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Page last updated at 23:44 GMT, Monday, 7 May 2007 00:44 UK

Moscow Diary: Victory Day

Russia is preparing to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the BBC's James Rodgers reports from Moscow. He also investigates the annual spring tidy-up of the city after May's snow showers. His diary is published fortnightly.

VICTORY DAY

All the symbols of a mighty Moscow are paraded together. For most of the 20th Century, they were the badges of deadly foes.

Russian troops - dressed in WWII uniforms - rehearse for the 9 May parade in Moscow
The Red Army's victory over Hitler is something sacred in Russia

In the 1920s, Russians killed each other over their devotion to the imperial double-headed eagle, or the Communist hammer and sickle.

Now the two co-exist. They will appear together on Red Square to celebrate Moscow's greatest military victory of modern times: the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Russia remembers on 9 May.

Banners have been strung across the streets of the capital. Every retail outlet from the Rolls-Royce showroom to the tiniest shoe repair shop seems to have a poster in the window.

Car aerials are decorated with ribbons remembering the fallen.

'Great Patriotic War'

The consequences of the conflict are still very much in the minds of many Russians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre) and WWII veterans at a reception in the Kremlin on 7 May 2007
The 9 May celebration is a big annual occasion for Russians

For the older generation, it was the Soviet Union's finest hour. Years of struggle in circumstances of unimaginable privation were rewarded with a glorious triumph.

Researchers are still trying to count the full cost.

On Friday, the Russian army's military and memorial centre said that 8.6m soldiers were "irretrievably lost" - killed.

The conflict also created the borders of the Soviet Union as they would be defined in the Cold War.

Anyone who didn't realise what a sensitive subject the memory of the conflict is here had only to reflect on the fact that it's known as the Great Patriotic War.

Monument row

There were clues in Moscow's fury when the authorities in Estonia's capital, Tallinn, moved the Soviet-era war memorial.

The relocation of the "Warrior-liberator" - the statue of the Red Army soldier - was denounced as "blasphemy" and "sacrilege".

The use of religious language is telling. It has been borrowed to defend the feats of the most avowedly atheist state in world history: the Soviet Union.

The victory over Hitler is something sacred in Russia. Questioning it in any way is seen as an attack on a national faith.

Estonia's decision to move the monument was seen as an insult here. Its ability to do it was a humiliation. The fact that Russia's "Warrior-liberator" is Estonia's "occupier" is an unpalatable truth.

'Feeling isolated'

Many Russians still believe that the Soviet Union was the greatest nation the world has ever known.

The ninth of May is a big annual occasion here, not just marked on major anniversaries.

If anything, it seems to grow in importance. The tsarist and Soviet symbols stand together as part of a resurgent Russian patriotism.

This year, the lead-up to 9 May has also been a time to reflect on Russia's relations with its neighbours. A decade and a half after the end of the Soviet Union, those remain undefined - and often sour.

Rows with Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus over oil and gas supplies have had consequences far beyond the borders of the ex-USSR.

Relations with the United States and the European Union are at a post-Cold War low. Both Nato and the EU were quick to defend Estonia in the dispute over the war memorial.

You get the sense here sometimes that Russia feels isolated.

"Russians are taught to see themselves as living in a besieged fortress," suggested Georgy Bovt in the Moscow Times last week.

Positive news, like the new statue of the Soviet wartime commander, Marshal Zhukov, in Belarus, is widely reported.

The Victory Day celebrations will ignore the fact that not all the neighbours want to join the party.

In fact, the hammer and sickle will look more comfortable alongside the double-headed eagle.

CLEANING DAY

A cold spring has followed Russia's warmest ever winter.

The beginning of May has been marred by snow showers.

Nevertheless, the annual tidy-up of the city is underway.

Flowerbeds in public parks are being planted with tulips brought in on trucks - presumably from giant hot-houses somewhere.

The streets are clean. Railings are getting a fresh lick of paint.

They are not alone. A short distance down the street from the BBC office there's a manhole cover. It stands in the middle of a lawn in front of an office block.

What to do to stop it spoiling the view?

Paint it green, of course. You'd never notice it was there.

JAMES RODGERS IN MOSCOW

James Rodgers Leaving for good
Our correspondent's valedictory entry before departing Moscow


MAY - OCT 2008
 

SEPT 2007 - APRIL 2008
 

FEBRUARY - AUGUST 2007
 

IN DEPTH


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