Text Alina Tsirkunova
The history of the holiday, known nowadays as the Day of the Fatherland Defenders, started with the victory of Soviet power in the armed revolt in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) on October 24-25th (which is November 7-8th, New Style) 1917. Right after that, the new Soviet government faced the necessity of combating counter-revolutionaries. The only armed force the Soviets had was groups of Red Guard revolutionaries. Two days later, the Soviet government addressed both the people of Russia and the governments of the other Allies fighting Germany and Austria, proposing immediate negotiations to end the First World War. The German government agreed to commence negotiations, which opened on the 20th of November. But the other Allies declined to negotiate on Soviet terms. Since Russia refused to surrender to Germany, war recommenced.
The Soviet government, with the aim of protecting what was left of the Soviet state from Germany - after the Baltic states, Finland, Ukraine and Bessarabia had declared indepenence - started to organize a regular army. On the 15th January (28th New Style) 1918, Lenin signed the decree “On the organization of Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army”. On the 29th of January (11th February, New Style), he signed another decree “On the organization of Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Fleet”.
On 23rd February 1918 in Petrograd, the formation of the Red Army was announced under the slogan of Protection of the Socialist Fatherland from the Kaiser, whose forces had advanced to within 150 kilometers of Petrograd. In documents of that time the words “German” or “German armies” are not used, only “Kaiser”, probably in the interests of proletarian internationalism and by analogy with “the Tsar’s armies”.
A year later, on 23rd February 1919, during the session of Petrograd Council of Workers and Red Army Deputies, the Chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, Yakov Sverdlov, emphasized that the Red Army had been created primarily to fight the foreign enemy.
Since 1922, the celebration of the Red Army and Fleet Day has acquired the character of a big national holiday. In that year, the first army parade was held on Red Square. In 1995, the State Duma of Russia passed a Federal law “On days of military glory (victorious days) of Russia”, in which this day is named as follows: “February, 23rd - the Day of the Victory of the Red Army over the Kaiser armies of Germany (1918) - Day of the Defender of Fatherland “. (This was despite the fact that the Red Army lost every battle it fought against the Germans in 1918.)
Of course, not all citizens of contemporary Russia know the full name of this holiday, much less the history, and it doesn’t really matter to them. The important thing is that it is a holiday for all men, not necessarily only those in the military. The idea in our minds is that defending the people that you love, your family, your woman, your parents, from anything, whether it be cold, problems, the bad guys or whatever, gives you the moral right to think that you defend your Fatherland, because people are your Fatherland.
It is the only day of the year when our men can call themselves “defenders”, and women give them their attention and gifts. It is the male equivalent of the 8th of March (Women’s Day). Grown-up men today were boys under the Soviet regime. Then, propaganda was pervasive. As soon as a boy realized that he was a boy, he started to celebrate this holiday as his holiday.
Now the meaning is different. Maybe it’s not good for our patriotism, but it’s good for our men: they need to feel our attention at least once a year. Watch women in shops a week before the holiday: they are all searching for a present for their men, even if nine days before was St. Valentine’s Day. Russian people love holidays, and they take any opportunity to celebrate them. May it always be so!