuated the radio station. The last German radio station was located in Liepaja and was called “Hallo Liepaja!”. After the radio tower was destroyed in Kuldīga, the German radio was receivable at very small distances around Liepāja. The German radio ceased its broadcasts on May 7 1945. After this Latvia entered a new age of radio broadcasting where Nazi propaganda was changed with the Soviet propaganda. And once again occupants had to find ways to silence the radio broadcasts from abroad.

Selected Sources:

Zellis, Kaspars (2012) “Ilūziju un baiļu mašinērija. Propaganda nacistu okupētajā Latvijā: vara, mediji un sabiedrība (1941‒1945)” Riga. Mansards.

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Poles in Latvia

Latvian Polish political poster from 1931

Latvian Polish political poster from 1931

On 1561-1562 the Livonian Confederation was forced to surrender to the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. It was done to save themselves from even greater foe – Ivan IV the Terrible who invaded Livonia. The Livonian war ended with Polish victory. Poland-Lithuania acquired all territories of Latvia. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was autonomous from Polish throne, however the Duchy of Pārdaugava which included Riga, Vidzeme and Latgalia was under the direct Polish rule. After loosing the war to Sweden in 1629, Poland lost both Riga and  Vidzeme, but kept Latgalia until 1772. Therefore Latgalia had the most sizable Polish national population. Most of them were nobles. However, on 19th century because of social economic reasons many Latvian peasants changed their nationality to Polish. Such phenomena even happened during the interwar period. The national census shows unnatural growth of the Polish minority in different places, that can be explained by nationality change. Many poor people still had no perception of their true nationality, many used Polish in work, family and church sermons. Not only Latvians, Belorussians and Gypsies claimed to be Polish. There were even records when a Polish priest registered Gypsies as Polish without telling them. Today there are many Latvians with Polish surnames, including Prime Minister of Latvia Valdis Dombrovskis (Dombrowski). Some Latvians got their Polish surnames because of the Polish landlords who gave them to his peasants, others had some connections with Polish people.

The Polish revival in Latgalia was obstructed by the Russian repressions against the Polish people. However, few notable intellectuals like historian Gustav Manteifel, scientist and revolutionary Boleslav Limanovsky came from Latgalia. Because of industrial revolution many Poles went to big cities to work in a factory. In 1897 in Riga there were 13415 Poles, in Liepaja 6015. In whole Latvian territory there were 65056 Poles. On 1878 the first Polish organization was made – the catholic charity society and in 1879 the Polish singing society “Aušra”. In the main higher education facility the Riga Polytechnic school two Polish fraternities were formed. First Polish theaters were organized. The revolution of 1905 was also very important for Poles. Just as Latvians they wanted more national freedom and was united in common cause against the Czarist regime. Polish society became more active – first national schools were made and Poles got elected in City Councils. For a long time Russia had imposed the ban on printing with Latin letters in Latgalia. That was damaging both for Poles and Latgalian Latvians. The ban was lifted on 1904 allowing the Poles to start their own press and literature.

The punishment chamber in Riga Polytechnic school (modern day University building) with Polish writings on them

The punishment chamber in Riga Polytechnic school (modern day University building) with Polish writings on the wall

The First World War made many Poles as refugees and they found themselves in Russia. Others joined the Latvian Rifleman battalions and fought the German invaders. However, after the war many came back home. Those who stayed in the Soviet Union became victims of the “Polish Action” on 1937. The new national governments of Latvia and Poland were united in their struggle against the Bolsheviks. The Polish victory over Soviet Russia in 1920 was a guarantee for the Latvian independence. Polish forces assisted the Latvian army in the battlefields of Latgalia and chased the Bolsheviks away. The large number of Poles fought in the ranks of the Latvian army. 9 of them received the highest military award the Order of Lachplesis. In the result of Polish-Soviet peace agreement which was signed in Riga, Latvia established a common border with Poland. It was however, no secret that Poland desired to annex whole Latgalia as their old territory. The “Greater Poland” dream never realized, but Poland still acquired the Vilnius region, Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine. That caused the resentment for Stalin, which was one of the reasons for the outbreak of WWII.

