In advance of the May 9 holidays to mark victory in World War II, the Russian Embassy in Uzbekistan is getting busy distributing St. George remembrance ribbons to the public.
In the first few days of May, anybody wishing to do so can drop in on the mission in Tashkent can pick up their distinctively orange-and-black striped ribbons free of charge.
The ribbons have become a frequent sight of late; either pinned to people’s clothes or tied onto car fixtures.
But not all Uzbeks support the initiative.
Last year, for instance, Uzbek journalist and founder of a literary online portal Davronbek Tozhialiyev and political commentator Anvar Nazirov were outspoken in their opposition on social media.
“The St. George’s ribbon is a symbol of colonialism. This order was bestowed on Russian soldiers and officers for their victory over Muslim Turks in the 18th century. In the 19th century, the award was given to those who conquered Central Asia,” Nazirov told EurasiaNet.org.
Tozhialiyev and Nazirov last year applied to the Interior Ministry and the Tashkent city administration to ask for a ban on wearing the ribbon and associated public events, but to no avail.
But on May 9, even though Tashkent authorities had given the event no formal approval, a local chapter of the Immortal Regiment, which brings together people all over the world wishing to mark the Soviet victory over the Nazis in the war, marched through the city. Around 200 people took part in the event.
The Immortal Regiment movement was created in 2012 in the Russian city of Tomsk and has organized May 9 marches in 15 countries since that time.
One founder of the movement, Russian journalist Denis Bevza, told EurasiaNet.org that the only goal of the movement is pay tribute to those that died defending the front in World War II.
Nazirov doesn’t buy that line.
“The Immortal Regiment is Putin propaganda to bolster political positions in Uzbekistan. Even without this event, we are perfectly capable of paying tribute to the war and those that died,” he said.
That view overlaps with similar positions in Ukraine, which has taken extensive measures to end the adoption of St. George ribbon in favor of poppies. The issue is particularly politicized there as the orange-and-black colors were broadly embraced by the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, who cast their armed struggle against the government in Kiev as an echo of the clash between the Soviet and Nazis armies in World War II.
The proliferation of the ribbon has also been decried by some solitary outliers in Russia, who take umbrage at the notion that it is disrespectful for members of the public to lightly adopt colors associated with an award earned by people that actually took part in battles.
The state-backed Kamolot youth organization in Uzbekistan has this devised its own alternative ribbon decorated in the colours of the Uzbek flag. They are being distributed in colleges and other higher learning institutes.
Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, attiutides to World War II have gradually shifted across the region.
One notable change of emphasis in Uzbekistan is that the term Great Fatherland War previously preferred — and which covers the years 1941 to 1945, when the Soviet Union was directly involved in the conflict — has steadily lost place to World War II, which includes the two years when the Soviet Union was engaged in a non-aggression pact with the Nazis.
And May 9 in Uzbekistan is now called the Day of Remembrance and Tributes instead of Victory Day.
Around 1.4 million people from Uzbekistan were involved in the war. Of those, around 400,000 were confirmed killed and another 130,000 went missing.