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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tender Hysteria Over Victory Day

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It's easy to laugh at Russia and the Russians when it comes to history. What other than a giggle can a country expect when it acknowledges only the sweeter bits from the cupboard of the past? How is an educated foreigner expected to swallow amusement when a state prefers legend to fact?

I have chuckled at everything from Poltava to perestroika in my Russian life, and I shamelessly laughed out loud at their Victory Day for more than a year. On May 9, Russia celebrates a Communist victory over fascism and the end of the Great Patriotic War, what those further west call World War II and consider to have ended on May 8, 1945.

For me, since both my nationality and my youth have sheltered me from personal experience of the war, this is somewhat of a mystery. I, an openly naive Swede, thought such celebrations should only take up one day once a year. As always, the Russians go against the stream of the international crowd with a burningly passionate patriotism that makes more shy populations, such as mine, turn pale.

It all begins during the last week of April, when every town in all of Russia becomes decorated with flags of all sizes in white, blue and red, which are put up everywhere there is an available hook. Luckily for Omsk, my little Siberian town of a million inhabitants, the former regime left not only confusion but also hooks on every worn and torn concrete building. The customary everyday propaganda, such as "I love Omsk," "I believe in my favorite town Omsk," "Siberia is for a united Russia" and "Everything will be OK," suddenly changes to "S dnyom Pobedy!" or Happy Victory Day! The phrase hits you in the face every time you turn a street corner.

On the day of the occasion, every little village from Kalingrad to Magadan is no worse than my Omsk, dolled up and equipped with fireworks and beer and vodka in great quantities -- in other words, ready to remember. Since May 9 is a day off, the remembrance starts in the morning, which is why there are few sober people left when the fireworks light up the sky in white, blue and red.

Last year, Omsk turned into an amusement park on May 1 and remained so for two weeks. To me, the innocent foreigner, it was hard to make out Victory Day from all the other hot sunny Siberian spring days when everyone must drink one beer too many in the park. Of course the difference lies in the fireworks. Fireworks, the official as well as the private displays, keep going up and up and up until dawn breaks over a flat steppe covered with bottles in every color and shape.

The celebration of last year's Victory Day was bigger than usual, since the holiday was additionally adorned with the title of "60 Years of Victory." This meant that all the central buildings here were repainted to give the impression of true success. This redecoration, however, was not only made in the spirit of the Soviet Union, but also with its quality. By August, the paint had started to peel, and Omsk was once again gray and worn when the first snows of winter fell.

This year, there is no money for paint in the state budget, but in people's pockets there is enough for vodka and fireworks, which is what matters most when the hangover of May 10 is to be graded.

But Victory Day is not simply a day. Victory Day is a concept, an occasion that seems more like a national or maybe state brand. Its influence and force in everyday reality can easily be measured by taking a walk through any average-size Russian town, where the image of Victory Day meets you everywhere. Here in Omsk, the new Metro Bridge was renamed the "60 Years of Victory Bridge" when it opened last fall, partly because there is as of yet no existing metro. The biggest park is called Victory Park, and there are Victory Streets and countless Victory memorials that all in one way or another honor the triumph in the war.

It was at this hysteria that I giggled heartlessly for almost an entire year, until I realized why this day has the overly tense feel that it has. The Soviet Union left very little behind that inspires joy, pride and patriotism, and maybe, maybe out of 70 years, all that remains is one good day.

Josefina Lundblad is a poet and writer from Gothenburg, Sweden, and a student at the Omsk State Pedagogical University.