Ribbon of Saint George
The Ribbon of Saint George or Saint George's Ribbon (Russian: Георгиевская ленточка, Georgiyevskaya lentochka) constitutes one of the most recognised and respected symbols of military valour in Russia. The ribbon consists of a black and orange bicolour pattern, with three black and two orange stripes. It appears as a component of many high military decorations awarded by Imperial, Soviet, and the current Russian Federation, including the recently revived Order of Saint George and the Cross of Saint George medal, as well as the Soviet Order of Glory award.
It is widely associated with the commemoration of World War II and especially with the units who were awarded the collective Guard battle honours during the conflict, due to the usage of the ribbon in the Great Patriotic War victory medal awarded to all personnel, civilian or military, who aided the war effort.
The ribbon of Saint George is also used by Russian civilians as a patriotic symbol. In Ukraine and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the symbol has become widely associated with Russian nationalist and separatist sentiment.
The Georgian ribbon emerged as part of the Order of Saint George, established in 1769 as the highest military decoration of Imperial Russia (and re-established in 1998 by Presidential decree signed by then President of Russia Boris Yeltsin. While the Order of Saint George was normally not a collective award, the ribbon was sometimes granted to regiments and units that performed brilliantly during wartime and constituted an integral part of some collective battle honours (such as banners and pennants). When not awarded the full Order, some distinguished officers were granted ceremonial swords, adorned with the Georgian ribbon.
In 1806, distinctive Georgian banners were introduced as a further battle honour awarded to meritorious Guards and Leib Guard regiments. The pike on which these flags were mounted was topped by the Cross of Saint George and adorned with 4,44 cm wide Georgian ribbons. It remained the highest collective military award in the Imperial Russian Army until the Revolution in 1917. It is worth noting that the tsarist version was yellow and black, not orange and black like the revived Soviet version.
The symbolism of the orange and black (or yellow and black) is thought to represent fire and gunpowder of war, or the death and resurrection of Saint George, or the colours of the original Russian imperial coat of arms (black eagle on a golden background).
The title of the Soviet Guards was first introduced on 18 September 1941 in accordance with the decision of the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (Russian: Ставка Верховного Главнокомандующего, Stavka, Verkhovnogo Glavnokomanduyushchego) and by the order No. 308 of the People's Commissar of Defense for the distinguished services during the Yelnya Offensive. The 100th, 127th, 153rd and 161st Rifle Divisions were renamed into the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Guards Divisions, respectively. The units and formations nominated for the Soviet Guard title received special Guards banner in accordance with the decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. On 21 May 1942, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR introduced Guards ranks and Guards badges to be worn of the right side of the chest. Both included the Georgian ribbon pattern. In June 1943, they introduced the Guards Red Banners for the land forces and in February 1944 - for the naval forces. Georgian ribbons adorned the banners exactly as in the 19th century.
Established on 8 November 1943, the Order of Glory (Orden Slavy) was an order of the Soviet Union. It was awarded to non-commissioned officers and the rank-and-file of the armed forces, as well as to junior lieutenants of the air force, for bravery in the face of the enemy. The ribbon of the Order was orange with three black stripes - the same as that of the Cross of Saint George.
One of the most honourable medals in the Soviet Union, the medal "For the Victory over Germany" (Russian: За победу над Германией, Za pobedu nad Germaniyey) also features Saint George stripes. It was awarded to all the soldiers and officers who participated in the Eastern Front campaigns, and was the first award to be universally granted to all the veterans, for the most part, right after the end of the war.
Georgievskaya Lenta Action
Since the 60th anniversary of the Victory Day in 2005, the ribbon is freely worn by civilians in Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union as an act of commemoration and remembrance. For the naming of the ribbons the diminutive form is used: георгиевская ленточка (georgiyevskaya lentochka, “small George ribbon”). It has since been distributed in Moscow, all over Russia, and around the world in the preparation for the event and is widely seen on wrists, lapels, and cars. The motto that goes with it is "We remember, we are proud!"
Use since 2014 pro-Russian conflict in Ukraine
During events of 2014 in Ukraine it was used by Antimaidan activists and pro-Russian population of Ukraine (especially in the south-east regions) as a symbol of pro-Russian and separatist sentiment. The ribbon is also worn by members of the Donbass People's Militia paramilitary group. Euromaidan activists sometimes make derogatory reference to the Ribbon of Saint George as the "Colorado Ribbon", as the colors of the ribbon coincide with the colors of a Colorado potato beetle.
In Kirovohrad, a decision was made by veterans to ban the symbol from Victory Day celebrations since it had become associated with separatist provocations. Instead, only Ukrainian state symbols would be used. In Cherkasy, authorities urged veterans and supporters not to wear the ribbon or any other party symbols.
A female police captain from Kharkiv was fired "for stupidity" for giving out the ribbon at the police station on 23 February 2015. In many former Soviet Republics, 23 February is Defender of the Homeland Day and recognized as "Men's Day." It was abolished in Ukraine in 2014 and replaced by another event. The pro-Russian separatist "Donetsk People's Republic" had declared it would reinstitute Defender of the Homeland Day.
On 5 May 2014, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union encouraged activists not to use the ribbon. Other officials reported that the decision not to use the symbol was related to the situation in Ukraine, "where the ribbon is used by militants and terrorists".
During preparation for the first Victory Day parade in the Canadian city of Winnipeg on 10 May 2014, the Russian embassy distributed Ribbons of Saint George to participants. The move was considered controversial in view of the ongoing events in Ukraine with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress calling the ribbon a "symbol of terrorism."
Some parties made statements intended to discourage the use of the ribbon in Kazakhstan in 2014 for Victory Day celebrations, suggesting that red (of the Red Army) and turquoise (the national color of Kazakhstan) should be used instead. However, no official authority issued any comments.
The government of Latvia proposed the ban on the use of any Ribbons of Saint George by law on May 2014; earlier, Latvia imposed a ban on the use of all Soviet symbols at public events.
Pro-Russian separatist Vostok Battalion member wearing a Saint George ribbon armband
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Ukraine’s Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads, The New York Times (4 May 2014)
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