Today Russians celebrated Victory Day, commemorating the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. The day was marked by muscular displays of military might— including fighter jets and tanks streaming over Red Square—in scenes redolent of the height of Soviet power.
The celebration of Victory Day offers Russians an opportunity to reflect upon the tremendous loss of life during the Second World War, in which an estimated 27 million people. Yet it is also a holiday which carries a great degree of moral ambivalence. Since the collapse of the USSR, questions over the extent to which the Soviet system—and in particular, the leadership of Josef Stalin—have dogged the celebration of this national holiday.
Since his rise to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has keenly embraced and reinvigorated the Soviet influence of the celebration, which has provided an annual platform to dramatize his own leadership and semi-nationalist agenda. Attempts by his government to rehabilitate the reputation of the Soviet Union generally and figures including Stalin have been criticized by independent observers such as Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, who commented:
“Putin’s spin doctors did not deny that Stalin’s regime had conducted mass arrests and executions but tried to minimize these events … while emphasizing as far as possible the merits of Stalin as a military commander and statesman who had modernized the country and turned it into one of the world’s two superpowers.”