In 1920 there were 52244 Poles 3,4% of the population. In Riga there were 7935 Poles, in Liepaja 2904, Daugavpils 8178 and in other cities there were large Polish minorities. Most Poles lived in cities, others were farmers. Poles got a lesser hold on commerce and industry than Germans and Jews. At first only 57,7% Poles were literate, however in 1935 the numbers rose up to 82%. Poles were mostly farmers and factory workers. On 30ies because of shortage of agricultural workforce many Poles came to work in Latvia. Most of them went to work for few months and then returned. On September 1 1939 there were 26000 such people in Latvia. Many of them stayed there.

The state of Poland was very sensitive about the Polish minority in Latvia. There was many diplomatic quarrels between Poland and Latvia. Poland accused Latvians about Polish discrimination while Latvia feared that Poland may try to use the minority rights as a guise for their territorial claims. Polish deputies were represented at the Peoples Council 0n 1919-1920 and in the Saeima (Parliament) 1922-1934. There was a Polish fraction with one or two deputies. Germans, Jews and Russians had more parliament seats. Jaroslav Vilipshevsky was the first non-Latvian who was elected to the Latvian Land Bank board. Jan Vezhbicky was the assistant to the Minister of the Interior affairs in 1928. The main Polish party was the Polish Peoples Union. There was also a Polish section of Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. The main national society was the Latvian Polish Union with almost thousand members. Poles were elected in the City Councils.

Polish printing press was active and many Polish newspapers came out. From 1922 to 1923 “Glos Polski” (The Voice of Poles), 1925-1928 “Tygodnig Polski” (The Polish Weekly Paper), 1928-1931 “Dzwon” (The Bell), 1931-1934 “Nasz Glos” (Our Voice) and on 1934-1940 “Nasze Zycie” (Our Live).

Polish schools just as other minority schools were autonomous. There was four Polish schools in Riga, three in Liepaja. In whole Latvia already on 1919 17 Polish schools were active. In 1931 there were now 45 Polish schools with 5274 pupils.  Until 1934 in the Ministry of Education a Board of Polish Education handled all affairs of Polish education. After the coup by Kārlis Ulmanis, all minority education boards were removed and replaced by the senior manager. The number of the Polish schools dropped to 16. Most Polish students went to study in Poland, because the entrance examinations in higher education facilities were taken in Latvian.

Poles had active community life. The national organizations like “Polish Union”, and many catholic charity organizations took care for less fortunate. Polish fraternities and academic organizations were active. On the Warsaw street at Daugavpils a “Polish House” was made for many Polish organizations. Polish youth took part in Scout units. Many famous Latvian sportsmen were Poles. Also there was many Polish academics and stage artists.

The Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland was a deep blow for Latvian Poles. On September 17, when the Soviet Union invaded Poland the Latvian Polish Union made a declaration of unbroken ties with the whole Polish nation and promised to support Poland at all costs. Latvian government was unfriendly to Poland, by closing its embassy in Warsaw. No other Baltic State did that. 1500 soldiers of the Polish army entered Latvia together with 300-400 civil refugees. Polish national organizations did their best to help these people.

The interned Polish air force men in Latvia 1939

The interned Polish air force men in Latvia 1939

The Soviet Occupation of Latvia in 1940 was taken unfriendly by Poles. Soviet Union had helped to destroy the Polish state and was against any kinds of national activity. The Polish national organizations were closed. Many leading Polish persons were arrested and sent to Siberia. The Soviet secret police the NKVD discovered an underground Polish resistance group. Large numbers of Poles were sent to Siberia in June 14 1941.

