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Russian celebration of Victory Day includes commemorating secret police

Russians around the world will likely pause on May 9 and perhaps raise a glass in memory of the nation’s great victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

In Rostov, in southern Russia, police officers have organized an additional way to celebrate the Great Patriotic War: a photoshoot where participants dress up as Soviet soldiers and officers of NKVD, the earlier itineration of Soviet secret police that was responsible for mass repressions, torture and murder during Soviet rule.

The themed photoshoot is sponsored by the Interior Ministry’s Rostov Region Directorate and part of a project called “Descendants of Heroes.”

Men modeling in uniforms worn by the precursor agency to the KGB as well as Soviet army uniforms “gave the officers possibility to absorb the episodes of Soviet soldiers’ lives and feel the atmosphere of the years during the war,” the ministry’s official press-release said.

Some Russians are revolted by the project, considering it an insult to the memory of millions of Soviet citizens who were executed and tortured by the secret police, and to those locked up in concentration camps and labor camps under the Soviet regime. Both before and after the war, the secret police ruined millions of people’s lives through campaigns of terror and brutality, including Antisemitic campaigns that were billed as “battles against cosmopolitism.”

“May God judge them,” posted a Russian activist on her Facebook page, “We will lay flowers to salute thousands of heroes who lay in our native Russian ground. We will honor heroes thanks to whom this land is ours, while the police — on the same day — will be posting those photos on social media.”

The initiative has many supporters, however, in the last few years Russian authorities have used state television and other media to bolster one of President Vladimir Putin’s favorite themes — that he is helping make Russia great again. Part of the state propaganda drive is to build a narrative of unblemished victories during WWII that excludes tales of collaboration or even government and military ineptitude that led to tactical errors, painful shortage of supplies on the front lines and possible war crimes by Soviet troops.

An independent analysis from the Levada Center published last month reported that sympathy and respect for Joseph Stalin have risen sharply among Russians over the last two decades.

Across social media some Russians have celebrated Victory Day in a way that’s quite in line with that of officers. A lot of parents dress their kids in army costumes, and stores are decorated in military theme too.

Many government officials praised the Rostov project. State Duma Deputy Oleg Shein described the Soviet secret police has a multifaceted organization, just like any other government institution. “Those people [NKVD officers] fought at the frontline along with others, fighting against the Hitler people,” news site Govorit Moskva quoted him as saying.

Rostov police have been sharing the NKVD photo montage over the past few days. The city’s Interior Ministry division also plans on airing a related video on May 9.

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