День защитника отечества / Defender of the Fatherland Day

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media / wreath on Defender of the Fatherland Day

Audio content: People expressing thoughts both patriotic and provocative on the occasion of Defending the Fatherland Day
Visual content: Images of Russian military pomp, political leaders from multiple parties and political regalia

In a week or two I’ll do a post featuring the remarkable marches in honor of Boris Nemtsov that happened last weekend. I’ve found lots of great video on that topic but need a chance to sort through it. Meanwhile, today’s post offers a multifaceted look at the Russian national holiday that was celebrated a week ago. On February 23rd every year Russians observe День защитника отечества / Defender of the Fatherland Day, which is the post-Soviet heir to holidays celebrating the Red Army. The holiday honors all who have served in Russia’s armed forces, but the day is also popularly viewed as a celebration of men in general, as it comes just a couple weeks before Международный женский день / International Women’s Day, marked on March 8th.

On this year’s Defender of the Fatherland Day, a number of interesting intersecting political currents were on display. Not all of them are apparent in this post’s videos, but they provide an interesting backdrop to what you’ll see here. The official state-supported celebration included parades, fireworks, the placing of a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier, public exhibits of military technology and family events meant to encourage national pride and promote interest in military service. But several notable non-officially-sanctioned events occurred on this day as well. Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the opposition party РПР-Парнас (which currently has no representation in the Duma), chose this day to present a report on Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov is the leader of the Chechen republic, an ally of Putin and an outspoken, aggressive enemy of opposition political movements. With the report, titled “Угроза национальной безопасности” / “A Threat to National Security,” Yashin accuses Kadyrov of cultivating a cult of personality, fostering rampant corruption and developing a local security force that operates without federal oversight. Yashin’s presentation at party headquarters was interrupted by bomb threats and the building was vandalized with bright paint.

Kadyrov, meanwhile, also made some notable statements on February 23rd. He himself shared a link to Yashin’s report in a move apparently meant to undermine the impact of Yashin’s presentation scheduled for later in the day. More notably, he also commemorated the deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples in a statement on his Instagram account. It so happens that this tragic mass deportation began on February 23rd, 1944; however, to avoid conflict with Defender of the Fatherland Day, Kadyrov moved Chechnya’s official deportation-related Day of Memory and Sorrow to May 10. Nevertheless, he did not let the anniversary pass without comment: Kadyrov’s Instagram post pronounced an eternal curse upon (проклял) Stalin and Beria, the initiators of the deportation.

Stalin was honored, however, in other parts of Russia. The Communist Party (КПРФ, Коммунистическая партия Российской федерации) and the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party (ЛДПР, Либерально-демократическая партия России) held marches and meetings in the center of Moscow. Some participants came holding portraits of Stalin, celebrating him as one of the great defenders of the fatherland because he led the country during World War II — even though his awful reign of terror in the 1930s actually undermined the nation’s ability to defend itself.

This post features two videos. One, from the state-controlled Первый канал / Channel One, highlights positive, patriotic sentiments and contains some good visuals. The other, from телеканал Дождь / TV Rain, presents a more varied, provocative and less sanitized version of the day.

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Full article at Первый канал

I so frequently feature reports from the “opposition” media on my site (because that’s where I find the most interesting material) that a reader could easily come away with a mistaken impression about prevailing attitudes in Russia. For this reason it’s good to occasionally feature content from the “official” perspective of the state-owned media, which to a significant degree shapes the attitudes of the pro-Putin majority of the population. The above video emphasizes a version of patriotism strongly centered around military accomplishment. It also communicates a sense of national unity, as it features statements from the minority Communist and Liberal-Democratic parties. (These parties could be considered the “official” opposition — they fit into the prevailing system in a perpetual minority role, as opposed to the even more marginalized, strongly anti-Putin opposition movements centered around figures like Aleksei Navalny or Ilya Yashin.)

There are a few interesting visual moments in the video:
• At the start of the video we see closeups of Putin, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev (in suit and tie), Valentina Matvienko (chair of the upper house of parliament, in fur coat) and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (saluting). They are participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier on Red Square.
• At 2:25 a couple young women are handing out holiday greetings (in the form of paper hearts) to men on the street — as mentioned above, February 23rd is considered a day to honor all men.
• At 2:30 we see the regalia of the Communist Party during their march on Tverskoi Street.
• At 3:15 we see the blue and yellow flags of the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party.
• Starting at 5:55 we see the celebratory fireworks show.

TRANSCRIPT (English translation below)

0:50-1:30: In spite of a bad weather forecast, people have come out to take part in some free public events in Moscow.