After the Nazi invasion 38191 Poles were registered in Latvia by the Nazi authorities. This count was artificially downsized because many Poles, registered as Latvians, Belorussians and Ukrainians to escape the Nazi repressions. Some Poles openly resisted the Nazi occupation by joining the Soviet underground. The pro-soviet Polish Peoples Army (Armia Ludowa) was active in Latvia. Many Latvian Poles were mobilized in the Red Army. However, because of the Soviet terror some Poles welcomed the Nazi forces and took arms against the Soviets. At first German authorities refrained from mobilizing Poles in the Waffen SS Legion by sending them to work in Germany. However, many Poles were included in the German ranks because they were registered as Latvians or joined voluntarily. Latvian Poles also formed units loyal to the Polish Government in Exile. The “Armia Krajowa” had special intelligence units in Latvia. More than 150 Latvian Poles fought for the “Armia Krajowa”. Many of them were captured by the German secret police and executed.

After the second Soviet occupation of Latvia, Poles remained in strong numbers throughout the decades.  Poles formed 2,3% of the Latvian population at 1989. Some Poles arrived from Soviet annexed West Belorussia and West Ukraine. The Soviet Union rejected the Polish national education and forced Poles to go to Russian or Latvian schools. In result the major part of Poles became Russianized and forgot their native language. The same thing happened to the Jews, Belorussians and Ukrainians. Only 27% Latvian Poles knew Polish language.

Some Poles continued to resist the Soviet occupation and joined the partisan movement. Poles were the only national minority to do so. Together with Latvian partisans they unsuccessfully combated the NKVD. On March 25 1949 many Polish farmers were sent to Siberia.

The leader of the Polish National revival Ita Kozakevich

The leader of the Polish National revival Ita Kozakevich

Polish national activity was mainly suppressed by the Soviet regime. Polish intelligentsia made unofficial meetings and activities. The main point of unity was the Catholic church that made social services for Catholic Poles. At the beginning of the restoration of the independence Poles took an active role. First Polish national society “Promien” (Ray) was organized by Henrik Svirkovsky. In 1988 the Latvian Polish Cultural Society was founded by Ita Kozakevich in charge.  She however tragically died in Italy on 1990. She stays as legendary figure for Polish national struggle. Polish national Jānis Jurkāns became the first foreign minister in restored Latvia. Latvian Polish Society supported the Barricade movement. Many Poles took part in Latvian Peoples Front.

After the restoration of independence there was 38, 9 thousand Poles in Latvia. Latvian Polish Union is active and is lead by Rishard Stankevich. With difficulties Poles are trying to maintain their own national schools. Poland is giving them some support. Many Poles are taking part in politics and  culture. Ivars Bičkovičs is the chairman of the Latvian Supreme Court. Zbigņevs Stankevičs is the main archbishop of the Latvian Catholic church. Viktors Ščerbatihs was Olympic medalist in weightlifting. Many Latvians will find a Polish roots in their family trees. Latvia tries to make good relations with Poland. Poland exports many products to Latvia and Latvia in return. Polish and Latvian historians are seeking common understanding in WWII history since both countries had similar experience of Nazi and Soviet invasion. Last year the President of Poland Bronisław Komorowski visited the University of Latvia where the Riga Polytechnic school was located and opened the restored punishment chamber for unruly students. Since there were large numbers of Polish students, the infamous chamber had many writings in Polish. Together with the chamber a book about the Polish students in Czarist time Riga was opened.  Many famous Polish people including president Komorowski himself had ancestors studying in Riga. The connection between Poland and Latvia is many centuries old and unbroken.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks, (1996) Poļi Latvijā.  Rīga : Latvijas ZA Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.

Janicki, Arkadiusz, Laszczkowski, Michal, Jēkabsons, Ēriks Polentechnikum. Inowroclaw : Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego.

