True Colours

Written on May 11, 2016 by Susana Torres Prieto in Arts & Cultures & Societies

1127By Susana Torres Prieto, Professor of Humanities at IE University and IE Business School.

A year ago, President Putin, with the excuse of celebrating Victory Day – the victory of the Allies, including the Soviets, over Hitler’s Germany – made an outstanding display of military might at a time when the Ukrainian conflict had made President Putin’s position before the Europe and the US somehow uncomfortable.

A year on, the war in Ukraine is stagnated, Russian economy is seriously struggling with current prices of oil, and President Putin commemorates once again the victory that had got Stalin a seat in Yalta, in Crimea, by the way.

Like last year, Putin became “one with his people” parading with a photograph of his own father, who fought in WWII, in something now called the “Immortal Regiment” march, a curious display of heart-felt nationalism by which one can assert his or her “russian-ness” by parading on Victory Day with photographs of one’s family members who fought, though not necessary died, in that terrible war, which basically amounts to almost the entire population of the country as long as you are, at least, a second or third generation soviet. So, as in the ancient city of Athens where you could only be considered a citizen, and have citizens rights, if you belonged to one of the twelve tribes that founded the city – and Aristotle, for example, was never a citizen – you can claim now to be Russian if your forefathers fought in the Great Patriotic War. So, forget it if you are an immigrant, a new-comer, and, more importantly, if you cannot attest, or don’t feel particularly proud of, a lineage of patriotic feeling in times of the good comrade Stalin because, in that case, you are not invited. The truth of the matter is that, if your forefathers didn’t attest an expected level of patriotism then, the most likely outcome is that you would not be here now, but the official line of thought is that you “should” be proud of it, not only acknowledge it, but display it. Just like our good President does with the photograph of his father.

This obsession with the military, as well as the wish to revive past antagonisms, and the need of making public display of both, is worryingly reminiscent of George Orwell’s “Hate Week” in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it is certainly what President Putin needs in harsher economic times like these. It certainly worked in Soviet times, and he might wonder why is it not going to work now. However, if he had read the novel, he would know that information was what made Winston Smith doubt the whole system in the first place. Social networks and independent press, if mostly foreign, are certainly a good counter balance to this nationalistic madness. Another question would be if the heirs of the deceased will eventually forgive him for using their suffering for his own political agenda.


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