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Salutations from Victory Day

May 10, 2010 at 5:54 am
By Karl, Ken, and Lily

Den’ Pobedy! Victory Day! And what day of national pride is complete without fireworks? None! That’s right. None! Last night we gathered around the Glavnoe Zdanie (Main Building) of our adopted alma mater, Moscow State University, which is conveniently placed at the top of the Sparrow Hills, providing one of the best views of Moscow that the city has to offer. Amidst massive crowds of Russians from all walks of life, we attentively stared at the stormy sky, eagerly awaiting the first rockets of the Victory Salute in honor of the people who fought and died in the Second World War, or as it is often referred to here in Russia, the Great Patriotic War.

Indeed, we witnessed not one, but three fireworks displays last night: one off in the distance at Park Pobedy (Victory Park), one incredible show over the Kremlin, and one almost above our heads—and we suspect that there may have been more that we just couldn’t see. To us Americans, it felt like the Fourth of July had come early, and chants of “U-S-A!” had simply been replaced with chants of “Ro-ssi-ya!” The most noticeable difference, in fact, between our Independence Day fireworks and Moscow’s Victory Day salute was the reaction of the crowd. While in the U.S. we “ooh” and “ahh” to fireworks, Russians “oorah!”, yell “hey”, and generally sound more like fans cheering their team at a sporting event than a group of impressed spectators. The salute lasted about a quarter of an hour, though the festivities did not stop with the end of the fireworks show.

In fact, it seems that was just the beginning of the night for many Muscovites. During our 40-minute walk back to the Metro, we passed hundreds of cars creeping along in intense traffic. But this was not frustrated traffic—this was just a great opportunity to continue the cheers of “Ro-ssi-ya!” in the form of rhythmic honking and to wave Russian flags (both the usual red-white-and-blue flag and the old Communist flag) out of their car windows. Several groups of boisterous young men even walked among the cars waving flags, cheering, and pumping their fists in patriotic revelry. Once we got to the “University” metro station, we realized we had not seen a real crowd yet, even on the metro on the way there. Riot police arrived on the scene, made a tight wall out of their bodies (let’s just say they would have won Olympic gold in Red Rover), and politely and loudly asked everyone to go around them to improve the flow into the metro station. Getting into the metro train itself was not as difficult, for rather humorous reasons. Basically, as soon as the train doors opened, we were suddenly inside the train without having moved our legs at all. The pressure of the crowd behind us used their legs instead. At every stop, more people managed to squeeze in (defying physics) to the tram, as everyone already inside the train screamed “Nyet! Mesta nyet!” (“No, there’s no space!”). Nobody was actually angry about the fact that they literally could not move at all, however, because everyone was so happy (and, perhaps, also quite drunk) from the holiday. It was a very good time. When we reached the Kol’tsevaya Line (Ring Line) that contains many transfer stations, all the passengers poured out, glad to have something to breathe other than carbon dioxide.

All in all, it was not that different from a warm Fourth of July evening in any crowded city. Even those who were waving communist flags did not seem to be cheering for communism, but just showing pride in their country, whose flag at the time of this great victory included a hammer and sickle. For all of us, it was exciting and oddly inspiring to see that a country other than America can display such patriotism.