Moscow, May 9 (efe-epa).- Belarus was the only former Soviet country to hold a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe after President Alexander Lukashenko refused to cancel the event on Saturday.
Victory in Europe Day, more commonly referred to as VE Day, marks the moment in 1945 when the German Nazi regime’s surrender was accepted by the Allied Forces. Former Soviet countries marked it on 9 May, a day after celebrations were held in Western Europe. Japan’s surrender officially came on 2 September that same year, ending the war altogether.
“Although this year the military parade in Minsk will be the only one in post-Soviet territory, we do it to honor the Soviet soldiers who liberated the word from the Nazis,” the president said at the event, as quoted by the Belta news agency.
Lukashenko held the military parade in the capital despite the World Health Organization having urged the Eastern European country to adopt stricter measures to contain the coronavirus.
Belarus has reported more than 20,000 cases and around 100 deaths so far.
Lukashenko is one of the few world leaders who has downplayed the severity of the pandemic and has labeled it a “collective psychosis.” He has recommended vodka, saunas or a long day working on a tractor as possible remedies against it.
“This date is sacred for us,” he told the audience Saturday. “The idea of changing traditions that have been glorifying the history of the great feat of the victors is unacceptable to us.”
“There will be people who condemn us for the time and place of this sacred act,” he added.
“We couldn’t have acted differently. We had no other choice.”
A third of Belorussians, around 3 million, died at the hands of the occupying Nazi forces in World War II, many of them killed in exterminations camps.
The president warned against forgetting the “tragic lessons” of the past.
He was joined on the stage by military officials and politicians.
Some 3,000 soldiers and cadets paraded through the capital alongside 150 military vehicles. There was a flypast of 36 plans and helicopters.
Across the border in Russia, celebrations were much more muted.
President Vladimir Putin cancelled the traditional military parade through Moscow’s Red Square and instead laid flowers at the Eternal Flame by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
He was joined only by honor guards and a military band.
“We remember those who are no longer with us, we look at their faces in photographs with love, we wish our veterans a long life and bow our heads to the great generation of victors,” he said in a speech.
“They saved the country and the lives of future generations. They liberated Europe and defended the world, they reconstructed cities, and villages.
“Millions who fell never saw the moment of victory.”
He vowed to hold a military parade in Red Square once the circumstances allowed for it but for now there was only a flyover of jets and helicopters.