Polacy na Łotwie : wybór dokumentów prawnych dotyczących mniejszości narodowych = Poļi Latvijā : tiesisko dokumentu izlase, kas skar nacionālās minoritātes. (2003) Warszawa : Stowarzyszenie “Wspólnota Polska”

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The Evolution of the Soviet Victory Day Celebration. The Cult of the Great Victory

All Soviet Medals for anniversary of the Great Victory from 1965 to 2005

All Soviet Medals for anniversary of the Great Victory from 1965 to 2005

Tomorrow on the streets of Moscow and other capital cities of the former Soviet Union a large military parade will be held commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in May 9 1945. In Riga, Latvia there are no military parades just a large celebration at the Monument of Liberation. Latvian Russian political movements have used this date for their political goals. For last four years the Riga city council has been led by the Russian party Harmony Center that has done a great deal of politicizing this celebration. There are similarities with the March 16 commemoration day of the Latvian SS Legion. While March 16 is  the main mythical date for Latvian nationalists and May 9 is an important date for all who still live with the soviet conciseness. The May 9 Soviet Victory day is artificially made celebration based on Soviet propaganda that made the cult of the Great Victory. Yet in first years after the war nor the soviet people nor the Stalin himself really believed that the victory over Nazi Germany needs to be celebrated.

Despite the fact that Soviet General  Ivan Susloparov had actually signed the capitulation agreement on May 7 at Reims, France that came to power in May 8, Stalin was dissatisfied with this and demanded to make another act of capitulation in Berlin. Because of these Soviets regarded the May 9 as the official end of the World War II.

The soviet Union explained the victory as the superiority of the communist system and the political and the moral unity of the Soviet people with Stalin in the lead. As the radio announced the victory the streets of Moscow rejoiced in celebration. With singing and fireworks from 1000 cannons the May 9 was celebrated with great joy. But, for many is was just sign of relief that the war killed over that more than 26 million Soviet people. In Germany and Poland the repressions and massacre against the German civilians continued for many months. In Latvia the Courland was still under the German control and last shots were fired there.

The Victory parade in Moscow took place on June 24 1945. It was intended that Stalin himself would enter the Red Square on horseback. However, during the practice Stalin fell off the horse and decided to hand him over to Marshal Zhukov. So it was Zhukov who entered the parade. For years this fact has circulated among the historiography and was mentioned even by prominent western historians. While there is a high possibility that Stalin never even took part in the practice as the whole story was made up. For the Cavalry Colonel S. N. Maslov who allegedly choose the horse for Stalin was sentenced in War Tribunal at Germany for 10 years. So he could not choose the horse for Stalin. More significantly this presumably false story was included in Zhukov memoirs. Zhukov memoirs have many false stories many of them not written by himself. So in reality Stalin simply did not want to participate in the parade because he did not consider the outcome of the World War II as truly victorious.

When one American diplomat told Stalin about how grateful for him must be to know that Soviet troops are marching in Berlin, Stalin replied:” Tsar Alexander reached Paris.” There is also another similar quote from Stalin: “This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise. If now there is not a communist government in Paris, this is only because Russia has no an army which can reach Paris in 1945.” This is a well known phrase, but most people only pay attention to the first part of the quote about how far the army goes is how far the soviet power goes. It’s true that communist governments were established in every country that was reached by the Soviet army. But, it seems even the whole Eastern Europe was not enough for him as he wanted to establish a communist government in Paris. The main goal for Stalin and the whole Soviet Union before the WWII was the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Stalin saw WWII as the clash between Nazis and Capitalist forces, where the Soviet Union at the most advantageous moment could make the most decisive strike. As we know that his plan backfired when Germany attacked the Soviet Union first. Berlin was not enough for Stalin, he wanted Paris and maybe even London or Washington. That is why he did not take any direct part in the parade. Even if there was any incident with the horse it was used as a good excuse not to take part in the parade that was shameful for him.

It was also June 24 when Stalin significantly changed the main accents in the Soviet ideology. In the victory ball Stalin made a toast for the well being of the Russian nation, since it was the greatest of the Soviet nations and deserves the main recognition for her bravery in the war. Ethnic Georgian Stalin unleashed the Russian nationalism at the full scale. All talks of internationalism were forgotten, Russian nation now declared as the main nation in the USSR. On 1943 the old Soviet anthem Internationale was replaced with more patriotic and nationalistic anthem praising the Russian nation. Stalin had acknowledged that his quest for international Soviet republic had failed so he instead restored the traditions of the old Russian Empire.

