May 9, 2022″Hey, what’s going on in Berlin?” Lesik Omodada, my friend and fellow musician from Ternopil in Ukraine, asks me in our WhatsApp chat. I was out at the weekend and tried to ignore news from Berlin.
The celebrations in the German capital on Victory Day (Russia and Russians living in Germany celebrate it on May 9) have been difficult to bear in recent years.
In the Soviet Union, Victory Day used to be celebrated on May 9th, not May 8th, and it has always been called that, Victory Day, period – not a day of mourning, nor a day of remembrance. With each passing year there was less room for mourning and remembering. It struck me as more and more blatant, it seemed that the original cause, namely the surrender of Nazi Germany, receded into the background.
Unlike other peoples who chanted “Never again war!”, the Russians now dreamed of new victories, in new wars, and the most popular slogan that May day was “We can do it again!”. Since the Second World War was the focus of history lessons in Soviet schools after 1945, I saw the pictures of the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park when I was ten or eleven years old, in the third grade literature textbook.
In 1988 I was visiting East Berlin with my father and thanks to the school program and Soviet television I knew two places in the city: the Brandenburg Gate and the memorial in Treptower Park. We lived with my sister on Elsenstrasse and walked there one morning to see the memorial. In the 26 years that I’ve been living in Berlin, I’ve probably only been there once, on May 9th. I wanted to see with my own eyes what my friends told me about.
In a way, it was indeed impressive and reminiscent of absurd theater: Russians in black leather looking like Hell’s Angels with their huge motorcycles, children in Red Army uniforms, drunk ladies in national costumes… The famous director Sergei Loznitsa has over even made a documentary about the celebrations in Treptower Park in 2017.
Unfortunately, what I’m seeing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter these days doesn’t surprise me. Despite the ban, I see people with Russian and Soviet flags in the pictures and videos, including the flags of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as well as portraits of Stalin. At the same time, I read about how the Berlin police forced the Ukrainians to take off their yellow and blue clothes.
I try to explain all this to Lesik. I say that there are freaks everywhere, I tell him how often you see Ukrainian flags in Berlin these days, how many Berliners are helping the Ukrainian refugees right now, and I see more and more current photos on social media: sometimes from the demo Memorial in the Tiergarten, sometimes from the Treptower Park. And again and again the statue of the soldier ….
I can still remember a few lines from that children’s poem after 36 years – but what happened next? I have to google it and I find it immediately: “How many children did the Soviet soldier give back childhood?/ How many did he bring joy and spring to?” Today, russians celebrating Victory Day believe that the Red Army is actually the Russian army was. The Russian army has been fighting in Ukraine for eight years. And on February 24, 2022, she robbed all the children of the country of their childhood.
Read more parts of the diary here:
Cheesecake in the Myronositska (Part 23)
Nobody wanted to be German voluntarily (Part 22)