Victory Day is celebrated all over Europe on May 8 in Western Europe and on May 9 in the former Soviet Bloc. Victory Day commemorates the victory of the Allied forces over the Axis powers.
On May 8, 1945, German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed the document for the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied powers. This meant the end of hostilities in the European theatre of World War Two, although some German units in the Baltics and Czechoslovakia would continue to fight until May 11th.
Since the German surrender and end of hostilities were timed at 23:01 (Central European Time) on May 8 by the Germans, most Western European countries celebrate it on May 8.
However, in Russia and the former Soviet bloc, most countries celebrate it on May 9 since it was signed on May 9 according to Moscow Time.
Churchill addressing the crowd, Image Source: Public Domain
Celebrations were held all across Europe and in the USA upon news of the German surrender. In London, King George the Sixth and Queen Elizabeth, along with Winston Churchill, greeted huge crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Victory Day in the USA was seen as a tribute to the memory of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Current Victory Day Traditions
Victory Day has been celebrated on May 9th in Russia since 1965, and it is a non-working public holiday. During Soviet times, it was celebrated with great vigor and with huge celebrations all across the country.
Russia under Vladimir Putin has revived the event, with it being celebrated as a source of national pride and jubilation and becoming one of the most popular holidays in the country. Due to large-scale deaths in Russia during the Second World War, it is an emotional holiday in the country.
Victory Day Parade in Moscow, Image Source: WSJ
Every year, the Russian military holds an annual parade in the Red Square of Moscow on May 9th to commemorate the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany. The parade showcases Russian military might and is a source of national pride. It is attended by several foreign delegates, although since 2015, Western delegates have boycotted the event due to Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
The Immortal Regiment is another parade held on May 9th in memory of those who died during World War 2. People participating in the parade carry photos of their relatives who fought or died in World War Two, both on the battlefield and on the home front.
Immortal Regiment Parade, Image Source: BBC News
Other post-Soviet countries
In Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Victory Day is a national holiday.
In Ukraine, the situation is more complex, as it is celebrated as a victory over Nazism and the connection with the Soviet past is not seen as favourable. This is due to several historical reasons, as well as tensions and conflicts with Russia. There is considerable controversy over the May 9 celebrations.
Serbia and Montenegro also celebrate May 9th as a national holiday, as Victory Day over fascism. The unrecognised states of Donetsk and Luhansk have also celebrated Victory Day since 2014.
Victory in Europe (V-E) Day
Most Western European countries celebrate V-E Day on May 8th.
France: France celebrates V-E Day on May 8th as not just a victory over fascism but also a commemoration of the lifting of the Siege of Orleans by Joan of Arc.
Poland: Poland used to celebrate National Victory Day on May 9 until 2015; however, since 2015, National Victory Day has been celebrated on May 8. This symbolizes a break with Russian or Soviet traditions.
Victory Day is seen as a victory of good over evil and is a source of national pride in countries like Russia, where it is a massive event. It is not just a commemoration of military might but an event in the eternal memory of those who fell in the fight against fascism.