On June 23 1945 a decree was issued to demobilize older soldiers. Complete demobilization was finished in 1948. About 8,5  million soldiers with them 3,8 invalids went back home. 2, 6 million of invalids were completely unable to regain health and find a new job. 2 million Soviet prisoners of war went home as traitors and cowards. 67% of them had to go through filtration camps for the Soviet power was suspicious if they collaborated with the Germans.

During the last years of Stalin’s rule until 1953, no major celebrations for the Victory day ever took place. Despite the official ideology praised the veterans, they got little attention from the state.  Stalin was afraid from the military elite and in coming years discharged most war generals like Zhukov from top posts. The social payments  for veterans and money for receiving awards were reduced.  No celebrations or holidays took place on May 9.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev seeks to remove Stalin from the soviet historical memory. The campaign to disclose the Stalinist cult was underway and Soviet propaganda now accused Stalin of great losses of 1941 and too much trust on Hitler. However, the main myth of the peaceful policy of the Soviet Union before the WWII remained intact and was improved. Also Nikita Khrushchev had not abandoned the idea of the worldwide socialist revolution. He wanted to achieve with the economical and technical supremacy of the Soviet Union. His plans of outmatching the United States generally failed in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. However, for many years his propaganda of the great future reached by space race and technology shadowed the WWII memories.

On 1965 Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev understood that reaching the worldwide Soviet supremacy was impossible; instead his policy was to keep the Soviet system stable for many years to come. In such situation a new festivity that would keep the peoples minds busy was needed. So in 26 April 1965 the May 9 was made as an official holiday. Before that official holidays were May 1 and November 7 the October Revolution day. Many books were published, awards and special coins were made, and special monuments were made. The cities that suffered heavy battles were named as the “Hero towns”.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev introduced the Soviet Victory day celebrations

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev introduced the Soviet Victory day celebrations

Leonid Brezhnev formed his own ideology of the Great Victory. The victory was international and the role of the Soviet Army was crucial in the WWII. The victory meant the Soviet supremacy over Nazi and the capitalist system. Also Brezhnev now called all major nations of the USSR including Latvians as the “infinite heroes”.  Also one of the main points was the commemoration and the worship of the war veterans and the war generation. For the cause for what they fought was infinite.

On May 9 1965 an epic, never before seen parade took part in Moscow. After celebrating 20 years of victory such parades were taken every year. The Victory Day became the main argument of legitimacy for the Soviet regime. The Great victory was the main reason for the revolution and the building of communism. The Brezhnev view of history was close to the Stalinist version of history. War films were made in masses. The main basis of WWII history was no longer the war but the victory. The dark side of the war: the great losses of the 1941-1942, GULAG, Stalin’s aggressions before 1941, punishment battalions, the Vlasov Army and the Soviet War crimes was diminished by the myth of the Great Victory. This myth halted the Khrushchev policies for anti-Stalinist, and slowed down calls for democracy. With that the Stalinist terror was also partly justified. There was also another prosaic explanation for this new policy. Brezhnev really liked orders and medals and like to receive them and award others. So such festivity was needed for mass awarding of medals and orders. Brezhnev even got himself awarded with the highest award the Order of Victory that he did not deserve in any way.

The monument of Mother Russia in Volgograd (Stalingrad) one of the distinctive sites of the Victory cult

The monument of Mother Russia in Volgograd (Stalingrad) one of the distinctive sites of the Victory cult

Since then the Victory day celebrations have been routine for the Soviet people. Forgotten veterans now enjoyed social privileges. Veterans and war invalids became a special social group. As the years vent the privileges expanded marking the feeling of social injustice among many. This also made many to became a fake veteran. This people made up their birth dates and biography to get the medals and social status.

In 1985 the Victory Day was still celebrated as usual. In 1990 the common policy was more revisionist, mentioning Stalinist crimes, Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In a social survey in Leningrad 60,8 % people agreed that the Soviet Union had begun a bloody war of conquer. Only 20% disagreed. The myth had collapsed as the Soviet power was now held responsible for the great war losses.

