By Pat Stewart
On Saturday, March 15, two weeks after Russian forces began to take control of key locations in Crimea and one day before the Crimean referendum, there was a peace march in Moscow. According to the BBC, 50,000 people participated, making it the largest protest in Moscow in many months.
Among many witty and touching signs in the march was this one. It is in a vertical, head-and-shoulders format like an image of a saint; it was carried on a staff like an icon in a procession.
On the sign, a photograph shows a young man in a Soviet World War II officer’s uniform. He is wearing a combat medal. There are crimson edges on his shoulder boards: the color suggests he was in the infantry.
Behind him is wallpaper patterned with lilacs, the flowers whose scent is so evocative of the cool, northern springs of Russia. The sign reads, “My Grandfather – the Ukrainian”.
The government and official media in Russia have used memories of World War II to attack opponents of its policy in Ukraine. Ukrainians and Russians alike have been labeled “Fascists”, “Fifth Columnists” and “Traitors”. This sign in the peace march, like a magical and healing mirror, turns the ugly, divisive rhetoric back upon itself. It too evokes the memories of WW II, but it becomes a reminder of shared suffering and of brotherhood.