May 9, Victory Day, is now a massive celebration in Russia. Moscow in particular goes all out, holding a military parade on an epic scale every year to mark the Soviet Unions victory over Nazi Germany. The history behind the Victory Day Parade is quite interesting and in this post I will give you a very quick idea of the origins of this holiday and the ways in which it has transformed over the years.
If you are from Western Europe, the US or pretty much anywhere else in the world, then you are likely much more familiar with ‘Victory in Europe’ (VE) Day. This day, just like Victory Day, is to mark victory in WW2 and is celebrated on May 8 in Europe or May 7 in Commonwealth countries. The main reason Russia celebrates a day later on May 9 is down to ‘politics’.
Following Hitlers suicide, official leadership of Germany fell to Admiral Karl Doenitz, who immediately sought terms and agreed to sign a surrender document in Reims, France on May 7. The Soviet representatives at Reims were not technically authorised to sign a surrender document, so Stalin requested a second surrender document be signed in Berlin by Field Marshall Zhukov.
This may seen a little petty as after all a surrender is a surrender, but the Soviet Union had borne the brunt of fighting and had suffered the most losses of all the Allied powers, so Stalin wanted the signing to be a special event. The surrender document in Berlin was not signed until late on May 8, which once time zones are taken into consideration was early morning on May 9 in Moscow.
The first victory day parade did not actually occur until a over a month later on June 24. Field Marshall Zhukov famously led the parade on a white stallion and his statue by Red Square is a depiction of him on this day.
Being such a prominent figure during the war, the surrender and the celebration did not work out well for Zhukov. Stalin felt threatened by the victorious commander and following the parade relegated him to obscurity. Zhukov lived out his days in relative comfort but was not allowed to take any part in the government or military from that point forward.
In the post war years, the parade was not a major event and it did not even become a public holiday until the early 1960’s. The large, awe inspiring displays of Russia’s military might are a more recent phenomenon.
Current Russian president Vladimir Putin was looking for a way to boost spirits and renew nationalist sentiments after the economically disastrous post Soviet period in the 1990’s and decided to reinvigorate Victory Day celebrations. Today, the Victory Day Parade is a massive affair, snaking it’s way through Moscow for hours, complete with fighter jet flyovers, marching bands and endless columns of military machinery
As far as parades go, the Victory Day Parade in Moscow stands out as one of the largest and most impressive in the world. If you can, you really should see it at least once in your life. For some information about great vantage points for watching the parade, check out our post here.