Мужчина с подростком: Настроение хорошее, несмотря даже… хотя и погода в общем-то ничего, настроение хорошее, каша вкусная и чай горячий, прямо как в армии, как настоящая.

Женщина с мальчиком: У нас специальная защитная кепка, потому что этот ребенок хочет вырасти и стать защитником.
Ребенок: Да я хочу на границе работать! Я в садике пограничную кепку ношу. Каждый день.

Молодой человек: Для меня этот праздник немного больше, чем праздник. У меня дедушка был пограничником, охранял границу. Поэтому всех пограничников отдельно с праздником! Всем здоровье и счастье, самое главное.

Ребенок: Всех поздравляю с праздником!

1:40-2:20: In the Moscow suburb Khimki, a ceremony marked the unveiling of a new monument to military doctors and nurses. Two government ministers speak.

Владимир Мединский, министр культуры РФ: У наших врачей были золотые руки, у них был талант, у них было сердце, наши медсестры проявляли чудеса храбрости, вынося на себе по 5-6 бойцов за бой прямо с передовой, оттаскивая в госпиталь. Они сражались за родину, поэтому 77 процентов возвращались обратно на фронт.

Вероника Скворцова, Министр здравоохранения РФ: Хочу всем напомнить, что санинструкторы имели самую короткую жизнь на передовой — 40 секунд. Это люди, которые понимали, что они не вернутся с передовой, чаще всего, и тем не менее, делали свое профессиональное дело и служили и людям, и Родине.

2:35-3:50: The Communist and Liberal-Democratic parties held events in the center of Moscow. The leaders of each party make a statement.

Геннадий Зюганов, лидер Коммунистической партии РФ: Нас сейчас снова пытаются взять в клещи, окружить, обложить санкциями. И нас готовы так называемые партнеры разорвать. Поэтому надо армию иметь в хорошем состоянии, поезд держать всегда на запасном пути, порох должен быть сухим. Ни на кого не собираемся нападать — мы абсолютно мирные люди. Но история показала: как только слабеем, так к нам большие претензии. Уж слишком огромный материк освоили и отвоевали наши отцы и деды-победители. Поэтому всех поздравляю с этим чудным праздником!

Владимир Жириновский, лидер Либерально-демократической партии России (ЛДПР): Поздравляем с этим самым лучшим нашим праздником. Потому что если не будет праздника День защитника Отечества, день нашей армии, то невозможен и день девятое мая, День Победы, потому что, чтобы победить, нужна армия, и невозможен праздник — День России — 12 июня, потому что без армии и без ее побед государство тоже может не устоять.

5:25-5:35: Now we’re in Vladivostok in the far east. The video closes with an enthusiastic patriotic sentiment.

Мужчина с детьми: Сегодня пришёл сюда с племянником Ромой и с сыном Сашей. (Показать вооружение, да?) Да, кончено, показать военных, какая у нас техника, чтобы, так сказать, гордился сын нашей страной.

Full article at Первый канал

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Communist rally, Feb. 23

TV Rain does not provide an embed code — click to view the video on their site (accessible for non-subscribers)

The reporter asks everyone the same question: “От кого сейчас надо защищать отечество?” / “From whom does the fatherland currently need to be defended?” TV Rain is good at asking questions that are just provocative enough to elicit responses that go well beyond the carefully curated view presented on Первый канал. The people speaking in the first half of the video are participants in the marches organized by the Liberal-Democratic (blue and yellow regalia) and Communist (red regalia) parties in the center of Moscow. Be warned that a few comments are aggressively anti-Western and pro-Stalin. These are not your average apolitical Russian citizens. One could elicit similarly extreme or offensive comments at a heated, non-mainstream political gathering in the United States. The second half of the video moves to Gorky Park in Moscow, which is hosting a military-historical exhibit. The speakers here give the impression of being fairly cultured people.

Click to view the video at TV Rain

TRANSCRIPT (English translation below)

0:10-1:40: Participants in the Liberal-Democratic and Communist rallies

Журналист: От кого сейчас надо защищать отечество?

Молодой человек: От иностранных государств.

Женщина в очках: Чтоб страна наша была всеобще объята, чтобы мы были все родственники, чтобы не было войны.

Мужчина с рупором: Слава верховному главнокомандующему товарищу Сталину! Ура!

