Debunking myths and lies about the St. George ribbon


November 2, 2015 – 

Svyatoslav Knyazev, PolitRussia – 

Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski

“The St. George ribbon and the Vlasovtsy: an offensive myth” 

A Google query concerning connections between the Vlasovtsy and the St. George ribbon produces around 300,000 links. The history of the alleged use of the St. George ribbon by the ROA (Russian Liberation Army) among its awards diverges widely, and is “yoked” with several other black myths.

I propose to formulate the main ones, sort them out in connection which how they began to spread, and finally explain historical truth. 

Myth #1: The St. George ribbon was used among the awards of Vlasov’s ROA.

Myth #2: The St. George ribbon doesn’t have anything in common with the Soviet symbols of Victory in the Great Patriotic War and it wasn’t used in the USSR.

Myth #3: The Soviet guard ribbon and the symbolism associated with it has no relationship with and in general has even different colors than the St. George ribbon.

Myth #4: St. George awards weren’t worn in the Soviet Army and people could be put up against the wall for it. 

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How did these myths originate and under what circumstances did they begin to spread?

In fact, they most likely originated as a reaction to the “St. George ribbon” action held since 2005 on the initiative of RIA “Novosti” and the ROOSPM “Student Community.” From the outset, there were some isolated cases, without any noticeable effect, so to say, in the information realm.

Thus, the real burst of myth-making and attacks on the St. George ribbon dates back to 2013-2014 and continues to this day. It is first and foremost associated with events in Ukraine.

Why is this so? There were two reasons for this: one is “deep,” and the second is “superficial.” The deep reason lies in that Victory in the Great Patriotic War, even in the early 2000’s, was an important unifying factor for most of the post-Soviet space, as for the population of Ukraine. In order steer Ukraine onto another course, it was necessary to discredit this Victory. And the St. George ribbon, in the eyes of people, was an important, symbolic tribute associated with May 9th. In 2011, radical nationalists attacked veterans of the Great Patriotic War in Lvov, tore off their St. George ribbons, and then demonstratively stamped on them. Then an outrage was sparked among much of the population of Ukraine. The people weren’t ready for a big Maidan…And then anti-Soviet and anti-Russian propaganda worked with new force. We all know what this led to two years later. 

The superficial reason is that St. George ribbons quickly became symbols of the social movement “Anti-Maidan,” which emerged as a reaction to events in Kiev and in Western Ukraine in 2013-2014. The people who prepared the coup needed to discredit the participants of “Anti-Maidan,” and therefore it was necessarily to discredit all of their symbolism. 

Then there was the uprising in the South-East, and the ribbons began to exert the same effect on Kiev and Ukrainian radicals that the cloak of a bullfighter has on a bull.

Here are excerpts from the myth-making on this subject:

On April 27, 2014, the blog of Aleksey Kovalenko wrote: “The St. George ribbon was used during the Great Patriotic War not in the army of the USSR, but in the Russian Liberation Army of Vlasov which fought on the side of the fascists.”

This material then began to “hang around” Ukrainian media and the blogosphere. The journalist Aleksandr Nevsorov played his hand well at this process:

Read the comments of Ukrainian “patriotic” users under the video. Much interesting can be gained from the point of view of studying human nature…

And here is from the “We are for Yuliya Timoshenko” group. The text is proposed as a kind of historical guide which can help one “outdo a vatnik”:

“The St. George ribbon continued to be used in the award systems of the White Armies. In the period of the Great Patriotic War, it was used in the Russian Corps (included in the ROA and parts of the Wehrmacht), which fought on the side of Germany.” 

That is, from this “genius” text we should draw the conclusion that the St. George ribbon was reportedly used in the award systems of the ROA.

In fact, this “manual” was widely circulated on social networks, forums, and the blogosphere. 

Excerpts from it are accompanied by reflections on the subject that in the USSR the guard ribbon was exclusively used, and that it had no relationship with the St. George ribbon. And this is confirmed even by different color schemes. Supposedly, the St. George ribbon was yellow and black and the guard ribbon was orange and black. 

Let’s move on from myths to the true state of affairs.

The St. George ribbon was instituted in the Russian Empire in 1769 and named in honor of Victorious George. It was supplemented with a white, equilateral cross or a four-pointed golden star. Depending on the class of the cavalier, it was worn either as a button, around the neck, or over the shoulder.

