Putin marks 75 years since Battle of Stalingrad victory

President Vladimir Putin, center, poses for a picture alongside women dressed in historic Red Army uniforms during commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, once known as Stalingrad. (AP)
Updated 02 February 2018
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Putin marks 75 years since Battle of Stalingrad victory

VOLGOGRAD: Russia on Friday marked 75 years since the Soviet Union’s victory in the major World War II Battle of Stalingrad, extolled as a symbol of the country’s resilience at a time when President Vladimir Putin campaigns for his fourth term.
Putin flew to Volgograd, the current name of the city, which staged a military parade involving about 1,500 troops, armored vehicles and jets flying over a crowd of spectators bundled up to protect against the sub-zero temperatures.
The 1942-43 battle in the Volga river city was one of the bloodiest in history. It was a disastrous loss for Nazi Germany, and is glorified by Russia as the event that saved Europe from Adolf Hitler.
“There was no other such battle in the history of mankind,” Putin told a crowd of veterans he met at the Volgograd philharmonic for a concert commemorating the event.
“The unified resistance and readiness for self-sacrifice were truly undefeatable, incomprehensible and frightful for the enemy.”
“Defenders of Stalingrad have passed a great heritage to us: love for the Motherland, readiness to protect its interests and independence, to stand strong in the face of any test,” he said, calling on Russians to measure up to their ancestors’ example.
To mark the occasion, traffic controllers in the city of a million people, one of the poorest in Russia, were dressed in Red Army winter uniforms, complete with felt boots.
Viktoria Rybakova, a 31-year-old dancer performing in the concert, said: “In everyone, there is gratitude for our future, for the fact that we are living today.”
Soviet victory and sacrifice in the war has been increasingly upheld by Moscow in recent years to stoke patriotism, which “has practically become a state ideology,” said political analyst Konstantin Kalachev.
Moscow needs positive symbols while ties with the West are at a post-Cold War low, so dates like war victory anniversaries are used to “promote the image of a country capable of accomplishments and defeating all of its enemies,” Kalachev said.
The anniversary comes less than two months before the March 18 presidential election, and Putin, who has been making near-daily trips to meet groups of workers and students, has also met with local youth at a historical exhibit which included a “virtual quest” of the battle, his website said.
It was his second World War II-associated trip in two weeks.
On January 18 Putin took part in an event marking the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad outside Saint Petersburg.
The battle of Stalingrad began in July 1942 and lasted 200 days, with aerial bombardments that razed the city, and house-to-house fighting.
German troops of Marshal Friedrich Paulus eventually capitulated on February 2, 1943, in the first surrender by the Nazis since the war began. Paulus was captured alive and became a critic of the Nazi regime.
The city was completely rebuilt after the war and renamed Volgograd in 1961, eight years after the death of Joseph Stalin, following de-Stalinization reforms aiming to dismantle the dictator’s cult of personality.
In 2014, local lawmakers voted to rename the city back to Stalingrad on major war-related occasions six times a year.


Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

Updated 15 December 2018
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Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

  • US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack
  • For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence

BALANGIGA, Philippines: A sleepy central Philippine town erupted in joy on Saturday as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were to be turned over to the community.
Children waving bell-shaped signs and tearful residents in Balangiga gathered to welcome home the three bells that are a deep local source of pride, and which the US flew to Manila this week after decades of urging by the Philippines.
US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies, after razing the town and killing potentially thousands of Filipinos, in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack that left 48 of their comrades dead.
For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence, and a dark chapter which is the subject of an annual re-enactment and remembrance event locally.
“It’s not just me but the whole town is walking in the clouds because the bells are finally with us,” 81-year-old Nemesio Duran told AFP.
“We are the happiest people on Earth now,” he added, noting he is descended from the boy who rang one of the bells, long said to have signalled the attack on the Americans.
The bells arrived in Balangiga late Friday ahead of an official handover ceremony set for later Saturday, but the town’s streets were already crowded with people and vendors selling T-shirts saying “Balangiga bells finally home.”
The ceremony will be not far from the town plaza that holds a monument with statues of the American soldiers having breakfast as the Filipino revolutionaries raise their machetes at the start of the onslaught.
Manila has been pushing for the bells’ return since at least the 1990s, with backing from Philippine presidents, its influential Catholic Church and supporters in the United States.
But the repatriation was long held back by some American lawmakers and veterans who viewed the bells, two of which were in the US state of Wyoming and the third at a US base in South Korea, as tributes to fallen soldiers.
A confluence of factors earlier this year, that included a key veterans’ group dropping its opposition, culminated in the bells landing in Manila aboard a US military cargo plane on Tuesday for a solemn handover.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, 73, bluntly called on Washington in a 2017 speech: “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours.”
His arrival in power in mid-2016 was marked by moves to split from Manila’s historical ally and former colonial master the United States. At the same time Duterte signalled an end to the standoff with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
Yet for some in Balangiga the bells’ return is also a somber occasion tinged with the pain of the past, which has been passed from generation to generation.
“It’s mixed emotions because the bells also remind me of what happened,” Constancia Elaba, 62, told AFP, adding how she grew up hearing stories of the episode from her father.
“It was painful and you cannot take it away from us. We can never forget that,” she said.