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Fountains, brawls, and beer: Moscow celebrates Paratroopers’ Day

by Maria Stambler at 01/08/2013 21:11

On August 2, 1930, somewhere near Voronezh, a parachute subdivision of 12 men landed in the fields, giving rise to the Russian Airborne Troops Division, and a rambunctious yearly tradition that includes everything from splashing in fountains to getting into brawls: Paratroopers’ Day.

Every year since that date, Soviet and now Russian active and retired paratroopers, also known as the “Blue Berets” and considered to be the elite of the Russian Army, come out in their traditional striped shirts to celebrate their professional holiday. All across the country different festivities (performances, concerts, charity events, patriotic souvenir exhibitions and national crafts markets)  are organized in order to honor the Russia’s paratroopers.

Some ex-paratroopers, however, have their own idea of how to have fun on their special day - and it’s not always pretty. Often, it involves drinking copious amounts of alcohol, swimming in city fountains and even starting fights. On some occasions, paratroopers have been caught in mass scuffles with nationals from the Caucuses. Some have attacked members of the LGBT community or even got into brawls amongst themselves.

The Union of Paratroopers is working actively to ensure that festivities take on a more civilized form.

“We are not trying to change the nature of festivities radically,” Valery Yuriev, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Paratroopers Union, told The Moscow News in a phone interview. “This is a holiday that is celebrated throughout the country, but it is not organized by the government. We are trying to organize events that allow men to show their strength and do this in a civilized manner. We pay special attention to physical appearance, costumes and try not to make this day look like an oncoming natural disaster.”

In past years, Russian authorities have gone to great lengths to prevent violence, hooliganism and accidents, like deploying extra law enforcement troops and even pulling the plug on Moscow’s municipal fountains so as to prevent drunken paratroopers from drowning. The Federation of Migrants of Russia often issues a public warning to avoid parks, train stations and commuter trains, and anywhere else paratroopers might be celebrating.

This year, however, the General Command of the Russian Airborne Troops Division issued a statement that breaking bottles over their heads and swimming in the fountains “are all symbolic actions, which will not lead to any serious consequences.”

Traditionally, the main festivities in Moscow are held in Gorky Park on VDV Day. For this year’s event park authorities will organize a stage for musical performances by the “Blue Berets” band and hand out free watermelons. Organizers will set up a field kitchen and a special zone for children to play in.

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