Victory Day – Russia

May 9

In Russia and in several of the countries that were formally part of the Soviet bloc (including Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova), today is Victory Day. It celebrates the surrender of Germany in 1945 and the end of World War II in Europe.

France, the United Kingdom, and other Western European countries celebrate Victory Day on May 8, but it was already the following day when the news hit Russia, the only country in the world that spans 11 time zones. And ever since then, May 9 has been celebrated with full Russian military pomp and circumstance. This year (2010) troops from England, France and the United States participated in Russia’s Victory Day parade for the first time.

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Despite a 1939 treaty with Germany agreeing not to attack each other (and to split up Poland instead) Russia found itself cast in the role of Germany’s next victim only two years later. They encountered devastating losses in the first couple of years. However,

“…Russia was quick to learn from its mistakes, quicker than the Germans learned from theirs…Part of this was accomplished by simple attrition: less capable officers and troops were killed off, more capable ones survived. But there was also feedback from the front. Divisions were left in action until fewer than half the troops remained alive and fit for action…The veterans knew that everyone’s prospects of survival increased according to how much of their combat experience could be transferred to the new recruits.”

The World War II Bookshelf by James Dunnigan

In addition to its effective armored “Tank Corps” attacks, for which Germany never developed a practical countermeasure, the Soviets made use of their biggest advantage: Europe’s largest population. They overpowered the Germans with sheer numbers and indomitable resilience. The unfortunate result of this strategy was that over 20,000,000 Soviets were killed in the war, nearly half of them civilians.

While France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. focused mainly on the Western Front…

“the ‘Eastern Front’ was the largest theater of war in history, notorious for its unprecedented ferocity, destruction, mass deportations, brutal weather conditions, and immense loss of life by means of battle, starvation, disease, and massacre…The Eastern front was arguably the single most decisive component of World War II, eventually serving as the main reason for Germany’s defeat.”

Eastern Front (World War II) — wikipedia.org

Siege of Leningrad, diorama, Sergey Nemanov

Standing out even among the battles of the Eastern Front were the Sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad. Leningrad lasted nearly 900 days and was the deadliest siege in world history. But it was the Battle of Stalingrad that marked the turning point of the war and eventually broke the back of the German army.

“Victory at Stalingrad did not come easily or cheaply for the Russians. Nearly half a million soldiers and civilians died in defense of the city. Almost all of its homes, factories, and other buildings were destroyed. But the Russians had won, and that victory united the Russian people, giving them the confidence and strength that drove them on to Berlin.”

— “Top 10 Battles of All Time” by Lt. Col. (Ret.) Michael Lee Lanning

Had Hitler cut his losses at Stalingrad, the war might have turned out differently, but in January 1943, he ordered General Von Paulus:

“6 Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution towards the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.” — Adolf Hitler, Jan. 24, 1943

According to World War II: Blitzkrieg and the Eastern Front,

“Out of 250000 [German] soldiers trapped in the Stalingrad pocket, approximately 90000 became prisoners; Barely 5000 survived the war.”

Upon learning of the defeat…

“Hitler ordered a day’s national mourning in Germany, not for the men lost at the battle, but for the shame von Paulus had brought on the Wehrmacht and Germany.”

www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_of_stalingrad.htm

The final battle of the war (in Europe) and indeed the last major battle on Western soil was the Battle of Berlin. In April 1945, the Soviets plowed into Berlin with 2.5 million soldiers. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on April 30. Germany officially surrendered on May 8, 1945.

Soviet flag atop Reichstag, Berlin, photo by Yevgeny Khaldei

Radio Day – Russia

May 7

radio (adj.): (1) of, relating to, or operated by radiant energy; (2) of or relating to electric currents or phenomena (as electromagnetic radiation) of frequencies between about 3000 hertz and 300 gigahertz. — Webster’s Dictionary

I turn the switch and check the number
I leave it on when in bed I slumber
I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product and never use it
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can’t understand just what does he say?

— Wall of Voodoo, “Mexican Radio

Alexander Popov (1859-1906)

In the 1940s and ’50s, the Soviet Union established May 7 as Radio, Television, and Communication Workers Day. Today the Russians know it as Radio Day, a commemoration of an event that occurred on May 7, 1895…

“It was on this date that [Alexander] Popov read a paper in the Physics Department of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society entitled, On the Relation of Metal Powders to Electric Oscillations.

“Alexander Popov: Inventor of Radio”, by M. Radovsky

Don’t you wish you could’ve been a fly on that wall?

Apparently, this was like being at opening night of Star Wars. Or maybe more akin to catching an Offspring concert back when they were playing coffee houses.

