(AsiaNews) – The Soviet victory over the Nazis, whose 70th anniversary was celebrated today with the largest military parade in the history of modern Russia, is one of the most sensitive public issues in the country, on par perhaps with the place of the Orthodox Church and religion in society, this according to Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, the most authoritative independent polling organisation in the country.
For Gudkov, it is especially this element of sacredness that differentiates Victory Day in today’s Russia from Soviet times. Speaking to AsiaNews, the sociologist noted that “For Russians today, Victory Day (Den Pobedi in Russian) is something holy. Under Brezhnev (who reintroduced the celebration in 1965 after Stalin had dropped it in 1947), this was not the case.”
“The Church has provided the Russian leadership moral and spiritual authority to buttress the myth surrounding the Victory,” he explained. And Putin has built his own political legitimacy on this by reviving Russia’s great power status.
The high point of this year’s Den Pobedi celebrations is the traditional military parade in Moscow. Chinese President Xi Jinping will be there, beside Vladimir Putin, but no Western head of state or government will be present because of the Ukrainian crisis.
The ark with the right hand of Saint George the Victorious, and the icon of the Great Martyr, patron saint of Moscow, were brought to Russia from Mount Athos for the occasion. Orthodox believers will be able to venerate them for two months in the capital, St Petersburg and 12 other cities of the Federation.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who recently described the victory of the Red Army against Hitler as “God’s miracle”, has repeatedly stressed the particular role St George has played in boosting the national spirit during what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, which cost the Soviet Union 20 times as many lives as it did for European countries.
Yet, in today’s Russia, talking about it is a kind of taboo, a no-no that could land anyone in legal trouble. The law of silence also applies to Stalin’s faults and mistakes as it does to the repression against the Christian clergy.
Saint George reappears in the now prominently displayed black-and-orange St. George’s ribbon Russians wear to symbolize resistance to Nazism.
And it is no coincidence that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and Russian official propaganda use it against the “fascists of Kyiv.”
All in all, for many, “Despite the fact that state atheism was officially established in the Soviet Union, it was Orthodox faith and moral principles connected with it and national spirit formed by it that constituted the decisive factor for winning the Victory,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations wrote in a recent article.
The reality is that many Russians “see a corrupt leadership,” whilst still viewing “the Church as a moral authority,” Gudkov said.
“If, as our research suggests, the proportion of believers went from 16 per cent 20 years ago to 70 per cent today, we have become an Orthodox country. However, most people have no clue about the Church (40 per cent of Russians say they do not believe in God). Instead, for them, “Being Orthodox today means being Russian.”