Putin's Immortal Regiment to demonstrate in Geneva

Russian ambassador G. Gatilov, diplomats from the Russian Mission in Geneva and members of the Russian community in Geneva during the last "Immortal Regiment March" in Geneva, 4 May 2019 (Credit: Russian Mission in Geneva/Twitter)

Pro Kremlin demonstrators wanted to commemorate the end of the Second World War in Geneva this weekend, spreading Putin's narrative on the war in Ukraine. UPDATE: the parade has finally been cancelled

On Saturday morning, the Immortal Regiment, dear to Russian President Vladimir Putin, will demonstrate in Place des Nations, in front of the UN Geneva headquarters. The movement commemorates the sacrifice of 27 million Russians and Soviets who perished during the Great Patriotic War which ended on 9 May 1945. The demonstration, which should gather 120 people, according to the organisers, has been authorised by the local authorities.

The city of Geneva had approved the request by the Association of Russian Guides in Switzerland made on 24 February, the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The organisers, who initially wanted to march down the streets, finally settled for a gathering on the symbolic square. Considering that it does not present a risk to public order, the canton authorised it, in line with the right to freedom of assembly and expression. The Immortal Regiment had already marched in Geneva in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Military exhibition in Moscow

This commemoration has been held every year in Russia since 1995, marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the world conflict. Since 2008, the ceremony has also become a grand exhibition in Moscow of the country's military technology, even if it remains a civilian event. Led by the Russian president, the march gathers up to one million people in the capital. Speculations are running high about possible announcements that Vladimir Putin could make on Monday on this occasion.

Russian historian Galia Ackerman, author of the book The Immortal Regiment – Putin's Sacred War, published in 2019, argues that the increasingly grandiose event makes the celebration of the “Great Victory” the “linchpin of the new Russian identity”, refusing to be humiliated following the collapse of the USSR and NATO’s expansion. This context is being used as a pretext to “rewrite” national history and rehabilitate Stalin de facto, making people think that the feat of 1945 can be repeated.

The demonstrations have also spread abundantly abroad, in no less than 80 countries in 2018. In Geneva, about 200 people had gathered at that time, said one of the organisers, Elvira Voskresenskaia. “There were Russians, Ukrainians and nationals of the Baltic countries,” the Swiss-Russian explained.

“They all came to peacefully remember that Europe would not have known peace without the death of all those Russian soldiers and to remember a time when we were one with the USSR.”

Censorship of the West

For Elvira Voskresenskaia, Saturday’s event strikes a particular chord with the current context. She decries rampant Russophobia, her accounts being blocked on social networks and Western media disseminating biased information. “It is not Russia that invaded Ukraine,” she said, wanting to set the record straight. She claims it is only to “protect” the people in the east of the country and berates the “censorship of the West”, especially from the media that do not report on the mistreatment suffered by Russian soldiers “come to liberate” the former Soviet republic.

Voskresenskaia had already defended these positions in an interview with RTS on 27 February conducted in the office of the political party UDC-Geneva, for which she ran as a candidate for the City Council in 2020. She said she had been subjected to “enormous pressure”, causing her leave the party.

This article was first published in the newspaper Le Temps, in French.