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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defending a Day for Spoiling the Men

On Friday millions of Russian women — starting around the tender age of 3 — will be giving gifts, cakes and cards to members of the opposite sex. Although officially called Defender of the Fatherland Day, Feb. 23 has increasingly become an unofficial men's day, and more than half of Russian men like the transition.

In fact, many want to have nothing to do with the army, but they want presents.

"Of course, I'm expecting presents. My mother always gives them to me," said David Keziriti, 20, a student at Moscow's Plekhanov Financial Academy.

"But I am not that keen to join the army," he added.

Nearly 60 percent of Russians say that all men should be congratulated on Defender of the Fatherland Day, sociologists from the Monitoring.ru polling agency said in a report. But at the same time, almost 70 percent do not want to be in the military themselves or to see their relatives there, according to the All-Russia Public Opinion Center, or VTsIOM.

Defender of the Fatherland Day — which in Soviet times was first called Red Army Day and, after World War II, Soviet Army and Navy Day — takes its roots from the boisterous 1918 demonstrations in Petrograd, as St. Petersburg was known from 1914 to 1924, which led to mass voluntary entry into the newly created Bolshevik army.

However, about 70 years had to pass before the day began turning into a generic men's day — something of a counterpart to the even more popular Women's Day celebrated on March 8. In the 1960s, Soviet Army and Navy Day expanded to cover those who had yet to serve the country — children and teenagers. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the disintegration of the once mighty Soviet army, the holiday has come to encompass every man merely on the basis of his malehood. An individual's relation to the armed forces has become increasingly irrelevant.

While many respondents to a snap survey by The Moscow Times on Thursday regarded the holiday lightheartedly, considering it an opportunity to shower attention on loved ones and friends, active members of the armed forces — especially those stationed in Chechnya — have little to celebrate this year.

About 100 protesters from pro-democratic political movements and human rights groups gathered Thursday afternoon on Pushkin Square to protest against the ongoing military operation in Chechnya.

In the breakaway republic itself, the military stepped up security and reinforced checkpoints in anticipation of rebel attacks expected on Defender of the Fatherland Day — which, in a twist of bitter irony, coincides with the anniversary of dictator Josef Stalin's summary deportation of Chechens during World War II.

Access to the capital, Grozny, and the towns of Argun, Gudermes and Urus-Martan was closed by federal forces, The Associated Press reported.

The deportations were conducted with lightning speed — and horrendous suffering along the way — on Feb. 23, 1944. Hundreds of thousands of Chechens were relocated, mostly to the steppes of Kazakhstan. They were allowed to return only a decade later, after Stalin's death and his denunciation by the Kremlin. The episode has remained one of the most painful historical scars for Chechens.

Far away from the war zone, in snowy Moscow, people tended to be far more cheery about Feb. 23.

"When my parents were alive — my father was a war veteran — the day used to be a real celebration," said Yelena Parfyonova, 42. "But now, it is just a day to give small presents to the men we love, and show them that we care."

Some Moscow retailers certainly take advantage of the holiday spirit, offering discounts to active and retired servicemen who can produce a military ID as proof of service.

Parfyonova's daughter Maria Smolina, a 17-year-old student, said her friends also celebrate Defender of the Fatherland Day.

"We gave the guys at university mugs with zodiac signs and went to a cafe," she said. "We do celebrate it, but it's a symbolic celebration. Somehow most of my friends don't want to go to the army."