Геннадий Зюганов, лидер Коммунистической партии: Ну как от кого? Очевидно от кого! Вы думали, что будут в Прибалтике американские танки? Уже более тысяча танков стоит. Если бы об этом узнал Жуков, он в гробу бы перевернулся. Вы полагали, что те крепости, которые брал Суворов, сегодня добудут бандеровцы. Вы думали, что придется в Сирии воевать с бандитами, которые завтра нахлынут на нашу родину и подожгут её всю? Вот от этого и надо защищать. Будет армия сильная, обеспеченная, будете спать спокойно. А так будете обслуживать дяде Сэму и их олигархию.

Молодой человек в голубом пальто: От грабительской политики нашей страны, которую сейчас наши политики делают. Когда не каждый человек может себе позволить получить высшее образование и даже в колледж не могут поступить, так как очень дорого уже стоит.

Молодой человек: От кого?! От Америки и от внутренних врагов. (А внутренние враги это кто?) Это… секрет!

Молодой человек: Сейчас на Российскую Федерацию очень много наездов и с стороны Турции сейчас замечают и со стороны Соединенных Штатов Америки информационная война. И от этих людей, которые в нашей стране пытаются эти идеи продвигать от таких людей тоже надо защищать нашу великую страну.

Пожилой мужчина с портретом Сталина: Это же враги народа. Душат народ русский. Или не русский — советский народ они душат. Поэтому я считаю их врагами народа. Они душат советский народ.

Женщина в белой шапке: От фашисткой Америки, которая четырежды героизировал в ООН фашизм. И мы сейчас являемся ее колонией. А Дворкович еще и… за…  дарят Японии и другим странам контрольный пакет нашего нефтегазового сектора, то есть, всю нашу страну.

Мужчина: От террористов. От всякого рода преступных элементов, которые пытаются проникнуть в наши ряды.

Женщина в розовой шапке: От американцев! Которые нас кормят колбасой и чебуреками всякими.

Девушка в черной шляпе: От либерастов! Либерасты — это наши враги.


2:30-3:45: Now we are at Gorky Park

Click to view the video at TV Rain

Женщина в розовом берете: Отечество всегда надо защищать. Даже если, ну не знаю, сейчас пока ни от кого не нужно. Но всегда нужно.

Женщина в меховой шубе: Во-первых от стран Европейского содружества, которые, если вы знаете даже в Прибалтике сейчас очень много развернуто эти оружия из Нато. Плюс штаты самое главное которые… страны которые завоюют [?] весь мир и создают такую обстановку, которая… ну, конфликтную ситуацию создают буквально во всех точках земного шара.

Мужчина в черном пальто: Вообще защищать отечество, мне кажется, нужно всеми возможными способами, не обязательно именно военными, а просто… я например деятель культуры, я считаю, что я тоже защищаю отечество, когда выезжаю за рубеж и представляю Россию, когда аплодируют.

Мужчина с детьми: Сегодня надо защищать отечество от глупых мыслей, потому что эти глупые мысли очень часто посещают умных во всем свете людей, которые облечены властью. Но к сожалению…  Активной агрессии к нам не будет, потому что нас в принципе не победить. Когда существует проблема, мы объединяемся и силой нашу территорию под названием Россия не взять.

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Video One


Man with youth: Our mood is good, even in spite of… actually the weather overall is not bad, our mood is good, the kasha is tasty and the tea is hot, just like in the army, like it’s real.

Woman with boy: We have a special defender’s cap, because this child wants to grow up and become a defender.
Boy: I want to work on the border! I wear a border guard’s cap at kindergarten. Every day.

Young man: For me this holiday is somewhat more than a holiday. My grandfather was a border guard, guarded the border. Therefore I give holiday greetings to all border guards in particular! To all of them health and happiness, the most important thing.

Child: Holiday greetings to everyone!


Vladimir Medinsky, minister of culture of the Russian Federation: Our doctors had golden hands. They had talent, they had heart, and our nurses displayed miracles of bravery, carrying on their own five to six fighters per battle from the front lines, pulling them away to the hospital. They [i.e. doctors and nurses] fought for the motherland, and therefore seventy-seven percent [of wounded soldiers, presumably] returned back to the front.

Veronika Skvortsova, minister of public health of the Russian Federation: I want to remind everyone that military medics had the shortest life of all on the front — 40 seconds. These are people who understood that they were not going to come back from the front, more often than not, and nevertheless they did their professional work and served people and the motherland.


Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation: Now once again people are trying to pinch us, surround us, put sanctions all around us. And our so-called partners are ready to blow us up. Therefore we need to have our army in good shape, always “keep a train on the reserve track,” and our gunpowder should be dry. We have no intention of attacking anyone — we are absolutely peaceful people. But history has shown: as soon as we grow weak, people come to us with big demands. Our fathers and grandfathers, the war victors, fought and gained mastery of such an enormous land mass. Therefore I greet everyone on this wonderful holiday!

