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Kyrgyzstan Celebrates, Debates Victory Day

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Kyrgyzstan, History, War & Conflict, Youth

Just over 68 years ago on May 9, 1945, Nazi Germany capitulated, marking the end of World War II. Victory Day [1] on May 9 is a national holiday celebrated vibrantly in many former Soviet countries, including Kyrgyzstan. This year the celebration and commemoration of the day also generated a lot of online activity, with Kyrgyzstani Internet users registering frustration that the country's “true heroes” were remembered only once a year, and that the holiday has now turned into an excuse to get drunk.

Parades on the main square, speeches of thanks, receptions, concerts and fireworks are broadcast on national television every May 9, honoring the people that gave their lives in the fight against fascism. Victory Day was not always celebrated with such pomp, however. In fact, May 9 parades and festivities were not institutionalized across the Union until 1965, when Leonid Brezhnev gave the order to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the war.

As of 1993 it has been estimated that over 26 million Soviet citizens perished [2] during the struggle subsequently referred to as the Great Patriotic War. While the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic was a long way from any front, both Kyrgyz and Kazakh soldiers played a key role during the battle for Moscow, as part of the famous 8th Guards Panfilov division [3], who have gone down in Soviet folklore as the Panfilovtsi.


Many netizens expressed their gratitude to those who fought against Nazism and lauded their heroism. On a local news site, Vecherni Bishkek, Я помню я горжусь (I remember I take pride) wrote [4] [ru]:

Спасибо деду за Победу! Слава Ветеранам! […]

Thanks for the victory elder! Bless the veterans!

Alankoenaliev expressed his gratitude [5] [ru] on Instagram:

Спасибо за победу! С праздником!

Thank you for the victory! Happy holiday!

Sanjar Abakirov,meanwhile, thanked [6] [ru] the heroes on a special public Facebook page set up to commemorate the day:

Вечная память героям, Вечная и безграничная благодарность ветеранам.

Eternal remembrance of the heroes, eternal and limitless gratitude to the veterans

People line up to pay their respects at the monument of the fallen soldier. Image taken from kloop.kg, used with permision.

People at the monument to the fallen soldier. (Image from kloop.kg [7],used with permission)

‘The Real Heroes’

But the remembrance was not without politicization. On April 2010, unrest erupted [8] in Kyrgyzstan, resulting in the overthrow of then-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and the death of over eighty people. Families of the dead were given $20,000 each and in many cases, free flats. Pensioners in the republic, including those that fought in the war, collect [9] an average monthly pension of just over $100. The elevation of participants in the April 2010 overthrow to ‘hero’ status was noted bitterly by many netizens on May 9.

Я помню я горжусь wrote [4] [ru]:

[…] P.S почему называют героями Апрельской революции и выдают им квартиры а ветеранов вспоминают только 9 МАЯ

By the way, why do they call the April revolutionaries heroes and give them flats while they only remember veterans on May 9?

A satire blog “Fairy Tales from Heavenly Beshbarmakia” on the local news outlet Akipress penned an allegorical post in time for the celebrations. The post describes [10] [ru] battles between egocentric politicians, now dead and represented by personal monuments. [Note: Beshbarmakia is a fictional name the blog uses for Kyrgyzstan. Beshbarmak, meaning “five fingers” is a traditional Kyrgyz noodle dish [11]].

Про каждого, кто хоть что-нибудь из себя мнил в Бешбармаикии, были в этой комнате фигуры и статуи. Ночью они оживали и перепирались между собой — кто из них круче и кого больше должна ценить Бешбармакия. Дело обычно доходило до оскорблений, драк и митингов. Склока была нескончаемой.

Anyone who had ever thought anything of themselves in Beshbamrmakia had statues of themselves in that room. At night the statues would argue between themselves – who among them was the coolest and whom had Beshbarmakia appreciated the most. Things usually led to insults, fights, and interminable political rallies.

The post ends [10] [ru] with a description of the modest monument to the Unknown Soldier:

И только один памятник, далеко в углу, всегда молчал и никогда не участвовал ни в склоке, ни в общем хороводе самомнений. Остальные по сравнению с этой фигурой были просто пластиковыми пупсиками. То был памятник Неизвестному солдату.

And only one statue, far away in a corner, was always silent and never participated in the squabbles and the posturing. The rest, by comparison with that statue, were just sad, plastic dolls. That was the memorial to the Unknown Soldier.

Аленка commented [10] [ru] on the allegorical post:

Спасибо нашим ветеранам низкий поклон им. Но просто бесит, что им дарят конфеты, макароны и 1000 сом, позорище такое.А апрельским революционерам квартиры, деньги и т.д.

Thank you, our veterans, we bow to them. But it really irritates me that [the state] gives them sweets, macaroni and 1,000 som – what a disgrace. And the April revolutionaries get given flats, money, etc

Vodka flows and songs are payed during a typical May 9 celebration

Songs are sung during May 9 celebrations. (Image from kloop.kg [7], used with permission)

There is no Tomorrow to Pay Respects

While politicians make promises to improve the lives of the veterans in the near future, Internet users insist that the veterans should be treated as heroes every day.  Under an article on a popular Russian language news outlet, Lika wrote [12] [ru]:

Надо ветеранам ежемесячно помогать финансово, а не по праздникам только

We should be helping the veterans financially every month, not only on holidays

Another comment reads [13] [ru]:

Через 2 года возможно уже не кому будет помогать((( Нужно делать сейчас

It is possible that in 2 years there will already be no-one to help ((( We need to [help] now

Victory day 4

Every year the veterans get fewer. (Image from kloop.kg [7], used with permission)

Four Days of Drinking?

Many of the countries celebrating Victory Day announced a four-day long holiday starting from May 9. For some, this was interpreted as a 96 hour window to get pie-eyed. While some netizens considered alcohol a vital part of the celebration, others were critical of the mass inebriation.

Bektour Iskender commented [14] [ru] on Kloop.kg's Facebook plug-in:

Страшно представить, в какой дикий четырёхдневный запой уйдут некоторые кыргызстанцы в связи с предстоящими длиннющими выходными.

Horrific to think in what wild manner some Kyrgyzstanis will celebrate this upcoming extension of the holiday.

By the morning of May 9, Natalya Glazirina had already found out. She twitted [15] [ru]:

@natalinatal1996 [16]: сейчас гуляла,и с болкона какой-то мужик пел песню “день победы”.пьяный-жуть)праздник ЧЁ)

I took a walk and saw that from his balcony some completely drunk man was singing the song “Victory Day”. Holiday, WHAT)

But veterans aren't beyond a bit of a drink and knees up either. Here they toast each other with plastic cups of "Front 50", a vodka specially made for the celebration of Victory Day. (Photo from Kloop.kg, used with permission)

But veterans aren't beyond a bit of a drink and knees up either. Here they toast each other with plastic cups of “Front '50”, a vodka specially made for the celebration of Victory Day. (Image from kloop.kg [7], used with permission)