Either way, Popov’s demonstration of the practical application of electromagnetic signals at the Physics Department’s monthly meeting rocked the house, as evidenced by the official meeting minutes:

“A.S. Popov reported On the Relationship of Metal Powders to Electric Oscilliations… Utilizing the high sensitivity of metal powders to extremely weak electric oscillations, the speaker constructed an instrument designed to indicate rapid oscillations of atmospheric electricity.” — May 7, 1895

Say what you will, the Physics Department of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society knew how to party.

Russian family listens to early radio

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In Russia, it is a well established fact that Popov invented the radio. That ‘fact’ is, shall we say, less established in the West, where inventors like Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla got the credit, and more importantly, the patents.

Ultimately, the creation and application of radio technology was made possible by the combined efforts of several scientists who each added vital pieces to the puzzle that would soon change the face of civilization. In 1898, Tesla showed off a radio-controlled boat in Madison Square Garden. In 1899, Marconi sent a wireless signal across the English Channel. Sir Oliver Lodge and Heinrich Hertz also made significant contributions. And in 1906 Reginald Fessenden conducted the first music/entertainment broadcast.

And, as they say, the rest was hysteria.

Just 16 years later, the New Republic predicted…

“There will be only one orchestra left on earth, giving nightly worldwide concerts; when all universities will be combined into one super-institution, conducting courses by radio for students in Zanzibar, Kamchatka and Oskaloose; when, instead of newspapers, trained orators will dictate the news of the world day and night, and the bedtime story will be told every evening from Paris to the sleepy children of a weary world; when every person will be instantly accessible day or night to all the bores he knows, and will know them all: when the last vestiges of privacy, solitude and contemplation will have vanished into limbo.”

— “The Ether Will Now Oblige” Bruce Bliven, The New Republic, Feb. 1922

Within a few decades of Popov’s first demonstration, parents were already complaining about kids’ brains rotting away from listening to too much radio.

A 1930’s New York Times article describes the general sentiment of an Atlantic City Teachers Association meeting…

“The task of teaching young radio listeners to discriminate and interpret is one of the new responsibilities thrust on the school room by radio’s increasing popularity among children, according to I. Keith Tyler…

“‘Boys and girls are now listening to the radio more than two hours a day,’ he said. ‘Their attitudes are being affected, their tastes altered and their understanding of life developed by this experience with the radio. We must develop their abilities to discriminate and interpret. Our loudspeakers pour out a withering barrage of political, economic, and social propoganda; a flood of verbose sales talk and great quatities of mediocre clap-trap.'” — New York Times, November 1938

So kids, the next time your parents complain about you wasting all your waking hours addicted to mindless drivel spewed by wireless devices, tell them their folks were doing it too! And bonus points for using the phrase “great qualities of mediocre clap-trap“.

As for the next wave of the future, a radio with moving pictures that premiered at the 1939 World’s Fair, the Times didn’t have high hopes for it:

“The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued to the screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it. Therefore the showmen are convinced that for this reason, if no other, television will never be a serious competitor of broadcasting.” — New York Times editorial, 1939 [Futuring: the Exploration of the Future]

Spanish family listens to radio

Etymology:

The scientific breakthrough was originally known as “wireless telegraphy” and “wireless telephony”. Then “radio-telegraphy” and “radio-telephony”, referring to radiating energy (see definition above) like the prefix in radioactivity, and by 1906 the Telegraph Age reported:

“…the British post office…has adopted the word ‘radio’ as the designation for a wireless telegram.” — Telegraph Age, April 1906 (earlyradiohistory.us)

Indistinguishable From Magic – cityofsound.com

History of Radio — Who Invented the Radio?

Day of Hıdırellez

May 6

Hidrellez

The Day of Hıdırellez (Ruz-ı Hızır) tip-toes across national borders, stretches its limbs across feuding religions, and dances from one culture to another borrowing steps from each it passes.

The ancient spring festival is celebrated from Turkey to the Balkans. The word Hıdırellez itself is a mixed-up amalgamation of the names of the two well-traveled yet elusive prophets it recalls: Hızır and Ilyas (Elijah).

Hızır (Al-Khidr) means, literally, “the green one.” No, he’s not green, but he represents the spring and summertime. Or more accurately, the season lasting from May 6 to November 8 known as Hızır günleri, or “days of Hızır.” Hızır watches over and protect his followers, and is responsible for the growth of crops. Pictured with a long white beard and large white turban…

Hızır walks the earth with more men than any other Moslem immortal…Hızır is the last-minute rescuer from disaster, a deus ex machina, when all other assistance, natural and supernatural, has failed.