The order statute of 1769 indeed described it as yellow and black. But in practice, the colors were not strictly respected. In particular, in the famous portrait of Mikhail Kutuzov in 1813, he was pictured with an orange and black ribbon! 

In the end, the orange color caught on and was officially enshrined in the statute of 1913. So all the arguments about the “different color schemes” of the St. George and Guard ribbon are nothing more than lies, manipulations, and fantasies.

After the October Revolution, when Lenin and Trotsky were at the peak of their power, many Russian traditions in the newly created Soviet state were rejected. The St. George ribbon was affected as well. In the White movement, the ribbon of “St. George colors,” by contrast, was used.

But after power in the USSR found itself in the hands of Stalin, Russian traditions little by little returned to life. This included military traditions. With the start of the war, this process was dramatically accelerated. Under Stalin, many Russian ranks and insignia returned to the Soviet army. Indeed, the St. George ribbon returned as well. Only the name (with obvious religious overtones), for obvious reasons, was not used. 

Nevertheless, in 1942, the orange and black ribbon appeared on the Naval Guard flag and on the cap of sailors. And this ribbon wasn’t merely “thought up,” as they used this earlier in the Russian army and navy. 

In 1943, independently of the Guard ribbon, the orange and black ribbon appeared on the Order of Glory, according to the statute and colors of which the St. George cross was practically repeated. Can you imagine? Here is your “it wasn’t used…”

And on May 9, 1945, the orange and black ribbon, once again independently even of the Guard ribbon, appeared on the medals “For Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.”

And precisely thanks to these medals, even during the time of the USSR such a ribbon (which was practically the St. George one) became one of the main symbols of Victory. After a few minutes of Google searching, the author of these lines found a few dozen samples of the Soviet holiday postcards released between the 1960’s and 1980’s, which were decorated more than once with the orange and black ribbon. And, I’ll emphasize, the context of these images clearly indicates that the ribbon was not associated with the Guard one of the Order of Glory. It appears as an independent symbol associated with the Order of the Great Patriotic War, the Order of Victory, and the Golden Star of Hero of the Soviet Union. 

Well, now let’s move on to the dirtiest myth, the one of the “Vlasovtsy.”

We will not engage in demagogy, and we will state one simple fact. No such “Vlasovtsy” awards with the St. George symbol ever existed. 

The ROA and other “regular” collaborationist units were included in the structure of the Wehrmacht and SS and used the official awards of the Third Reich.

In the Third Reich there were crosses, medals, and shields. There were different kinds of icons, but there were no such St. George ribbons!

At the beginning of the war, representatives of the eastern peoples (Slavs, Caucasians, Central Asians, etc.) were often awarded crosses, which was contrary to regulations. Over time, this began to happen less often. In 1942, the awards “for merit” and “for courage” were especially established for the “eastern peoples” as relative counterparts “for Germans,” but they were all different, even in appearance. That awards “for eastern peoples” were made in the shape of a star is most likely explained by the fact they were often handed over to Muslims, and the use of the cross in this case turned out to be quite incorrect. In addition, representatives of the “eastern peoples” continued to be rewarded along with Germans with medals of the Reich as a whole. As we have seen, there were no such St. George crosses or ribbons. 

What where does this myth come from? It’s all very simple. A number of representatives of the higher leadership of the ROA and the national formations of the SS had been St. George cavaliers on account of their participation in the First World War. Some of them continued to wear their St. George crosses. And that’s it!

But, excuse me! Were their no St. George cavaliers in the Red Army? There were! And there were many more than in the Wehrmacht! There was Zhukov, Rokossovsky, Tyulenev, and thousands of others! Part of them didn’t believe it necessary to wear awards from the “past” government, and part of them openly wore them. This included active servicemen, who wore them alongside Soviet orders and medals. Many St. George crosses hung side by side with red stars, orders of the Great Patriotic War, medals “for courage,” and even with the Golden Star of Hero of the Soviet Union. And nothing. No one shot them. 

In general, all the stories about “Vlasovtsy” ribbons are a result of the vile and vicious lies of certain people with terrible illiteracy and susceptibility to manipulation. 

Therefore, the St. George ribbon is a source of pride. But the “iron crosses” and awards of “eastern peoples”, received in the Third Reich by contemporary heroes of Ukraine – now this is the real shame.

Russian liberals and Ukrainian nationalists have once again confirmed their reputation as “children of lies.” However, they can’t be anything else. In principle, they have no truth in them whatsoever. 

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