For me, Victory Day represents a watershed in European history. In essence, the history of wars came to an end in 1945. Until then wars, along with other activities, were regarded as man’s natural pursuit, his natural need, and the pacifist critique of war was considered a marginal and weak-willed phenomenon. Warrior man was a social and gender model. Surpassing all imagination, the horrors of World War II produced an unprecedented humanist syndrome in post-war Europe, completely shattering the positive image of war as such. It became obvious that war cannot be considered a continuation of politics by other means, whatever ends politics may pursue. War has become an anachronism and, although post-war history has seen quite a few wars, they were all ambiguous in one way or another, even if they were perceived as just. The Soviet-German war, as well as the US nuclear bomb have defeated war as an idea. A military uniform was no longer a sign of man’s excellence; man tried on the clothes of a new civilian archetype and is still trying them on until this day.
Although we still play at soldiers as children, it no longer gives us the same kind of pleasure and by the end of my schooldays I found the Red Square military parades to be scary expressions of an anachronistic mind. The other night, as the military were rehearsing the victory parade and I found myself stuck in traffic in central Moscow, near Sadovoye koltso, I was forced to witness adults playing with high quality military toys and decided to put my present-day feelings to the test: compared with my childhood the tanks have become substantially bigger and taller, turning into something like double-deckers by comparison with the victorious T-34; and missiles now look like long gas pipes. I found it strange that anyone should regard these death products with a naive pride; as a matter of fact, there were hardly any onlookers, the drivers of the cars stuck in traffic showing extreme indifference for the rehearsal, although some of the cars did sport St. George’s pennants. And suddenly it seemed to me that the military all over the world have turned into little tin soldiers and this made me laugh and feel nauseous at the same time. I am prepared to regard as a misunderstanding tanks as machines created specially for the purpose of killing people, of whom great numbers are killed by ordinary cars anyway. When the military rehearsal was over a great number of insect-like cleaner lorries rolled onto Sadovoye koltso, their water jets washing off all traces of the military apparition.
And this is why I have mixed feelings about celebrating Victory Day. In honour of the celebration those of our veterans who do not have flats of their own were promised they would be given one (we can only guess how our aged heroes have been living until now), while those veterans who had committed crimes were amnestied. Bodies of soldiers still lie unburied somewhere near Rzhevo and the whole city is covered in posters showing a mythological victorious hero: a kindly-faced boy with a Slavonic countenance, with a smile and without as much as a spark of intelligence. In Europe in the 1940s boys like this could only shake their helmeted heads and in the intervals between shooting wonder at the unusual goings-on they saw around them. By the way, I recently happened to read, in a journal published in Saratov, the genuine diary of a Soviet sergeant who fell in love with a German woman right after the war, I think it was in Potsdam: judging by the archive photograph they made a beautiful couple. It was the document of a man who ended up being interrogated by the KGB because of the diary – but what shocked me was not the usual Soviet punishment but the force of emotion and passion. A Soviet Romeo and a German Juliet seemed a suitable topic for a memorial statue. But now I can hear the Germans shouting: what about all those German women who were raped?! And our people shouting back: and what about all our grandmothers who starved to death in Leningrad?! I could also add: my grandmother Anastasia Nikandrovna lived through the entire three years of the siege of Leningrad…
I don’t know what is more important about this celebration: the honouring of the veterans who, at the age of nearly ninety, like my parents, belong to the generation that saw mass executions and who have survived twice, in spite of Hitler and Stalin; or the glorification of Russia as a superpower, although it is doubtful whether it really is one. Stalin is not a reason to deny the global importance of Russia’s victory. I appreciate the victory but I wish all military victories were a thing of the past.
Translation: Julia Sherwood
We are grateful to Viktor Erofeyev for the permission to publish this text in English.