Russia remembers 'Red Square to front' wartime parade
Russian soldiers in Soviet uniforms paraded across Red Square Monday to mark 70 years after Soviet troops marched through the square directly to fight the German Wehrmacht on the fringe of Moscow.
Tanks, cadets and troops paraded through the square in front of veterans who were among the thousands of soldiers who marched straight to war on November 7, 1941 in a show of force during one of the darkest hours for the USSR in World War II.
After the lightning invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 took Soviet leader Joseph Stalin almost completely by surprise, the German front lines by November were so close to Moscow that they could even see the city.
It was in this context that Stalin decided the November 7 parade -- held to commemorate the Russian Revolution that brought Lenin to power -- should go ahead with the soldiers marching directly to the front from the Kremlin walls.
The Russian leadership sees the Soviet victory in World War II as one of the greatest achievements in national history and anniversaries of wartime events are commemorated with increasing weight in the country.
"The parade of November 7, 1941 was a lesson of patriotism and courage," Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a speech to the veterans.
"Glory to the participants in the parade! Glory to the victors! Glory to the city and the heroes of Moscow!"
Soldiers re-enacted scenes from the parade to music ranging from a wartime symphony by Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich to modern Russian pop.
"Here at the walls of Moscow the fate of our fatherland is decided -- the enemy has come towards Moscow and only we can stop him," proclaimed the announcer.
Helped by the ferocity of the Russian winter, the Red Army managed to drive the Nazi forces away from the immediate vicinity of Moscow in winter 1941 before turning the tide of the war in the 1942-1943 battle of Stalingrad.
"Of course the victory (in World War II) was not the result of parades but the importance of that parade was enormous," President Dmitry Medvedev said at a meeting after commemorations with the veterans.
"It was at that moment that the country understood that it was capable of overcoming the worst troubles and the most impudent enemy which had planned to hold its own parade in Red Square," said Medvedev.
Post-Soviet Russia no longer celebrates the November 7 anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution as a national holiday and instead has a November 4 Day of National Unity that remains little understood in the country.
But a top official from the ruling United Russia party, Andrei Isayev told Moscow Echo radio that while November 7 was a "day of memory" it would never again be a national holiday.
"You cannot call it a holiday because for millions of people living in our country it is not a holiday but the anniversary of the creation of a regime that would kill their relatives."
© 2011 AFP