Russia celebrates Napoleon defeat with gunshot and fire

Tue Sep 6, 2011 11:20am EDT
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By John Bowker

BORODINO, Russia (Reuters) - Three ear-splitting gunshots pierce the country air, a cavalry unit gallops across the forest clearing, and several thousand Russian spectators gasp and shriek with delight.

The Battle of Borodino -- 2011 redux -- has begun.

A burning thatched house provides the backdrop to the next phase of maneuvers, as French troops under direction from the Emperor Napoleon take control of a marshy stream and try to push back their Russian enemies.

This is the annual re-enactment of the 1812 Battle of Borodino between Russia and the invading French army, staged by hundreds of volunteer actors and military enthusiasts in a field around 120 km (745 miles) west of Moscow.

As Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture blares from loudspeakers, the participants shoot at each other with cannon fire and clash with cutlasses on horseback.

"This was our great victory. Napoleon had conquered the whole world except Britain," said spectator Oleg Ovchinnikov, 38, attending the reenactment of the battle for the eighth time.

Historians estimate that some 250,000 soldiers were involved in the actual conflict, with 70,000 casualties between the two sides.

Although the French are considered to have won the battle, it has come to be seen nearly two centuries later as a Russian victory in all but name -- a success that is celebrated with a battle re-enactment around the September 7 anniversary every year.   Continued...