REPRESENTATIVES of veterans’ organisations, trade unions, international embassies, the Government and the monarchy assembled at the Soviet war memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in south London last Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism in Europe.
The event was organised by the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund. There were brief speeches from Philip Matthews, who chairs the trust fund; Councillor Anne Yates, the Mayor of Southwark; Secretary of State for Defence John Reid; Andrei Chupin, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Russian Embassy and Cyril Herbert of Southwark Royal British Legion.
One wreath was laid by Kira Ivanova, a military veteran and survivor of the siege of Leningrad. Representatives of the embassies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan laid wreaths.
Other wreaths were laid by the president of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Duke of Kent; Mayor Anne Yates, John Reid, and Bob Wareing on behalf of the House of Commons; the TUC general council and London regions Ucatt – plus many more.
Auschwitz survivor and life-long campaigner against fascism Leon Greenman was among the crowd, as was Henry Metelmann, a former panzer driver at Stalingrad who has devoted his life since the war to campaigning for peace and against fascism.
It was a dignified ceremony with the most powerful messages coming from the veterans who remembered the war against Nazism first hand.
But it lacked the red flags, the hammer and sickle symbols and the music of the Soviet Union. Nor was there any acknowledgement that the Red Army fought and died to defend Soviet socialism – a workers’ state of justice and equality led by Stalin.
Meanwhile veterans’ organisations were critical of the events of the day before in Whitehall to mark the end of the war in Europe. The only event organised by the Government was a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall with a single band, only one member of the royal family and John Reid the sole representative of the Government.
Much bigger and more spectacular events were organised in capital cities across Europe.