Contributed by Konstantin Goulich, RCC member
Seventy two years ago the most horrible war of the twentieth century had ended in a spectacular victory of Allied Powers over the united forces of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, their satellites and collaborators. The Soviet Union has paid the highest price to attain this truly epic victory. At least twentytirbute by seven million people, including both civilians and military personnel, had perished during the war. They were killed on the front lines, starved to death in sieges, executed by the Nazi collaborators on the occupied territories or exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps.
Millions of Soviet people of every nationality, from every corner of the USSR had fought in the Red Army or worked tirelessly at the home front to bring the victory closer. Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, Belarusians, Jews, Uzbeks, Tatars, Kazakhs and people of many other nationalities stood up to defend their families and their loved ones and thwarted genocidal plans of the Nazi regime. According to the Nazi Generalplan Ost, were the USSR to fall to the Hitlerites, over 60 percent of all Russians and Ukrainians, as well as 80-85 percent of Poles, Lithuanians and Czechs would have been exterminated or deported to Siberia to free up living space for the German “master race”.
The Soviet people and the Red Army, along with their Canadian, American, British and French allies, sacrificed millions of lives to stop the Nazi genocide. The tide of the war changed after the Red Army had broken the back of the Nazi war machine in a series of decisive battles in 1942-1944. As the Soviets pushed the invaders back and started liberating prisoners of the Nazi extermination camps, the true horror, scope and reach of the Nazi death machine became apparent. Had Nazi Germany prevailed, the plight of 6 million Jewish people and more than 3 million Soviet POWs who were starved to death, shot, murdered in gas chambers and harvested for blood in the Nazi-controlled territories is what would have awaited all inhabitants of USSR. We are forever in debt to those who stood up to stop the rise of evil.
Twenty seven million people perished on the Soviet side during World War II. The entire generations were wiped out. Every family in the former USSR had someone who fought on the front, laboured at the home front either vanished in the war. The human tragedy of that war still haunts us to this day.
For most people of the former USSR, the Victory Day of May 9 is much more than a calendar date to commemorate the long-gone war. It is not a political event to celebrate this or that historical leader, a political regime or a system, but a very personal day. On Victory Day we celebrate the bravery and heroism of our veterans and those who worked for the Victory on the home front. We remember our personal family history and teach it to our children. We commemorate and honour the incredibly high price that our veterans and World War II survivors had paid in blood, sweat and tears to stop the global rise of fascism. For the majority of Canadians who came to this country from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, it is common to commemorate the fallen in World War II and celebrate the Victory Day as a sacred holiday.
This year nearly eight thousand people in Toronto alone took part in a series of community commemorative events that drew together people from every ethnic group of the former USSR. Brought by a desire to express their gratitude for the sacrifices of the ancestors and to celebrate few surviving World War II veterans, thousands of people had marched down the streets of Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Montreal with the portraits of their loved ones who had paid a heavy price to guarantee our very existence.
These events are open to everyone who would like to honour sacrifices of people of all Allied Nations that had fought against the evil of ultra-nationalism, Nazism and racial hatred. We honour memories of the Holocaust victims, the victims of the Roma genocide in Europe, all those devoured by the Nazi death machine and all survivors of the continental campaign of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Nazis and their local collaborators.
Unfortunately, our sentiments of gratitude and admiration for the heroic deeds of our veterans are not shared by everyone. In recent years, due to the political events that had unfolded in and around Ukraine, our Victory Day celebrations, baners, St. George’s ribbons and other symbols of the great victory over the most deadly enemy that civilized humanity faced to this day, had become a thorn in the eyes of various fringe right-wing nationalist groups. Even our personal memories of the family sacrifices that the Red Army soldiers’ struggle with Nazism cost each and every single one of our families are sneered at and met with opprobrium.
Each year, all levels of authorities are bombarded with defamatory letters and petitions that insult our veterans, volunteers and organizations. The end goal of these campaigns is to strip the Canadian citizens of Soviet descent of our constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, to silence our community and to besmirch the memories of our veterans and heroes. Individuals and groups behind these libelous attacks routinely equate Red Army veterans with Nazis and represent our volunteers, who tirelessly work to organize the commemorative events, as “Putin’s agents,” an imagined “fifth column” of enemies of the Canadian democracy and the way of life. Numerous calls to suppress events commemorative of our common victory in World War II have been coming from the activists and organizations that continue to glorify confirmed Nazi collaborators and perpetrators of the Volyn and Babi Yar massacres in Ukraine – the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists, the SS Galizien Division (“First Ukrainian”) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, as well as the ignominious leaders of these pro-Nazi formations, the Ukrainian fascists Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych.
Who would have thought that laying flowers to the Holocaust memorial, or expressing our gratitude to soldiers of all Allied Nations is a threat to national security? And yet, today’s fans of the Ukrainian fascist ancillaries of the Nazi regime routinely take offence with the display of red flags, Victory banners and St. George’s ribbons that accompany our Victory Day celebrations.
Only the critics’ ignorance can explain their reading of these symbols as nothing but manifestations of unrequited Soviet nostalgia. Red flags flew during the European revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, the May 1, 1886 events across the United States of America, the 1901-1914 strikes in the Maritimes, and the Winnipeg General strike of 1919. They are symbols of many socialist and leftist groups worldwide. The Victory Banner was raised by the Soviet soldiers over Germany’s Reichstag on May 2, 1945. It symbolizes victory over Nazism. St. George’s ribbon was originally associated with the Order of St. George, established in 1769 as the highest military decoration of the Russian Empire. In Tsarist Russia it was a symbol of valour, carried through the Patriotic War of 1812 against invading forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was worn by the officers of the White Army that fought Soviet communism in 1918-1922. The Red Army resurrected the ribbon of St. George as a special distinction for its assault troops in 1942, after the first successful counter-offensive against the German Wehrmacht.
Thankfully, we live in a country that has democratic principles and protects the human rights of its citizens, including freedom of assembly, association and speech. These basic freedoms are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And while we as Canadian citizens feel secure that our rights are protected by the state, we find it troubling that assaults on our ability to exercise them continue.
We call on all citizens of Canada regardless of their political affiliation to denounce the attempts by right-wing groups to silence our voices and to besmirch our collective memories of the Great Victory over German Nazism.