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7 May, 2009 14:47

St. George Ribbon recalls Russian heroism

As the 9th of May approaches, many may see it as just another day in the year. However in Russia, it is known as Victory Day, and marks the victory in World War II. It is one of the most important holidays in Russia.

In preparation for this holiday, you may start to see a particular orange and black striped ribbon appearing on cars, posters, bags, purses, and even our own correspondents and news anchors.

If you’re asking yourself what it means, then we are here to explain the importance of that small striped ribbon.

It’s called the Ribbon of St. George, and today it represents the commemoration of World War II, as well as being an important reminder of Russia’s heroic past. The ribbon consists of a bicolor pattern with three black stripes and two orange ones. It is believed that the colors represent smoke and fire.

The ribbon is not only connected to Russia’s triumph in WWII, it also traces its origins way back to the times of Imperial Russia, when it was introduced as the highest military decoration instituted by Catherine the Great. Known as the Military Order of the Saint Grand Martyr and the Triumphant George, the award came complete with the ribbon attached to a St. George cross. In some cases, when the full order was not bestowed, some were given ceremonial swords with the ribbon, or even Georgian-themed banners.

Veteran Search

On this website you’ll find a search tool that will allow you to look up over a million listed Soviet war veterans.

The award was abolished after the 1917 Revolution, although there was a similar award given after World War II, and it was once again re-established in 1994 by the Russian Federation. The award during Soviet times was devised in 1941. It was based on the Georgian ribbon design, and was to be worn on badges on the the right side of the chest.

Soldiers and officers who were directly involved in World War II received the ‘For the Victory Over Germany’ award, which used the St. George stripes.

Worn freely

Like the poppies worn in Great Britain, the Georgian ribbon is now worn freely today by all civilians to commemorate Victory Day.

It’s been five years since a campaign was launched to involve more young people in celebrating the winning of WWII – by offering the ribbons as accessories. “The victory of my grandfather is my victory” “I remember and I’m proud” – became the mottos behind the mass distribution of St. George ribbons.

Today, more than 45 million ribbons are being distributed throughout the world including in Ukraine, Estonia, Germany, Britain, the US, and China.

The United Nations headquarters in New York has launched Russia’s second annual St. George Ribbon campaign, in which May 8 and 9 have been designated as the Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation.

Worn in style

Most people attach the ribbon to clothes, bags, cars, antennas or arms.

Noubissi Bukam Herue from Cameroon, who studies in Moscow, celebrates Victory Day in Russia for the first time.

“I know for Russians it's a very special day, but it was a victory for the whole world, and I'm wearing this ribbon to show my immense respect to those who made it happen,” Herue says.

Among everyone else in the streets of Moscow, one can even spot Chinese tourists wearing the ribbons.

Of course, girls like Lilia Ivanova add a hint of glamour to the event. For her, the ribbon is a sign of historic pride and can look very fashionable on those who know how to wear it correctly:

“I feel very proud wearing it and I hope designers will pick up the idea and use the stripes in their collections. It looks very nice and meaningful,” Ivanova says.

The advertising industry will also be among the first to pick up the trend. The ribbon is even used by a Russian vodka brand.

“I wouldn't mind the commercialization of the Saint George ribbon. It has a great history. If the ads help people know their history better, let them use it,” historian Valery Durov admits.