Thank you for the victory!

by New Worker correspondent

“SPASSIBO za pobedu!” (Thank you for the victory” and “Slava geroyam” (glory to the heroes) were the chants that rang out loudly from hundreds of Russian voices in south London last Saturday.

They were saluting Russian and British veterans of the Second World war at a massive ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park last Saturday, 9th May, to celebrate the victory of the Red Army over the military might of Nazi Germany — and to remember the 27 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in that titanic clash.

This is an annual event but last Saturday was special as it marked the 70th anniversary of the end of that terrible war and coincided with a massive grand parade in Moscow, which included a “March of the Immortals” — hundreds of thousands of people marching through Red Square carrying photographs of family members who had given their lives to defend the Soviet Union against the Nazis.

Most of the crowd came from London’s Russian community but it was a very mixed assembly. There were veterans of that war from Britain and a large party who had come from Russia.

There were local dignitaries and ambassadors from many of the former Soviet republics and this year for the first time a delegation from the embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea led by the ambassador Hyon Hak Bong.

There were people from Second World War re-enactment groups in authentic Soviet uniforms.

And there were communist, socialist and friendship groups, including for the first time Alain Fissore and Stefano Rosatelli from the London section of the Italian Partito Communista, CND veteran Bruce Kent — and of course a group from the New Communist Party led by general secretary Andy Brooks.

The event opened with welcoming speeches from the local mayor and the Government, represented by the Admiral Lord West of Spithead, who is Britain’s Admiral of the Fleet, who gave a surprisingly good anti-war speech. “No one who has taken part in war ever wants it to happen again,” he said. And he paid tribute to the achievement of the Red Army in defeating the greater part of the Nazi war machine.

The Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, presented new 70th anniversary medals to a group of Soviet veterans living in Britain and to British veterans of the Russian convoys, including members of the RAF 151 Wing who travelled aboard the first convoy to Russia in 1941.

It was at this point that the cheering and chanting began, loud and strong, in praise of the heroes, thanking them for saving the world from Nazism and it continued at intervals throughout the rest of the ceremony, especially when the veterans laid their wreaths.

A Russian Orthodox Archbishop sang a prayer — supported by a small group of choristers with deep and resonant voices.

Then there was the laying of over 70 wreaths, including by Hyon Hak Bong and by Andy Brooks.

Aksinia Elovik, a student at the Russian Embassy School in London sang a beautiful peace song; there was the Last Post, the Exhortation and the two-minute silence.

The formal part of the ceremony finished then and the Russian Ambassador invited everyone to join him in a toast to victory — at the nearby marquees where vodka, wine and Russian food were waiting.

And that was the start of a party of singing, dancing and reminiscing that lasted for hours.