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May 14, 2009 at 10:10 am
By Brian Kilgour, Megan Milligan, Travis Raines, Charlie Gamble

The most important secular holiday in Russia is Victory Day, which takes place on May 9th. This holiday celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War (the Russian propagandized version of WWII). The celebration includes a military parade, concerts around the city, and fireworks. During the Soviet Era, the military parade made up a major part of the celebration, but was greatly toned down after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the last 2 years, under the reign of Putin and Medvedev, the military has once again become a major part of the celebration.

Victory Day Parade

At 9:15 in the morning, several of us met to attempt to watch the parade at Tverskaya Street and Tverskoi Boulevard. Although we met 2 hours before the parade was supposed to come by, there were already two full rows of people lining the streets. By the time the parade started, the sidewalks were completely packed with people. There were even people climbing to the top of the scaffolding next to a building under renovation. The parade consisted of an air force flyover, in which we saw Russian helicopters, gunships, fighters, and even their version of the AWACS. The parade itself consisted of tanks, cruise-missile launchers, ICBM launchers, and military transport vehicles.

People in Scaffolding

At 10 am the parade on Red Square was shown on television. Most people can’t get seats to view the parade in person since only a small section of Red Square is reserved for spectators. Instead they view the marches and speeches from there homes before setting out to celebrate outside. I watched the parade from Nikki’s half Russian half American family’s apartment. Her American father told me that the parade is worth watching because its one of the last truly Soviet traditions in Russia, where other days in Russia are more or less like in America. The parade was very different from anything I had seen in America, the goose-stepping sailors, soldiers and Kremlin guards were more intimidating and awe-inspiring than in America. To start the parade a general rode around in a car while standing in the passenger seat and saluted the various branches of the military, who responded with roars. Then Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev delivered speeches, and then a band with a thousand musicians played the national anthem. (Charlie)

After the parade, we went to Victory Park to see the Mariinsky Orchestra play an open-air concert. There were millions of people crowding Victory Park, including scores of WWII veterans being given flowers by young Russians. The orchestra played several Russian works, including pieces by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. Following the concert, mayor of Moscow Luzhkov gave a propagandistic speech hailing the victory of the Soviets and even mentioning Russian involvement in Georgia.

Victory Park

In the evening we all made our way to Sparrow Hills to watch the impressive salute. Huge fireworks were set off from around the city, including from Red Square, Victory Park and near the university, where we were. We arrived at the banks of the Moscow River a few hours before the salute was scheduled to begin at ten and sat for the next several hours among the Russians out enjoying the beautiful weather and celebrating the holiday. At ten, the fireworks began right on schedule and lasted for about ten minutes. Even though it wasn’t of long duration, the fireworks were very impressive, because not only were they huge, but they were displays all across the city, which our vantage point on the side of the river gave us the chance to see. Other people were farther up the hill, closer to where the fireworks were actually being shot off, and could feel the ash and bits of fireworks raining down on them. After the salute ended, all the Russians surrounding us spontaneously started shouting “Rossiya” or Russia, apparently showing their pride for the Motherland, and a few people even went swimming in the less-than-pure Moskva River. There was also increased river traffic that night, including an impressive party boat, presumably the celebration of the children of the oligarchs, or the New Russians who have become incredibly rich since the fall of the Soviet Union. After waiting for things to calm down, we made our way to the metro station, which even then was swarming with a crowd of intoxicated Russians yelling “Rossiya” at the top of their lungs, through which we wrestled our way to reach to station and head home.