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Monday, July 06, 2020

Victory Day: Why Russia celebrates WWII triumph on a different date

Victory Day: The parade will last for around 90 minutes and see the participation of military personnel from 19 countries, including India and China.

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi | Published: June 24, 2020 4:30:50 am
Victory Day, Victory Day parade, Victory Day parade moscow, rusia india china trilateral meet, India China, India China news, rajnath singh russia visit, india china border dispute, galwan faceoff, ladakh Russian soldiers rehearse for the Victory Day Parade in Moscow. (AP Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is on a three-day trip to Russia to attend the 75th Victory Day. India has sent a tri-services contingent to participate in the Victory Day Parade on Wednesday. China’s Defence Minister and troops will also be present.

What is Victory Day?

Victory Day marks the end of World War II and the victory of the Allied Forces in 1945. Adolf Hitler had shot himself on April 30. On May 7, German troops surrendered, which was formally accepted the next day, and came into effect on May 9.

In most European countries, it is celebrated on May 8, and is called the Victory in Europe Day.

Why does Russia not celebrate Victory Day on the same date?

The erstwhile Soviet Union had not wanted the surrender to take place in the west, and wanted that such a significant event should reflect the contribution of the Red Army and the Soviet population. According to military historian Antony Beevor’s definitive book on World War II, Joseph Stalin, premier of the Soviet Union, wanted Germany to also sign a surrender in Berlin.

The Act of Military Surrender was signed by Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command Generallutenant Alfred Jodl and General Admiral Hans-George von Friedeburg in the early hours of May 7 in France at Rheims, which was the headquarters of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). The surrender was to come into effect a minute past midnight on May 9.

But, Beevor writes, “Stalin could not let the final ceremony take place in the west, so he insisted that the Germans sign another surrender in Berlin, at one minute past midnight on 9 May, the moment the capitulation agreed at Rheims came into effect”. Though the document was signed, Beevor says that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill “cabled Stalin to explain that, since crowds were already gathering in London to celebrate, Victory in Europe Day celebration in Britain would take place on 8 May, as they did in the United States”.

This did not convince Stalin, who argued that “Soviet troops were still fighting” the German forces in many areas. German soldiers did not surrender in East Prussia, Courland Peninsula, Czechoslovakia till later. “Victory celebration, Stalin wrote, could therefore not begin in the Soviet Union till 9 May,” Beevor says in his book.

Victory Day, Victory Day parade, Victory Day parade moscow, rusia india china trilateral meet, India China, India China news, rajnath singh russia visit, india china border dispute, galwan faceoff, ladakh Russian military vehicles roll down Red Square Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Since then May 9 has been celebrated at Victory Day in Russia.

If May 9 is Victory Day, why is it being celebrated on June 24?

This year, the celebrations this year were pushed to June because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In November 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin had invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Victory Day celebration which were due to be held on May 9.

Modi could not travel to Moscow, but he wished Putin on May 9 through a tweet: “India stands with Russia in solemn remembrance today, on the 75th Anniversary of Victory Day. Tens of thousands of Indian soldiers also made the supreme sacrifice in the Second World War. My warm greetings to President Putin and the Russian people on this occasion.”

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Victory Day, Victory Day parade, Victory Day parade moscow, rusia india china trilateral meet, India China, India China news, rajnath singh russia visit, india china border dispute, galwan faceoff, ladakh Russian soldiers wearing face a masks to protect against the coronavirus march toward Red Square to attend a dress rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, June 20, 2020. (AP Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Is the June 24 date particularly significant?

Yes, it is. After winning the war and having its own Victory Day on May 9, Stalin wanted to commemorate the victory with a military parade. On June 22, 1945, he ordered: “In commemoration of the victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War, I appoint to hold the parade of the regular Army, Navy and the Moscow garrison — Victory Parade June 24, 1945 in Moscow’s Red Square.”

Hence the first Victory Day Parade took place on June 24 in Moscow.

However, since then, the Victory Day Parades have taken place on May 9.

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Who is participating in the parade on Wednesday?

The parade will last for around 90 minutes and see the participation of military personnel from 19 countries, including India and China. The celebrations are expected to include 64,000 participants. In Moscow, 14,000 military personnel will march through Red Square. Additionally, 50,000 more troops will march through 27 other cities that have military units.

Victory Day, Victory Day parade, Victory Day parade moscow, rusia india china trilateral meet, India China, India China news, rajnath singh russia visit, india china border dispute, galwan faceoff, ladakh The military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the Nazi defeat was postponed from May 9 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and is now set to take place on June 24. (AP Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Have Indian politicians taken part in such celebrations earlier?

Yes. Indian leaders have attended several Victory Day Parades. At the 70th anniversary Victory Day celebrations in 2015, then President Pranab Mukherjee went to represent India. Manmohan Singh had attended the 60th anniversary in 2005 as the then Prime Minister of India.

Mukherjee had attended the celebrations earlier as well. In 1995, as the External Affairs Minister, he was present at the 50th anniversary celebrations. However, he noted in his memoirs that he had objected to India’s participation before P V Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister at that time, as “there were several reasons why the government should not participate in Victory Day celebrations for the Second World War”. He had stated that the Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra Bose had fought the Allied Forces and that leaders of Congress were jailed during the war for their protests.

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