Sunday, May 9, 2010

Victory Day

Last year President Barack Obama and heads of state from across Europe gathered on the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings that marked one of the turning points of World War II. The reason for the huge memorial service last year was the tacit admission that given the increasing age of WWII veterans, the 65th was likely the last milestone anniversary where actual participants would be able to attend in sizeable numbers. This weekend marks the 65th anniversary of the actual end of the war in Europe, yet this anniversary is passing across Europe and the United States with almost no notice.

Except, that is, for Russia where “Victory Day” (May 9th) is the largest secular holiday in the Russian calendar. The Russians too realize the significance of the 65th anniversary to their surviving vets, so they have made an effort to make this year’s Victory Day commemoration the largest in recent years. Russia Today has spent the past several weeks conducting interviews and gathering first-person accounts from veterans and Russians who were on the homefront during the War; they have compiled all of them on a special website dedicated to Victory Day. And for the first time contingents of troops representing the Soviet Union’s allies during the war are participating in the annual military parade in Moscow, including soldiers from France, the United Kingdom, Poland and the United States.

You would think the site of American troops marching through Red Square for first time ever would be big news, but apparently it’s not, since their participation merited only a passing mention on the cable news channels and news sites on the Web this morning. It’s too bad, since beyond the historic visuals was also an attempt by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to reach out to his fellow heads of state to try to foster a new era of international cooperation. Medvedev said during his official remarks: “Only together can we counter present-day threats. Only as good neighbors can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world.” It’s worth noting that Angela Merkel, head of Russia’s adversary in WWII, stood next to Vladimir Putin during the ceremony, while China’s Hu Jintao sat with Medvedev. Poland’s acting President Bronislaw Komorowski was also in attendance, a sign of the rapidly improving relationship between Russia and Poland, a relationship that ironically seems to have been helped by the recent tragic plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and many high-ranking government officials. Poles have appreciated the sensitive manner in which Russia dealt with the tragedy – Medvedev was one of a handful of world leaders who actually made it to Kaczynski’s state funeral, many others cancelled due to the disruption of international flight patters caused the volcano in Iceland.
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