by David Sisler
February 23 is an annual Russian holiday (a Russian once told me they have 50 official holiday's each year – at least in this instance, they seem to have passed us). The celebration before us is variously called, "Russian Army Day," "Defenders of the Fatherland Day," or popularly, "Men's Day."
Less than four months after the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin and his gang of thugs believed that control of Petrograd (known today as Saint Petersburg) was slipping away from them, and so they recruited an army, hired former tsarist officers to train the rag-tag band and called it the "Red Army." After defeating the Nazis in World War II, it was renamed the "Soviet Army." February 23, 2001, marks the 83rd anniversary of its founding.
Comparing the Russian army of today with the original corps, the BBC snidely commented recently, "all that the modern Russian Army ... shares with those who answered the call to arms in 1918, is its lack of up-to-date equipment." Maybe the Brits are onto something because today "Men's Day" is no longer a guaranteed day off from work.
It is interesting to consider recent celebrations.
In 1998, then Russian president, Boris Yeltsin told his army, "Things will soon be much better than they are now" (and we thought that all of the hackneyed political phrases came from American politicians!). As with Mudville's famous baseball team, somewhere things are better, I am sure, but not with the daily life of the average Russian citizen in general, and not with the Russian Army in particular. The average Russian family continues to earn – according to personal sources in Russia – $50 per month. The Russian Army continues to be bogged down in Chechnya II – their third Vietnam-like experience – after a decade fighting in Afghanistan and the first war to crush Chechnya, which resulted in over 70,000 casualties.
In 1944, February 23 was celebrated by the wholesale "resettlement" of the North Caucasus nations – the Chechens, among others – from their homeland. Stalin had them loaded into cattle-cars and shipped to the Gulags of Siberia.
Civilian personnel of the Northern Fleet in Murmansk celebrated in 1999 by going on strike, and teachers in Altay declared an indefinite strike, and miners in Komi blocked the railroad tracks, and miners in Rostov went on strike. And there were others.
Last year's celebration featured a "hussar gathering," according to reports in the Russia Journal. Hussars were famed Russian cavalry officers which formed a special segment of the Russian army under the tsar.
Attempting, in 2000, to counter the "the fall of [the Russian army's] prestige ... [and] the decline in the esprit de corps" the Russian Officers Assembly, with assistance from the International Association of Military History, staged a very unusual party in honor of the hussars. "To recall the glorious days of the past when uniform was the symbol of honor, bravery and chivalry," Oleg Nazarov, said "we decided [to celebrate] in an informal and purely male way, a hussar way."
Still quoting now, "In addition to being fearless nationalistic soldiers, hussars are famous for their traditions of drinking and seducing women ... Participants of the party were dressed fully as hussars and behaved accordingly with audacity, ardor, vigor and zest, demonstrating skills and wit in various hussar tricks."
The Russia Journal report concludes that honor, bravery, and chivalry were touted and the uniform was honored when "Russian sex symbol Mikhail Mamayev opened a bottle of champagne and drank it from a woman's shoe – as genuine hussars did." Yes siree bob. That honors the old uniform!
Russia has a serious alcohol problem – some reports indicate that half of the country could be lumped into that category. The average Russian man drinks a pint of vodka every other day. The average life-span of a Russian male has dropped to 57 years, from 65, since the fall of communism and Russians attribute that decline in longevity largely to alcoholism. Two-thirds of Russian men die drunk. So let's celebrate the army, celebrate manhood, by swilling booze from a boot!
I'm sorry – in English, that's "Whassuup?"
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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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