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09 May 2005 15:38
Although the military parade through Red Square commemorating the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on Monday was awash in Soviet-era symbols—on banners, medals and posters—the city’s most powerful Soviet image was almost in hiding.
The Lenin mausoleum that sits in the vast square’s focal point just outside the Kremlin walls was blocked by an elaborate platform where dozens of foreign dignitaries sat as President Vladimir Putin spoke and soldiers and veterans passed by in review.
The overshadowing of the mausoleum reflected its uncertain status in post-Soviet Russia. Although it no longer attracts vast lines of devout visitors to view the Bolshevik leader’s preserved corpse—and is open only a few hours a week—moves to remove the dark red terraced structure have been stalled by widespread sentiment that it is a critical piece of the square’s historical and architectural ensemble.
In Soviet times, officials stood atop the mausoleum to watch military parades, and analysts carefully noted who was standing next to whom in order to figure out who was influential in the recondite regimes.
On Monday, a different sort of symbolism emerged—Putin flanked by Western leaders, including United States President George Bush, whom he has worked hard to cultivate.
To some, the Red Square parade looked like an attempt to recreate the massive Cold War-era displays of military might.
The tanks, missile-launchers and other massive military pieces that once rumbled through Red Square on Victory Day can no longer can get in, blocked by reconstruction of the Resurrection Gate at the square’s edge—which was demolished under Josef Stalin’s orders.
The absence of the heavy weapons is a boon to St Basil’s cathedral, whose mass of multicoloured domes frames the square’s southern end. The famed church’s foundation had deteriorated during decades of vibrations from tanks and military vehicles.
Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, stood inside the Kremlin walls, receiving their guests in the light, intermittent rain that fell before the parade and posing for photos. Putin held a black umbrella, and the guests were given identical ones as they stepped out of their cars for the short walk up to the host couple.
Bush decided, however, to brave the rain, and after he and his wife, Laura, reached the Putins, he put down his umbrella. Putin took the challenge and dropped his as well, leaving the two grinning couples to pose for photographers as rain fell on their heads.
Bush played around more with his umbrella, pointing it at photographers like a gun, and he later jokingly hit Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko with it to get his attention as he was entering the stands on Red Square.
The commemorations even extended far underground.
On Monday, one of the city’s subway stations was renamed in honour of the “partisan” guerrillas who helped fight German forces.
The station, now known as Partizanskaya, is one well known by tourists because it is the nearest subway stop for Moscow’s popular weekend crafts market.
The name change initially could be disorienting to some riders, but it also clears up a long-time bit of confusion. The station formerly was known as Izmailovsky Park, and the next station to the north is the inconveniently similar Izmailovskaya.
This is the fourth name for the 60-year-old station: first it was “People’s Stadium”, then Izmailovskaya and since 1963 it has been Izmailovsky Park.
The stations of Moscow’s subway system often have gone through several changes, reflecting changes in political orientations. For instance, the former Kolkhoznaya (Collective Farmer) station was renamed in the 1990s to Sukharevskaya, after a naval academy that once stood in the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, 60 years after the end of World War II in Europe, art works that were seized by warring armies remain a hotly disputed issue. A Russian official on Monday showed how far the matter is from resolution.
In remarks cited by the Interfax news agency, the deputy director of the Federal Service for Cultural Legacy said art items seized from Nazi Germany by the Red Army are “our lawful compensation for losses suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II”.
The agency cited him as saying that Russia holds about 250 000 paintings, drawings and sculptures and about 1,2-million books brought from Germany after the war.—Sapa-AP
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