After the complete collapse of the USSR the revision of WWII history continued. However, many still believed that the common people during the Stalin’s era where good and honored and got nothing to with Stalinist crimes. Russian democratic regime canceled the official commemoration of the Soviet past. However, the social difficulties in  Russia the failure of the transformation to capitalist system made communist slogans to reborn again. People again looked for an iron hand to fix their problems and Stalin again was praised in many surveys. The Boris Yeltsin government failed to introduce the Russian society with ideas of national unity and the “Russian Idea”. The problem with the Great Victory was that the Stalinist crimes did not allow to use it in democratic propaganda.

The war veterans united in unions and committees.  In 1995 there were 2,4 million surviving war veterans. Yeltsin celebrated the 50 years of victory in 1995 to boost his re-election campaign. Also because of the war in Chechnya the boost for army was needed. The parade in the Red Square was restored. A Medal of Zhukov was introduced. Yeltsin had given up his desires for democracy and again introduced May 9 as the tool to unify the nation. And it worked because of large mass appraisal. The editor of the newspaper Nezavisimaja Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov called the May 9 as the “unofficial commemoration day of the Soviet Union”.

The traumatic decade of the nighties made many think that the Soviet Union was not so bad, that the greedy statesman was the blame for its collapse. The memories for “good and stable” Brezhnev years again made the Victory day cult rise again. The new president Vladimir Putin sought to restore the good image of Stalin and KGB. And since the Putins reign just as the Brezhnev reign begun with high rise of oil prices that returned stability, the old ways were good again. Also the attitude towards the war in Chechnya also changed from negative to positive.

A new attribute to the May 9 Victory cult was the “George Ribbon”. Taken from the Czarist time ribbon of the Order of St Georgy, the black and orange ribbon became the symbol of the national solidarity. In Czarist times the use of the colors of the St George was only for nobles and awarded officers. The simple mass use of these colors is a degradation of old tradition. On 2005 the celebrations in Moscow hit new heights with massive parades and use of aircraft and rockets. Since the war veterans are slowly depleting in numbers, many think that the Victory day is a day of nostalgic solidarity and commemoration of the great soviet past. As the years pass by the understanding of the WWII events have significantly changed. The young generation is sometimes more fanatical than the old veterans who really faced the war. The biased image of the WWII made by movies, TV documentaries and computer games are causing for young generation to misinterpret the history. The neo-soviet propaganda in Russia is growing. As the Putin’s regime is facing difficulties the pattern of Stalinist revision is making its way. Even if there are great numbers of liberal and educated young Russians, large numbers of Russian youth still worships the victory cult. Even worse a relative number of people who rejects both no-sovietism and liberalism turns to radical nationalism or even Nazism.

Putinist Era propaganda poster for Victory day "I remember I take pride"

Putinist Era propaganda poster for Victory day “I remember I take pride”

In Latvia the May 9, has evolved as the day of protest and day of nostalgia. For some its the way of remembering the Soviet past, for others its a sign of protest against the Latvian democratic system. The Harmony center has failed to enter the government by its own fault for years and uses the Victory day to lure the voters. The movement to remove the Liberation monument where the celebration is held has been active for years. Calls for not using the WWII as a political tool and commemorate the victims on all sides on May 8 has been met with little support.

In the conclusion it must be said that the Soviet Victory day on May 9, was made as the tool of mass control. The struggling Soviet regime was searching for common sign of the Soviet collective identity and found it in the May 9. The main leader of the WW2 Soviet victory Stalin himself did not even want to celebrate his own victory. The cult of the Great Victory was made by people who had small or no experience in war and was made as the only uniting thing for the whole nation. Today as the Russian Federation is struggling to let go of the Soviet past and it has no uniting factor of its own; the Victory day continues to be the main event. It’s a matter of the new generation to finally let go the Stalinist grip and move into the new era.

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