Why does Europe celebrate Victory Day on May 8 and Belarus on May 9?

Victory Day / Collage by Ulad Rubanau / Euroradio
Victory Day / Collage by Ulad Rubanau / Euroradio

"In fact, the war ended in May 1945 and Germany capitulated twice," says historian Aliaksandr Fridman, who was asked by Euroradio to answer the question "Why does Belarus celebrate Victory Day on May 9, while EU countries celebrate it on May 8?".

Чаму Еўропа адзначае Дзень Перамогі восьмага траўня, а Беларусь — дзявятага
Aliaksandr Fridman / Historian's Archive

Why Europe celebrates Victory Day on May 8 and Belarus on May 9

We also talked about how the Victory over Nazism Day became the main propaganda tool of Putin and Lukashenka.

"So when to celebrate?"

"The capitulation document was first signed on May 7 in Reims, and on May 8 in Berlin, because the Soviets were not happy with the first one. They wanted to do it more pompously and beautifully, which would once again emphasize the Soviet contribution to the victory over the Nazis. The signing took place on the evening of May 8, but it was already the ninth according to the Moscow time. Stalin personally decided that the USSR, including Belarus, should celebrate the holiday on the day when the news reached people, so in our territory May 9 was declared the day of victory over Germany.

In the West, in the United States, in Great Britain, of course, everything remained at the level of signing a document. In France, May 8 is still a state holiday.

"Today in Ukraine there are people who refuse to celebrate the Victory or to celebrate it on May 8..."

"For a long time, the question of celebration was not a question of principle. It seemed quite clear: the West celebrates on the eighth and the East on the ninth. There was no political connotation - it was just a matter of tradition. Now, of course, it has become a political issue and is connected to what is happening in Ukraine. The discussion about when Ukraine should celebrate Victory Day is well known. If celebrating on the eighth of May means joining the European tradition, then doing it on the ninth is more likely to mean that you are still loyal to the Soviet tradition or the current Russian one."

"It is interesting that May 9 is basically the main holiday in the political calendar of Belarus and Russia. Is the pompous celebration of victory with parades a tradition?"

"It is due to the role of the war as a key event in the culture of remembrance and in the propaganda that pays attention to the war."

If you look at the parades, the pompous celebrations, this whole cult of victory in our countries, it might seem that this has really always been the case. Yes, at first, the 9th of May was declared a holiday. From 1945 to 1947 it stayed that way. Then even Stalin decided that it was enough to deal with this war, they say, we should move on and rebuild the country. That's why under Stalin May 9th was taken away from the status of a state holiday. When it was celebrated, it was first of all by the front-line soldiers who were in the war and knew what this victory meant. 

Then, after Stalin, during the Khrushchev thaw, Khrushchev did not pay much attention to the victory. If you look at the Soviet newspapers, it was there, but not as pompously as it was later. 

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