Walker & Uysal, An Ancient God in Modern Turkey

Hizir kicks it with Alexander the Great

The other season of the Turkish folk calendar lasts from November 8 to May 6. It’s called Kasım günleri, roughly “Days of November”. On May 6 Hızır reaches out his hand to grasp that of his colleague Ilyas, aka Elijah, a prophet from the Qur’an, the New Testament, and the Old Testament.

If you make a wish on Hıdırellez night…

“…it will come true if one just remains alert enough to glimpse the embrace of the star-Lords Hizir and Ilyas in the sky.

— G.W.Trompf

Before Islam, Christianity, and maybe even the Greeks, Hızır was an ancient pagan spring deity, symbolizing water and growth. He gained immortality by drinking of the Spring of Life.

In the Qur’an, Hızır guides the prophet Moses on his journey. He tells Moses he can come along, as long as Moses promises not to talk. After the duo make a safe passage on a friendly ship, Hizir damages the ship, making it unseaworthy. Moses breaks his promise and chastises Hizir for doing such a thing. Later, Hizir and Moses are denied shelter in a town. Leaving, Hizir pauses to mend a crack in the city wall. Again Moses breaks his promise, this time to chide Hizir for rewarding an enemy. Hizir explains his actions. Soon, he explains, there will be a war, and the king will conscript all seaworthy ships, which is why he temporarily damaged the good captain’s ship. As for the wall, he explains a good man hid his money in the wall before he died. Hizir mended the wall keep the treasure protected for the man’s orphan children.

Hızır is the patron saint of travelers, which is why the Roma (Gypsies) revere him. It is they who helped to spread this spring festival from Anatolia to the Balkans (or vice-versa) and beyond. Today Hıdırellez is celebrated with plenty of live music, dancing, picnics and outdoor entertainment into the night.

“Jumping over a bonfire, something that is also seen during Nevruz celebrations, is significant in that fire is seen as a cleansing force, and so leaping over flames on Hıdırellez is also believed to be one way to wash away bad spirits and enter into the new season with a cleansed being.

— Julia Konmaz

Other traditions include the making of yogurt. And the “play of the wish.”

Everybody throws a sign into the pot holding water…sweet basil, mint, ‘mantuvar’ flower in addition to usually ring, earring, etc. The pot is covered with a cloth on the eve of Hıdırellez and placed under a rosewood.

The next day, girls stand by as one-by-one their items are drawn from the pot. Whichever song is sung when each girl’s item is removed, dictates what the year has in store for her. Song themes range anywhere from ‘love’ to ‘living abroad.’

So this Hıdırellez make a wish! And watch the skies…

Hızır Arrives with Drops from Heaven

Ahirkapi Hidirellez Festival

Constitution Day – Japan & Poland

May 3

May 3 is Constitution Day in two countries on opposite sides of the globe.

May 3 Constitution, by Jan Matejko, 1891

Poland’s most recent constitution dates only to 1997, but it stems from the Constitution of May 3, 1791, one of the oldest codified constitutions in the world. Only the Constitution of the United States is older. [The Constitution of San Marino dates to 1600, but apparently is not codified enough to compete with the big boys. — Ed.]

The 1997 Constitution was a response to Poland’s changing position in the world, from a one-party socialist state under the control of its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, to a multi-party independent state.

The Japanese Constitution was put into effect on May 3, 1947. Its creation dealt with Japan’s changing role in the world after World War II. The Constitution altered not only the government—a government in which the Emperor would have less say in matters of state—but also the Japanese way of life. The Constitution protects standard basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but goes one step further. Article 19, for example, proclaims:

“Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated.”

One of the most long-reaching impacts of the Constitution is Article 9, which deals with the renunciation of warfare:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

So you’re probably thinking, No military? I could go over there with a dinghy and a BB gun and take over the country!

You would be met with a surprisingly powerful defense force. Japan still maintains its ability to defend its homeland, and…

“By 1990 estimates of Japan’s defense budget were that it was either the third or fourth largest in the world and Japan’s SDF was a high technology fighting force.”

The Rule of Law in Japan — Carl F. Goodman

Japan’s Constitution Day falls right in the middle of “Golden Week”, a congruence of four holidays, beginning with Showa Day (April 29) and ending with Children’s Day (May 5).

Japan’s Commission on the Constitution — the Final Report, 1980

Witches Night – Walpurgisnacht

April 30

Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
the stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
with witches a-farting on stinking old goats.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Exactly six months before Halloween, the Germans and Scandinavians celebrate Walpurgis Night, May-Eve, Beltane, or Hexennacht, aka Witches’ Night.