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia: We greet you on this very best of all our holidays. Because if there is not going to be a Defender of the Fatherland Day, the day of our army, then the ninth of May, Victory Day [marking the WWII victory] will also be impossible, because, in order to have victory, an army is needed. And the holiday of the Day of Russia, June 12th, will also be impossible, because without the army and without its victories the state would not be able to endure.


Man with children: I came here today with my nephew Roma and my son Sasha. (To show them the weaponry, right?) Yes, of course, to show the soldiers, and what kind of machinery we have, in order that, so to speak, my son will be proud of our country.




Journalist: From whom is it currently necessary to defend the fatherland?

Young Man: From foreign states.

Woman in glasses: So that our country would be all generally held together, so that we can all be relatives, so that there is no war.

Man with megaphone: Glory to the Supreme High Commander, Comrade Stalin! Hooray!

Gennady Ziuganov, leader of the Communist Party: What do you mean, from whom? It’s obvious from whom! Did you think there would be American tanks in the Baltic States? There’s already more than one thousand tanks. If Zhukov learned of this, he would turn over in his grave. Did you expect that the fortresses that Suvorov took, now the Banderas [the Ukrainian far right, named for the WWII-era nationalist Stepan Bandera] are getting them? Did you think that we would have to fight in Syria with bandits who tomorrow might pour into our motherland and set it all on fire? There, that’s what we need to defend against. If the army will be strong and well-supported, you will sleep calmly. Otherwise you will be serving Uncle Sam and their oligarchy.

Young man in blue coat: From our country’s politics of thievery that our politicians are now doing. When not every person can afford to receive a higher education, and can’t even enroll in a college [i.e., a sort of trade school], because it is very expensive.

Young man: From whom? From America and from internal enemies. (And the internal enemies — who are they?) That is… a secret!

Young man: Now people are noticing that there are really a lot of attacks against the Russian Federation, coming from Turkey and from the United States of America, the information war. And [we need to defend] against the people who are trying to promote those ideas in our country [i.e., the ideas that the US is supposedly trying to spread in Russia] — from that sort of person we also need to protect our great country.

Older man with a portrait of Stalin: Those are enemies of the people. [He may be talking about the Putin-affiliated United Russia party, since they are referenced negatively on the back of his sign.] They are suffocating the Russian people. Or not the Russian — they are suffocating the Soviet people. Therefore I consider them enemies of the people. They are suffocating the Soviet people.

Woman in white hat: From fascist America, which four times heroized fascism in the UN. [Apparently the US recently voted against a Russian-drafted proposal that would have banned the glorification of Naziism, probably because the US interpreted it as a political attack on Ukraine. Russian opponents of the current Ukrainian leadership like to emphasize its links with the far right, whose historical forebears fought for Ukrainian independence against Soviet Russia and therefore were also allied with Hitler.] And now we are its [America’s] colony. [Some Russian nationalists have an exaggerated idea that Russia has given up its sovereignty to the US.] And also Dvorkovich [an economic minister] and… they are giving Japan and other countries a controlling stake in our gas and oil sector, that is, [are giving away] our whole country.

Man: From terrorists. From criminal elements of all types, who are trying to infiltrate our ranks.

Woman in pink hat: From the Americans! Who are feeding us with sausage and meat pastries.

Young woman in black hat: From the liberals [using a derogatory slang term]! The liberals — they are our enemies.



Woman in pink beret: It is always necessary to defend the fatherland. Even if, well I don’t know, for now we don’t need to defend against anyone. But it’s always necessary.

Woman in fur coat: First of all from the countries of the European Union, who, if you know, in the Baltic States the weapons from NATO are really spread out. Plus, most importantly, the states that… the countries that are conquering [?] the whole world and creating such a situation that… well, they are creating a conflict situation literally in all points of the earthen sphere.

Man in black coat: In general one needs to defend the fatherland, it seems to me, with all possible methods, not necessarily military in particular, but simply… for example, I am active in the cultural sphere, and I think that I too am defending the fatherland, when I travel beyond our borders and present Russia, when people applaud.

Man with children: Today we need to defend our fatherland from stupid thoughts, because those stupid thoughts, all over the world, very often visit smart people who are cloaked in power. But unfortunately… There will not be any active aggression toward us, because, in principle, we cannot be beaten. When a problem exists, we unite, and our territory under the name of Russia cannot be taken with force.

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