Audio content: Former paratroopers talking about how they celebrate their famous annual holiday.
Visual content: Paratroopers young and old in their “telniashka” shirts, Gorky Park, people swimming in fountains, paratrooper banners.
Watch the video at Телеканал Дождь.
One late summer event that always gets a fair amount of media attention in Russia is День ВДВ, i.e. “Paratrooper” or “Airborne Forces Day,” marked annually on August 2. “ВДВ” stands for “Воздушно-десантные войска” (“Air descent forces”) — soldiers trained to parachute from airplanes into enemy territory. August 2 is the anniversary of the first jump by airborne forces in 1930, and it’s now the day that both current and retired paratroopers — often called “десантники” — gather together to express pride in their organization, have a good time and reminisce with former comrades. Anything related to aviation had a special cachet starting in the early days of the Soviet Union, which may be one reason this particular segment of the military is so celebrated. Or maybe it’s just the paratroopers’ holiday flair that has drawn attention. In any case, two key elements are always associated with this celebration: watermelons and swimming in fountains. Neither element is necessarily officially supported, as a certain irrepressible lawlessness is part of the cultural image of the holiday. In recent years watermelons have not actually been supplied. (If I understand correctly, paratroopers paying for the watermelons was never part of the tradition.) Many men do end up in public fountains regardless of whether park administrators have decided to officially allow this activity. In Moscow, paratroopers traditionally gather in Gorky Park (Парк Горького). They wear blue berets and тельняшки, the iconic blue-and-white striped shirts that are part of their uniform (they are also part of the Navy uniform, and are fairly commonly worn by men outside the military as well). Many of them drink alcohol. In 2017 revelers reported that security allowed alcohol into the park as long as it was in plastic containers. A common exclamation is “Слава ВДВ!” (Glory to VDV!), which you can hear shouted at 9:55 in the video for this post. The paratrooper motto is “Никто кроме нас!” (“No one but us!”). Although the holiday has a reputation for rowdiness, it can also be a family event, and reports indicate that in recent years more and more men are bringing their wives and children for a picnic in the park.
In 2017 a reporter for НТВ reporting on this event was unfortunately punched live on air by a drunk man yelling about Ukraine — but it was reported that he was just a bystander, not actually a paratrooper (he was wearing neither a telniashka nor a beret). Nevertheless, perhaps in that spirit, the reporter from TV Rain who went to Gorky Park in 2017 ended up talking mostly to paratroopers who were too inebriated or too profane in their speech to provide good material for language practice (the profanity is bleeped out, so there is no learning potential there). So I went back to the segment for 2016, when TV Rain’s intrepid Vladimir Romensky managed to interview quite a few men who had interesting things to say about their military service and the holiday traditions. All of the segments were enjoyable to watch so I included them all below — pick what you like. In the first segment, a relentlessly optimistic and pleasant young paratrooper manages to fend off Romensky’s somewhat challenging questions in his determination to give the holiday a positive and appealing face and downplay all the wars happening in the world right now. In the second segment, a middle-aged man shares some interesting information about traditions of paratrooper service and the ways the army has changed over the past few decades. And in the third segment, a man who is a bit more profane and drunk than the first two puts an interesting spin on the question of whether or not to swim in fountains on this day.
Here’s a photo gallery from the 2017 celebration in Gorky Park.
Заметки о языке:
– A common nonstandard or regional variation of Russian is to use the preposition “с” in place of “из.” For example, referring to a city, a person who does not speak standard Russian might say “с ростовской области” or “с Пензы” (the city) instead of “из ростовской области” or “из Пензы.”
– The third speaker uses “ё-моё” several times as a euphemism for obscene language. Obscene phrases and their euphemisms can be tossed into speech almost as a filler, to express mild surprise or irritation.
Watch the video at Телеканал Дождь.