As Americans are told to be very scared of a new (and old) enemy – Russia – a more complex reality exists on the ground there, a proud and determined people, as Gilbert Doctorow witnessed at an Immortal Regiment march.
By Gilbert Doctorow
To understand Russia, it is worth reflecting on the tradition of the Immortal Regiment march on May 9 when hundreds of thousands of Russians pour into the streets of Moscow and other cities holding the faded photos of family members who died in achieving the victory over the Nazis in World War II.
The march is a showing of national solidarity that is unthinkable in today’s Western Europe or the United States (although those societies also have their patriotic holidays, from Bastille Day in France to July Fourth in the U.S.). In Russia, the Immortal Regiment march demonstrates a national solidarity forged by the shared and searing experience of every family’s wartime losses, a death toll that totaled about 27 million.
This year, despite poor weather, Muscovites took pride in having a still bigger turnout than last year. The media reported that it was the coldest Victory Day in Moscow ever, yet the official crowd number was given at 850,000.
In St. Petersburg, where my wife Larisa and I attended the march, the weather also was frigid. When we departed the metro station at the top of Staronevsky Prospekt at 14:30 to join the parade, we were hit by a snow shower. It quickly stopped and the remainder of the afternoon was mostly sunny, though very cold.
Yet, in St. Petersburg, too, the turnout for the parade was at a record, with official figures putting it at 750,000. Given that the old imperial capital has an overall population less than half that of Moscow, the showing was more than respectable.
Personally, I have never enjoyed large crowds. They make me claustrophobic. But it was a very good-natured assembly. It was multi-generational with a lot of toddlers carried on shoulders of parents and relatives, while their older siblings were kept in tow, subject to warnings that “you don’t want to get lost.”
If the mood of participants may…