COVID-19 outbreak or not, Europeans are not planning to forget or skip a date as important as Victory in Europe Day. It’s true that the 75th anniversary of the victory is being held with much less fanfare than previous VE Days, but most countries have still found a way to mark the occasion and pay their respects to those who fell defending their homelands against Nazi aggression.
The British government chose to commemorate its war heroes by sending nine of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows to fly over London, painting the skies in the colours of the Union Jack. Modern RAF fighter jets also roared through the skies across the country, flying by Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. The Royal Navy joined the celebrations by sounding the sirens on warships the very minute Winston Churchill announced the surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May.
REUTERS / Frank Augstein
People applaud as a WWII veteran walks past after two minutes of silence was observed in Whitehall in London, Friday, May 8, 2020 on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe
The famous speech was also broadcast by British TV as part of a larger VE Day programme, which included two minutes of silence in commemoration of the fallen soldiers that were commenced by Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, and will conclude with a speech given by Queen Elizabeth II.
While large gatherings are still forbidden in the UK due to the pandemic, a smaller wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Instead of going outside for celebrations, 10 Downing Street urged people to stay at home or go out to their doorsteps to jointly sing “We’ll Meet Again”, an iconic wartime song.
While the country has also kept the pandemic restrictions in place on VE Day, the government has still allowed small ceremonies that follow social distancing rules at local memorials to war heroes.
AP Photo / Michel Spingler
A veteran holds a French flag before a ceremony at a WWI and WWII monument in Lille, northern France, Friday May 8, 2020
Government officials adhered to the rules themselves, as President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by his predecessors François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as a small military choir singing the French national anthem, laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a statute of Charles de Gaulle, the general who led the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation.
Although VE Day for Germany is somewhat of a different occasion and is not a public holiday, with the exception of in Berlin this year, it’s still celebrated as the day of liberation from Nazi tyranny. The pandemic has forced all celebrations to be held at a minimum as the quarantine measures remain in place, but the country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and a few other politicians visited a memorial to the victims of war and violence in Berlin known as Neue Wache.
REUTERS / FABRIZIO BENSCH
A man with a Soviet flag attends a celebration to mark Victory Day and the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two at the Soviet War Memorial at Tiergarten Park in Berlin, Germany, May 8, 2020
Poland was one of the first countries to fall victim to Nazi aggression in 1939, losing six million people as a result. President Andrzej Duda attended a small wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, calling the VE Day this year a “bittersweet anniversary” in his speech.
REUTERS / DAVID W CERNY
A woman mourns at a grave of a Russian soldier at the Olsany cemetery to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Prague, Czech Republic, May 8, 2020
Similar Holidays, Different Days
However, not all European countries commemorate the fall of Nazi Germany on 8 May – for some, VE Day is earlier or even later. Italy celebrated its equivalent marking the liberation from the Benito Mussolini regime on 25 April, with people singing the anthem of the anti-fascist resistance, Bella Ciao, from their balconies while adhering to social distancing rules.
AFP 2020 / OLIVIER MATTHYS
Queen Mathilde of Belgium (L), King Philippe – Filip of Belgium (C) and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes (R) attend during a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument in Brussels, on May 8, 2020
Denmark and the Netherlands celebrated their VE Day on 5 May. In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima laid a wreath at the National Monument, with the monarch later addressing the nation.
Ukraine, which was previously a republic in the USSR, celebrates quite a different holiday on 8 May – for them, it is the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, something that appeared as part of the country’s policy to eradicate all links with its Soviet past. The country also celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May, but this year neither of the dates will see major events due to the quarantine, with only minor wreath-laying ceremonies taking place.
AP Photo / Mindaugas Kulbis
Lithuanian soldiers of the honour guard, wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, attend a memorial ceremony marking the 75nd anniversary of the end of World War II at the Paneriai memorial, Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, May 8, 2020
Russia, in turn, is celebrating Victory Day on 9 May, although this year the streets of Moscow will not see the traditional massive military parade marking the event. The parade has been postponed to a later date in anticipation of the end of the quarantine, with only an aerial programme being held on the anniversary day.