Happy Valentine’s Day (now that it is no longer forbidden!)

In Russia Valentine’s Day (День Свято́го Валенти́на – Day of Saint Valentine) is a popular celebration, in spite of being relatively recent, or maybe because it is relatively recent. Let me explain.

As a rule, the concepts of Saint Valentine and Cupid only arrived in Eastern Europe and Asia in the last two decades. That was particularly true in the Soviet Union, where all these Western celebrations were shun by the government and, therefore, implicitly forbidden even without the need of special laws or regulations.

Ironically, the Soviet alternative, an official calendar holiday and one of the year’s biggest celebration was Международный женский день, the International Women’s Day, which originated  in New York City, USA, organized by the Socialist Party of America

With the fall of the USSR people could satisfy all (well… many) desires of forbidden fruits. The first McDonald’s opened its door in Moscow even before the official dissolution of the Soviet Union and with that, it seems in retrospects, the floodgates were opened and western culture rushed in. Most people fully embraced the joyful, carefree celebration of individual Love that Valentine seems to be all about.

Not everyone, though, was equally convinced. Some people, for love of tradition or to combat a consumeristic take on celebration, oppose(d) the introduction of Western tradition such as Valentine Day.

Images like these are becoming rarer and rarer, but up to a few years ago there was a movement against the celebration of Western traditions, epitomized by Cupid and, thus, Valentine’s Day.

One of the most famous episodes of resistance against Valentine’s Day is as recent as 2011. That year authorities in the Belgorod province urged schools and other state institutions to refrain from celebrations marking the heart-shaped holiday, considered as an “unhealthy foreign phenomenon”. The initiative was part of a directive on “measures to provide for spiritual security,” which called on officials to ban Valentine’s Day and Halloween celebrations in educational and cultural centers in the province. Nightclubs and other businesses in the province 600 km (380 miles) south of Moscow, were also urged not to plan any special events for February 14th, as the provincial government declared that: “The very atmosphere of these holidays does not foster the formation of spiritual and moral values in youth, and holding them primarily benefits commercial organizations”. The directive was signed by the Belgorod governor’s top deputy and “blessed” by the province’s Russian Orthodox bishop.

It must be noted, though, that the year before, the whole country seemed headed in the very opposite direction (which then proved to be the long-lasting orientation). On February 14th, 2010, the Russian First Channel aired a colorized version of Stalin‘s favorite movie: Volga Volga. Shot at the height of Stalin-era purges, the film tells the story of a talented folk singer who overcomes petty bureaucrats to travel to Moscow for a music contest and it was such a favorite of the dictator’s that he is said to have sent a copy as a gift to the American president of the day, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The film lengthy restoration (it took 4 years to complete) not only gave it color, but also brought back in the movie all references to Stalin that were expurgated in the Khrushchev era.

There is not only irony in the fact that the favorite movie of one of the fiercest enemy of Valentine’s Day celebrations was aired exactly on February 14th, but also, I believe, a deeper message. Volga Volga embodied Stalin’s famous 1935 saying that “Life has become better, comrades, life has become more fun” and the statement seemed to have become true almost 60 years after the dictator’s death.  Maybe with the addition that “Life has become better and more fun AND now you can freely celebrate the days YOU choose to celebrate”….



Would you like to discover the Russia that foreigners rarely, if ever, get to see, with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking photographer (me and my wife) showing you the sights and telling you a bit about Russian history and traditions, while helping you to improve your technique and take home some spectacular images of the largest country on Earth? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!



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