The Immortal Regiment: the pride and prejudice of Russia

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Series Details No. 110, 2018 (27.09.18)
Publication Date 27/09/2018
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The Elcano Royal Institute is a think-tank for international and strategic studies that analyses world events and trends from a Spanish, European and global perspective.

The Analyses of the Elcano Royal Institute (ARI)are short pieces - of around 3,000 words - on aspects of current international affairs considered to be of relevance to Spain, its foreign policy or its security. In broad terms ARIs are intended to have a predictive bearing on events.The March of the Immortal Regime is a performance, a massive parade that has been celebrated in major cities both inside and outside Russia every 9 May (Victory Day, the Russian equivalent of VE day, which is 8 May in other countries) since 2012. The participants carry placards with black and white photographs of women and men who died or were wounded in the Second World War. The photographs are accompanied by flowers, Russian flags and even the old red Soviet flag with the hammer and sickle. In the front line of the procession a group of people carry an enormous banner with the following words: Bessmertniy Polk (‘The Immortal Regiment’).

The Immortal Regiment is one of the many tools that the Kremlin uses to disseminate its vision and interpretation of the Second World War. The march represents the incarnation of the political use of history by the government elite as a tool of political argumentation, an attempt to impose a particular historical interpretation of the war.

The main aim of this paper is to: (1) analyse the narratives and messages used to shape the Immortal Regiment; and (2) define its principle political objectives and functions in Russia, the ex-Republics of the USSR and in the Western countries.

In Russia the March’s principal political objectives are: (1) to reinvent the historical memory of the Great Patriotic War (the name by which The Second World War is known to the Russians); (2) to redefine Russia’s national identity in the post-Imperial and post-Soviet era; and (3) to promote national unity by invoking patriotism, great-power status for Russia and national pride.

In the former Republics of the USSR, the March is the Kremlin’s response to their disconnection from Russia and a tool to strengthen the Russky Mir (‘the Russian world’). In Ukraine it plays a particular role as the people’s preparation for war and to justify the ‘fight against fascism’, the annexation of Crimea and Russian support for the rebels in Donbas.

In the West, the Immortal Regiment reflects the attempt of the Kremlin to monopolise the victory over fascism and to present itself as a great power and guardian of international order.

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