May 12, 2003
Victory Day Gives Hope
On the eve of the 58th anniversary of victory in World War II several leading sociological research organizations published the results of surveys regarding this day. The overall conclusion is that Victory Day remains the only meaningful national holiday for Russians, which is connected to a particular historical event. No other date (whether it be of religious, political or historical significance) is considered as important for the nation as a whole and for the individual.
Recent surveys about the celebration of Easter (the most important date in the Orthodox Church) and the celebration of May 1 (Labour Day, one of the most important Soviet holidays) revealed that people consider Victory Day to be far more important than both these days. It is probably only New Year which is more popular than Victory Day but these two holidays are too different for comparison.
According to the Public Opinion fund, 83% of Russians consider Victory Day to be an important and significant day for them; only 13% disagree. According to ROMIR research group three quarters of Russian families celebrate this national holiday. The Russian Centre for Public Opinion Research (VCIOM) claims that 80-85% of Russians celebrate this day.
Moreover, 90% of Russians are convinced that the USSR was mainly responsible for victory in World War II and 67% even claim that the USSR could have won the war without the help of Allied forces. Victory Day, therefore, remains the greatest symbol of national pride for most Russians despite attempts by certain ideologists to give this day a lesser profile.
The Public Opinion fund decided to find out what people associate most with May 9 and why it is significant. The results of the survey were rather interesting: of those who consider it to be an important day 21% were unable to explain why. The rest of the respondents gave a variety of answers.
Of those who do not regard May 9 as an important day, 90% were unable to give a clear explanation of their view. This negative attitude of the minority to Victory Day is probably more emotional than anything else and for this reason, the respondents were unable to explain their reasons. Unfortunately, there was no corresponding question in the survey on this.
Even among those who recognise the importance of May 9, personal involvement in World War II is now only a secondary factor. When asked why Victory Day is significant, only 5% said the war had affected them personally while 26% said that their relatives had been involved in the war. When asked about their immediate associations with May 9, only 4% spoke of personal memories while 9% spoke of relatives and loved ones who were in some way involved in the war.
At the same time, the VCIOM found that 84% of Russians have or had a relative who was involved in World War II. Time is passing, however, and people now remember the war not so much for personal reasons and lost relatives but rather as an event which has historical significance for the country and the whole world.
It is clear that for contemporary Russians Victory Day is fundamentally a day of historical importance and the significance and 'life expectancy' of this national holiday depends not only on 'human' factors (personal and family involvement and memories) but also on contemporary society and politics.
That Victory Day is regarded first and foremost as a day of historical and political importance is confirmed by the fact that over 70% of those asked by the Public Opinion fund the question 'What should the next generations know and remember about May 9?' the most popular answers were all connected with the historical significance of the day ('it is our history', 'it is a significant day', 'we must remember this date').
Undoubtedly the state of the Russian government and Russian society, satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the situation in and around Russia will affect the way that Russians regard Victory Day. It is inevitable that contemporary attitudes and opinions will affect the way that people look at the past.
In fact, one of the questions asked by ROMIR research centre was 'Would Russia win a similar war now?' to which 53% answered 'yes' or 'probably' while 40% answered 'no' or 'probably not'. Incidentally, the figure of 53% is 5% higher than it was last year.
Perhaps these 53% who believe in 'our victory' is a reflection of growing satisfaction with the way things are going in Russia today. At any rate, it is unlikely that people would expect a country where 'everything is bad' and 'everything is lost' to be capable of winning a hypothetical war.
This shows that Victory Day remains a holiday of hope for a better future, which is so characteristic of the Russian people and it is obviously why Russians love May 9 so much.
Vladimir Krayev, Rosbalt news agency
Translated by Nick Chesters