THE anniversary of the victory over Germany in World War II passed peacefully here yesterday, despite widespread fears of renewed violence between police and antigovernment demonstrators.
Communist and extreme Russian nationalist groups tried to hijack the festivities politically by mounting a march from Byelorussky Railway Station, where 48 years ago Muscovites welcomed home victorious soldiers, to the gates of the Kremlin in Red Square.
In the days preceding the demonstration there had been talk of a repeat of the May Day clash between hard-line opposition groups and police that left hundreds injured and one policeman dead. This time, however, the authorities made a last-minute decision to allow the demonstrators to flow unhindered all the way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin walls, and in an unusual gesture, onto Red Square itself.
President Boris Yeltsin, accompanied by other senior officials of his government, appeared earlier in the morning to lay wreaths at the tomb. He assured reporters that the day's celebrations would proceed without trouble. The police presence on the streets was light and yielding, though side streets were stacked with green trucks filled with waiting riot police.
An uncompromising mood was evident among the estimated 25,000 marchers who waved the red banner of the defunct Soviet Union and the yellow, black, and white tricolor of Imperial Russia. "We will be victorious; we will smash the fascist authorities," proclaimed a banner as the crowd moved down Tverskaya Ulitsa, a boulevard that is being revived as a shopper's paradise with foreign corporate investment. Communist marchers carried portraits of Stalin and Lenin in seeming oblivion past a billboard advertisin g Snickers candy bars.
Anti-Semitism, a staple of these rallies, was abundant. "Don't Sell Your Soul to Satan," urged a sign, accompanied by a Jewish Star of David. An angry man came up to denounce the "Zionist-Masonic" conspiracy responsible for all things wrong in Russia, and particularly for the Bolshevik revolution.
Anti-Western sentiments were also unconcealed. "Yankee Go Home," chanted a group in Red Square. "You foreigners want to put Russia onto its knees," an old man spit angrily at a group of Western reporters. "It's better to die on the barricades than live under the rule of CIA agents," another banner proclaimed.
A red banner with a Russian Orthodox icon of Jesus at its center captured the strange mixture of communist and ultra-nationalist themes that characterizes Russia's home-grown fascist movement.
The march flowed in serried ranks, veterans with their suit jackets covered with war medals and service ribbons out in front of each political formation. Up front, the politicians who have become the familiar faces of the hard-line opposition walked arm in arm: Sergei Baburin, the goatee-wearing leader of Russian Unity; Ilya Konstantinov, the stern, bearded leader of the National Salvation Front; Alexander Sterligov, the clean-shaven former KGB general and self-styled Russian nationalist.
A group of military veterans organized by the hard-line Union of Officers followed, led by Gen. Valentin Varennikov, the former Soviet Ground Forces commander also on trial for his part in the failed August 1991 putsch. "Yeltsin Nyet, Rossiya Da," chanted the National Salvation Front. "Long Live Russia, Soviet and Socialist," asserted the banners of the Russian Communist Party.
Many of the faithful proceeded into Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square, passing in respectful silence past the waxen embalmed corpse of the Bolshevik leader. Others laid flowers at the graves of Communist leaders behind the mausoleum, piling the greatest number at the foot of Stalin's marble visage.