CHARGE!: Oleg Sokolov leads his troops, retracing Napoleon’s steps.
KAUNAS - A stubby Napoleon Bonaparte waves his characteristic bicorne hat in an impassioned signal to hundreds of troops, launching a re-run of France’s failed invasion of Russia two centuries ago, reports AFP.
“Vive la France, vive la Pologne,” cries the French emperor on horseback to the enthusiastic cheers of hundreds of troops decked out in 19th-century military garb. The emperor and his troops were poised for action Saturday on the banks of the river Nemunas in Kaunas, with more than 1,000 history buffs re-enacting Bonaparte’s June 24, 1812 assault on Czarist Russia.
This time around, they were under the command of Oleg Sokolov, a professor in Paris at the Sorbonne University. “Events like this are my life,” Sokolov, who is Russian, told AFP. Sokolov was resplendent in a division general’s dark blue uniform with a red stripe and golden epaulettes.
“Recreating a battle with cannons, horses and sabres is much more serious stuff than theater or a movie,” Lithuanian history enthusiast Arvydas Pociunas, the Czarist Russian chief-of-staff for the day, said. “You must keep a sharp eye out every second,” he explained.
The spectacular re-enactment drew participants from France, Russia and across the region, including Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, organizers said.
The original crossing of the river Nemunas in Lithuania was Napoleon’s first step on what in the end was a doomed march through western Russia. For Lithuania, the French general’s arrival raised hopes that it could break free from imperial Russia.
“The arrival of Napoleon’s army brought a real and tangible hope for Lithuanians that the Russian empire could be defeated,” Lithuania’s Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene said in a welcoming address ahead of the re-enactment.
“By losing the battle in Russia, the emperor rushed back to France - and with him went Lithuania’s unfulfilled hopes to restore its lost independence with the help of France,” she added.
Lithuania and Poland only re-emerged as independent nations after World War I.