The victory in the war is also the justification for every foreign policy escapade. Government media referred to the annexation of Crimea as “the third defense of Sevastopol” and the B roll for the reports were shots of the battle for Crimea in the Second World War. Supporters of the Crimean annexation, as well as the separatists in southeastern Ukraine, differentiate themselves by tying St. George’s ribbons to their clothes. All of them say that they want to be part of Russia so that Russia can defend them from the “fascism” of the new Ukrainian government. Moscow, meanwhile, insists that it supports them for this exact reason, and that it doesn’t really have a choice: The Soviet people didn’t defeat fascism 70 years ago just to see it come roaring back today.
These are just a few examples, but the style is now inescapable in Russian political and even daily life. And, believe me, it works. When the founding principle for political action is such a universally painful and important memory—and the propaganda machine has been going on all cylinders—it’s almost impossible not to get the nation’s support.
And yet at some point in all this national exultation, it becomes clear that words have lost their meaning and symbols their luster; that the holy victory (“holy” is now the adjective used to describe it in Russia) has become something mundane, and a fascist is anyone you disagree with.