The Call to Arms of Kuzma Minin in Novgorod in 1611
The Russian parliament passed a “Declaration of Russia’s State Sovereignty” on 12 June 1990. This document declared the independence of the Russian Federative Republic from the Soviet Union. Next year, Boris Yeltsin, the then-president of the Russian Federation, decreed this June day as a state holiday under the name “Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation”. So, from 1991 this “Day of Adoption….” of 12 June was made the number-one official holiday of Russia and a day off. Two years later, in 1993, this holiday was renamed “Independence Day”. To many people, this title sounded strange. Russia was never a colony like other nations marking an Independence Day, like, say, Bolivia and Argentina celebrating independence from Spain, or the United States from Great Britain. Nine years later, in 2002, when it became clear that most Russians did not understand “from whom they had declared independence”, this holiday was again renamed to become “Russia Day”. So, in 11 years, this date was renamed three times, a fact that may merit its entry into the Guinness Book of World Records…
This 12 June marks the 17th anniversary of this holiday, but it has yet to sink in with many Russians. According to a poll taken this June, only half of Russians gave the correct name of this holiday. Five years ago, only a third felt sure about it. Looks like tangible progress… however, when asked, “Do you take 12 June as a national holiday or just as an extra day off?” only a quarter of Russians said it was a “national holiday”. Five years ago this answer was given by 12 percent. Again, we have positive progress here, during five years the share of Russians for whom 12 June is a national holiday doubled, thanks in part to former President Vladimir Putin, who took special efforts to promote this holiday. For example, to add prestige to Russia Day, Putin used the occasion as a time to deliver the State Prizes of the Russian Federation. Each prize carries an award of 180,000 dollars. In one of his Russia Day speeches, Putin explained that this holiday was a tribute to “the historic choice that the Russian people conscientiously made at the start of the 1990s”. Sounds great, but, anyway, mid-June isn’t the best time for grand celebrations in Russia… too many people are off on summer holiday or are spending the day off at their country houses.
Any nation needs national symbols like an anthem, flag, coat of arms, and national holidays. The New Russia that emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union developed a set of new national symbols. Some are borrowed from its imperial past, like its tri-colour flag, the double eagle, and national holidays. Nevertheless, it takes time for ordinary people to get used to new national symbols, to digest them. Some of the new symbols failed, such as a new Russian anthem suggested by the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin. It proved to be so unpopular that Putin replaced it with the old Soviet anthem, although with different lyrics. Yeltsin also introduced Constitution Day as a national holiday to celebrate the new 1993 constitution of Russia. However, this day didn’t go down well with the general public, and Putin abolished it in 2005. That same year, the government introduced a new national holiday, The Day of National Unity to commemorate the popular uprising which ejected the Polish invaders from Moscow on 4 November 1612.
The Day of National Unity alludes to the fact that all classes of Russian society united to preserve Russian statehood when its demise seemed inevitable. Most observers view the introduction of the Day of National Unity on 4 November as an attempt to replace the old Communist 7 November Revolution holiday. According to a nation-wide poll taken last year, 4 out of 10 Russians feel that there’s no need for this new holiday. Some 20 percent gave a “hard to say” response. Today, the only national holiday marked by 95 percent of Russians is Victory Day, celebrated on 9 May. This is the only truly nation-wide holiday binding Russians of all walks of life, apart from New Year’s Day, of course. As for Russia Day on 12 June, only a quarter of Russians perceive it as a national holiday so far. I think this is normal, a new national holiday is a slow-growing plant. It has to mature over generations.
11 June 2008
Voice of Russia World Service