In English, this popular movement goes by the name of “Eternal Regiment”; and, as usual, something is lost in translation. The word “eternal” in Russian is “вечный” (véchny)—but the word used here is “бессмертный” (bessmértny), which means “deathless” or “unkillable.” And the word “regiment” sounds quite a bit more… regimented than the Russian word “полк” (polk), which is a close cousin of “ополчение” (opolchénie)—a spontaneously formed military volunteer unit, and “ополченец” (opolchénets)—essentially a rebel or a guerrilla fighter. Perhaps the best English can do is this hodgepodge of Anglo-Saxon, French and Spanish: “Unkillable guerrilla.”
There is a popular theory making the rounds in the West that history is just a bunch of narratives, and one is worth another. For example, there is one narrative that the Russians like, in which the Ukrainians now venerated as heroes in the Ukraine were Nazi collaborators complicit in the genocide perpetrated against Jews, Poles and others. But there is another narrative, supposedly just as good, where these same Nazi collaborators were freedom-fighters opposing Soviet Communist oppression and helping fight off Soviet occupation of their homeland by fighting alongside valiant Germans who came to help them. To better make their point, the adherents of this second narrative have been busy desecrating monuments and graves and attacking veterans.
How is an innocent bystander supposed to figure out how to navigate this political and cultural war zone? These aren’t just narratives: people are being hurt and even killed. Nerves are frayed and tempers heated. Say the wrong thing to the wrong crowd, and you might end up having to pay for a whole new smile. There is a temptation to declare that “they are all a bunch of evil bastards!” Millions of people of all ages walking with portraits of their dead relatives through snow and sleet are all “evil bastards”? Really? Let’s look at what’s going on here in more detail.
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