According to legend, on the last night of April, witches would meet at Hexentazplatz (Witches’ Dancing Place, conveniently named in case you got lost and had to ask a tourist) near the town of Thale in northern Germany. From there they would fly upon broomsticks to the highest point in the Harz Mountains, a summit called “The Brocken.”

At the Brocken there they would dance with the devil, a horned he-goat demon named Lord Urian, who would grant them mystical powers…for a price. Scarier than even the orgiastic rituals of Walpurgis Night, is the unholy marriage of Google-translation and the German language in describing this event:

“On the chunk of dance legend after all witches in a large circle around the fire and then the devil kiss the butt. Then you can have with the devil marry and receive from him magic powers.”

Don’t be Frightened!

OK, be a little frightened. For centuries, tales spread of sordid revels atop the Harz Mountains. To this day, the Brocken is haunted by the spirits of angry tourists who felt cheated having yet to encounter a single supernatural event.

There are many reasons this mountaintop became synonymous with the dark legends of Deutschland. Its inaccessible height and remote location for one—okay, that’s two actually. Also, the region wasn’t settled until after 1000 AD. (That’s the German equivalent of 1950 in America.) And perhaps most important, the Brocken is the site of an unusual and eerie optical illusion known as the Brockengenspenst, or the “Brocken spector.”

“As the sun sinks, the shadow of a walker cast from a ridge becomes magnified and an enormous silhouette appears on low-lying clouds or mist banks below the mountain. Although it’s only a shadow, the distant “specter” appears to be walking at the same pace, doggedly tracking the observer’s path.”

— Season of the Witch – Walpurgisnacht in Germany’s Harz Mountains

In other words, in the centuries before the meteorological sciences, many a Brocken hiker were spooked by their own shadows. At least one visitor was literally frightened to death.

Germany may not have been the birthplace of the witch, but it did propagate the image of the witch as we know it today, through its literature, legends, and its ‘litigation’:

“Between 1623 and 1633, the prince-bishops of two Bavarian towns, Wƒrzburg and Bamburg, ordered the burning of at least fifteen hundred “witches” between them. The victims of Wƒrzburg’s bishop included his own nephew, nineteen priests, and a child aged seven. One reason why medieval Germany developed an obsession with stamping out “witchcraft” may lie in the food that was being eaten. If the weather is warm and damp, rye (then a staple crop) can produce a poisonous fungus called ergot. Hallucinations, fits, pinpricking sensations, muscle spasms: the symptoms of ergotism are similar to the effects of LSD, which itself is derived from ergot.”

Witches of the Harz Mountains

Walpurgis got its name from an 8th century saint. Walpurgis had nothing to do with witches, but April 30 was her feast day. In the Church’s effort to Christianize Germany’s tenacious pagan roots, they made Walpurgis Night about Walpurgis’ fight with the dark forces of paganism.

Yet still the pagan rituals continue to this day…

Walpurgis Night, the time is right
The ancient powers awake.
So dance and sing, around the ring
And Beltane magic make.

Doreen Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow

Brocken postcard

Brocken “Money” – a tourist gimmick from the 1920s

Brocken postcard collection from the late 19th/early 20th century.

 

 

Armenian Genocide

April 24

 

“If a man is killed in Paris, it is a murder; fifty thousand throats are cut in the East and it is a question.” –Victor Hugo

Hugo died 30 years before the Armenian Genocide of 1915, but his quote could be applied to it—just multiply by thirty.

The Armenian Genocide has been called the first genocide of the twentieth century.

In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I, and immediately met crushing defeats against the Russians to the north. Blaming the losses on Armenian traitors, the government conscripted mass numbers of Armenian men, removed them of their weapons, and forced them into labor camps.

The reason April 24 is chosen to memorialize the dead, is because on April 24 over 200 of the most prominent Armenian leaders and intellectuals were rounded up and arrested. Up until then Armenian arrests and executions had not been widely reported.

The following month the government announced the Temporary Deportation Law which allowed for the temporary relocation of anyone deemed a threat to national security. In September the Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation expanded their authority: land, livestock, homes, and belongings of Armenians was to become government property.

The Armenians were taken to deserts, concentration camps, and other remote locations by the hundreds of thousands. Men, women, and children were either left to starve or executed.

The Turkish government today disputes the numbers of those killed, and the extent of government involvement, claiming for example, that many of the deaths were the result of poor farming weather that coincided with the relocation.

News of the atrocities were reported in the West at the time, and even the Ottoman’s allies during WWI, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, expressed concern over the mass deportations and executions of the Ottoman Empire’s Christians.

