Anton Goryunov writes from Moscow: You might not know this but yesterday, on the 23rd of February, was a national holiday in Russia. It was the Defender of Motherland Day, previously known as the Red Army Day and, since 1949 till the break-up of the Soviet empire in 1991, celebrated as Soviet Army and Navy Day. Since 1992 it was known as simply Armed Forces Day but last year it was renamed into what it is now, Defender of the Motherland Day.
Until this year the holiday was not official and was a working day, although most people would mark it as a sort of Men’s Day, to counterbalance International Women’s Day that was and still is celebrated on March 8.
The irony of the whole thing is that the Red Army Day was introduced by the Bolsheviks in 1918 to mark the date when a mass daft into the Red Army took place in Moscow and St Petersburg, to defend the Socialist Revolution from the approaching German forces. This was the very same Red Army that later committed mass atrocities against its own people, having been comprised to a large extent of down-and-outs, hardened criminals who had been released from prisons under Bolshevik amnesties and all sorts of other unsavoury characters. Millions of people had perished during the Civil War of 1919 – 1921 at the hands of the Red Army thugs. For the first time in the history of warfare civilian hostages were taken by the Reds in mass numbers and slaughtered, if the opposing White Army did not give in to their demands and ultimatums. Looting and pillaging were considered a norm in the Red Army during the Civil War and terror tactics were used against civilian population regularly.
In 1918 Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks and the founder of the Soviet State, signed a decree establishing labour camps throughout Russia where the ‘enemies of the socialist revolution’ could be kept and forced to work for the benefit of the state. The Red Army units were assigned to guard these camps and there were practically no cases of prisoners escaping from them. The Nazis copied the idea later by creating their network of concentration camps where slave labour was used and millions of Jews and Slavs perished.
The absurdity of celebrating Red Army Day, be it under a different name, in present day Russia is all too obvious for anyone who has any knowledge of Russian history. The fact is that the Bolsheviks, who had introduced the holiday in the first place, were a party that was calling on its supporters in the years of the First World War to champion the idea of Russia losing the war with Germany and thus creating a favourable situation for a socialist revolution to occur. The Bolsheviks also called on soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army to desert and even shoot their officers. So for these revolutionaries to introduce a professional holiday for the military was a total absurdity.
The fact that old Soviet holidays are still celebrated in so-called capitalist Russia – even the Chekist Day, or the KGB Agent’s Day, is still intact, compliments of Vladimir Putin – proves once again that the current leadership has no idea of how to formulate the new national identity of the country. It is supposed to be democratic and have a free market economy and yet it is still run like a typical socialist country, with overgrown bureaucracy, highly politicised economy and with the state controlling vast sectors of industry. The people who run the economy are still the same old style Soviet communist apparatchiks, with a habit to solve most problems by old methods of command and control mechanisms. And just like in the past the legal system is always on the side of the state and the individual has no basic rights and freedoms.
In essence the communist party dictatorship in Russia has been replaced by the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, with its favoured captains of industry. The only major difference is that corruption has grown to such levels in this new quasi-capitalist system that members of the ruling elite have amassed fortunes that the communists could only dream of.
The irony is not lost on many Russians as they stayed at home and ‘celebrated’ Defender of the Motherland Day. The grand experiment with democracy and capitalism is proving to be a failed one.