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Last Updated: Monday, 9 May, 2005, 00:17 GMT 01:17 UK
Russia's controversial celebrations
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

Russian veterans arrive for the Moscow events
Stalin's rule left a bitter memory across the former Soviet bloc
The ceremonies in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the triumph over Nazism in World War II are doubly controversial, both in terms of the present and the past.

The victory over Hitler means different things for different countries. The presidents of Lithuania and Estonia, for example, have refused to attend the event, which for them also marks the start of the post-war Soviet domination of their countries.

How much easier things appeared 10 years ago on the 50th commemoration of the allied victory in Europe.

A decade ago, of course, the Cold War had only recently ended.

The Soviet Union had collapsed along with much of the ideological edifice of communism.

At the 50th anniversary festivities in Moscow, the then US President Bill Clinton was hosted by his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin.

Which past?

For Russia, it was a new beginning. Moscow's foreign policy appeared low-key - almost non-existent - as the country tried to come to terms with the collapse of its great power status.

In Western intellectual circles, some saw the apparent triumph of liberal democracy as marking "the end of history".

Russian President Vladimir Putin is struggling to regain some of his country's lost prestige

But history had not ended. Indeed, history matters now more than ever.

Today, 10 years on, the celebrations in Moscow are certainly about the past - but which past?

The victory over Hitler - or the start of over 40 years of Soviet domination for much of eastern and central Europe?

But the celebrations are also of course about today's world and especially about Russia's place in it.

Spotlight on Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin is struggling to regain some of his country's lost prestige. It is increasingly suspicious of Western - especially US - activities in countries which it has long seen as part of its own backyard.

It is Russia that is now in the spotlight

Over the past decade, Nato and the European Union have expanded right up to Russia's own frontiers - taking in not just the Soviet Union's former Warsaw Pact allies, like Poland and Hungary, but also the three Baltic Republics that were part of Soviet territory.

Like a bow-wave ahead of this expansion, Mr Putin has watched the liberal tide spread to Ukraine and Georgia.

In Russia, by contrast, democracy seems more fragile - Mr Putin's grasp on the levers of power ever stronger.

So it is Russia that is now in the spotlight. But which Russia? Is it the Stalinist dictatorship and the terrible blood-sacrifice of the war-time years?

Or is it the Russia of Mr Putin, that sits somewhat uncomfortably between democracy and authoritarianism.


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