Years later a German statesman would ask, “Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

But he didn’t say it out of pity. It was Adolf Hitler, speaking to his generals, using it as a justification for the future invasion of Poland and the Jewish Holocaust.

April 24

Armenians Are Sent to Perish in Desert – Turks Accused of Plan to Exterminate Whole Population – People of Karahissar Massacred – NY Times – Aug. 18, 1915

Nothing Personal / Among the Deniers

Obama Avoids G-word, Brands Armenian Killings a “Great Atrocity”– 2009

Shakespeare and World Book Day

April 23

Hamlet, Don Quixote and Lolita walk into a book…

Ok, so when your oh-so-sophisticated city friends are hobnobbing at tonight’s World Book Day soiree, you—you who fell asleep watching Pride & Prejudice because you were too lazy to read the book in English class—can wow them with this little-known literary anomaly.

It is one of the literary world’s most bizarre coincidences that Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, each perhaps the greatest writer is his respective language, died on the exact same date: April 23, 1616.

Strange as that is, it gets much stranger. Despite dying on exact the same date, the two legendary scribes died over 200 hours apart.

Question:

Who died first?

Answer:

Of course Cervantes died first. And you know this because you’ve been reading about the evolution of the European calendar on everydaysaholiday.org.

Or because you had a 50-50 chance and guessed right.

Either way, the real question is, how is this possible?

William Shakespeare Miguel de Cervantes

So how could Cervantes and Shakespeare die ten days apart if they died on the same date?

Though Spain and English were using a similar calendar back in the 17th century, Spain had already converted to the Gregorian Calendar. Back in the 1500s, astronomers noticed that over the course of 1500 years the Julian Calendar had veered from the solar year by approximately ten days. To fix this they added a new rule — no leap days in years that end in 00*. And to offset the ten days they’d swayed, the Gregorian Calendar simply “skipped” 10 days. (ie., one day in 1582, Italians and Iberians went to bed on October 4 and woke up on October 15.)

England, ever the traditionalist, didn’t switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752, over a century after the Bard’s death.

This anomaly made April 23 an ideal date for the United Nations to create an international holiday celebrating literature. It also helps that not only did Shakespeare die on April 23, he was probably born on April 23 as well. Though no records exist to confirm Shakespeare’s birthday, it is assumed to be April 23, 1564, three days before his recorded baptism.

So today World Book Day is celebrated on April 23.

…Except in England, the Bard’s homeland, where it’s celebrated in March, because that’s the way they roll. And April 23 was already taken. It’s dedicated to England’s patron St. George.

(April 23 is also the birthday of famed Russian scribe Vladimir Nabokov—author of fun-for-the-whole-family classics like Lolita.)

*(except years divisible by 400. ie., 1700, 1800, 1900 = regular year; 1600, 2000 = leap year)

St George’s Day

April 23

The legend of St. George has been heralded around the world ever since the publication of The Golden Legend, a compilation of the lives of saints, which took for fact the mythic tale of St. George and the Dragon.

All that we really know for sure about St. George is that he was a soldier in the Roman army at the end of the third century AD, he was apparently of noble birth, of Christian parentage, and he was executed on the orders of Diocletian on April 23 in the year 303 in Palestine.

It is believed the reason for his execution was his protestation of the persecution of Christians. Fifth century documents indicate that he was imprisoned, tortured–in an effort to force a renunciation of Christianity–and beheaded when torture proved ineffective.

Much that we previously thought to be fact about George may have been the result of confusing him with other Georges. His birth in Turkey in 270 may have actually been that of George, Bishop of Cappadocia who lived around the same time.

Before he was the patron saint of England, George was already the patron saint of soldiers, rumored to have been seen fighting alongside Crusader forces in the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Richard I later declared his Crusading army to be under the protection of St. George’s watchful eye.

As for the dragon, the legend was spread by the 13th century’s The Golden Legend, which set the scene between George and the Dragon in Lybia. There a town is terrorized by a dragon who demands sheep to devour, and occasionally children, who are selected by lottery. (Note: April 23 is also Children’s Day)

George slays the dragon, frees the townsfolk, and wins the girl. The story may have been the result of the retelling of George’s defiance of Diocletian, symbolized as a satanic demon or dragon.

About the time of Golden Legend, St. George became the Patron of the Knights of the Garter, and later of all England.

Shakespeare coincidentally died on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1616. He reflected England’s faith in their patron hero when he scribed one of the most quoted speeches of his works, Henry V’s rallying cry to his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt. The one that begins “Once more unto the breach” and climaxes with:

“…there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry
‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”