Skewed victory parades miss opportunity to unite

Skewed victory parades miss opportunity to unite
Russian servicemen drive armoured vehicles as they take part in a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

"Hoorah, hoorah, hoorah!" With this traditional shout from hundreds of thousands of people, Russia will launch later this week a vast military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

Nothing is being left to chance: the iconic watchtower and church domes in the Kremlin palace in Moscow have been renovated specially for the occasion; new military hardware will roll through Red Square; and, in another time-honoured Russian tradition, clouds over the Russian capital will be seeded to prevent any chance of rain on the parade.

Yet very few of the leaders of Russia's wartime allied nations will be present in Moscow.

And a similar fate may await China's plans to hold a similarly lavish military parade in Beijing later this year to mark Japan's defeat and the end of World War II in Asia: the Chinese are so nervous about the possibility of no-shows that they have yet to formally release the list of those foreign leaders invited to attend.

In missing these parades, no disrespect is intended to either the Russians or the Chinese, or to the sacred memory of the tens of millions of their citizens who fought and died bravely during the 1940s; today's world will not be what it is without their sacrifice.

Rather, the reason an increasing number of leaders are keen to skip such events is that these military parades have little to do with commemorating a past; they are all about legitimising a state-sponsored and often controversial vision of the future.

Unlike World War I, which came to a sudden end in November 1918 with an unexpected armistice, the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in Europe - VE Day, as it was called, was predictable for months before May 1945, as allied forces closed in on Adolf Hitler's Berlin bunker. As a result, governments had time to prepare for the victory parades which took place soon thereafter.

Understandably, these were raw, visceral affairs, as befits nations which have suffered years of unspeakable cruelty: the parade in Moscow featured soldiers carrying German flags which were then dramatically thrown at the feet of Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader.

But few people at that time believed that such victory parades would become a permanent feature. Even in the USSR, the key military parade each year was not in May, but in November, to mark the Bolshevik communist revolution's anniversary.

Historically, as critical events recede into history, and as the people involved in these events pass away, commemorations became smaller and more introspective; that is what happened to VE Day memorials throughout Europe.

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