Russia in May is one pulsating, flag-waving, red-flagged orgy of celebration. City workers set up barricades and hung flags, every pane of glass boasted the red star + orange ribbon decal for winning over the Nazi regime. Loudspeakers on the metro escalators played peppy marches and chipper victory tunes to get you ready.
It rang in my head nonstop for two weeks, and long into every night.
On the streets, boys too young to remember any wars wore green blankets over their shoulders like soldiers, handing ribbons and CDs of victory marches for the elderly to enjoy at home. (I grabbed two! Best souvenir ever.) Children wore their best baggy-thighed uniforms. Ladies wore their best pink heels and skirts to stand on the street and not see a thing.
Theoretically, somewhere several miles away, Putin and his cronies addressed the world while the most modern of all armored fighting vehicles rolled down Tverskaya Street toting missiles and all the latest weapons of mass destruction.
The essence of modern Moscow?
If you’re not a VIP, here’s an example of what you’ll see:
- Hordes of twenty-something parents with kids
- Ranks of official vehicles blocking foot traffic to the main roads
- Insecure teenage boys dressed in police uniforms, tasked with restricting foot traffic into official areas
- Drunk old men yelling at said insecure teenaged boys wearing police uniforms
- Drunk bros climbing said public works vehicles
- Bored teenagers selling retro military beanies with red stars pinned on them
- Bastions of older policemen wearing blue camo uniforms, twice as angry and with triple the machismo
- Hundreds of people standing on curbs with the sad, sad hope of getting a tiny glimpse of what they’re supposed to be seeing
After several hours of this, I conclude that Victory Day, while celebrating victory over the Nazis and saving Russia’s people, is not really a celebration for Russians. Not for the tourist looking for cultural enrichment, or for the old lady whose father died in the war. How can it be? It’s impossible for the normal joes to get anything out of this, save for a free CD and maybe an 750 RUB ($15) hat or an orange ribbon.
Victory Day is a giant nut-waving show for international media.
I eventually returned to our third-floor apartment hoping to see more than just the backs of civilian heads. By hanging out of the apartment window and squinting through the never-cleaned glass of a disused elevator shaft, I could see the occasional twitch of movement indicating a tank rolling by.
And the crowd went wild.
Victory Day is a really, really good excuse.
It’s the strangest, most passive celebration I’ve experienced in my life, but if I take the lens of biased Americanism off, it makes a lot of sense: It’s a topic on which we can agree. It’s secular, a sense of patriotism and pride in a world where we’re not always friends. It’s an excuse to get to know your neighbors on a rare day off, and appreciate everything you’ve got and the people around you.
70 is a nice round number.
And it’s a beautiful, sunny, glorious Saturday in May.