Russia goes on holiday - and wonders exactly why

Source: RIA Novosti

Source: RIA Novosti

For most people a four-day weekend is simply a welcome chance to relax or party – but rival political factions are still planning to march.

A paltry 36 per cent could correctly name Thursday’s Day of National Unity, Moscow-based researchers at the Levada Centre found. But this is progress, as the figure has quadrupled from 2005 when then president Vladimir Putin re-introduced the tsarist-era holiday.

The low levels of awareness have not stopped the hard-liners and around 30,000 enthusiasts took to the streets of Moscow to show their support for the Kremlin and its policies, Nashi spokeswoman Maria Kislitsyna told RIA Novosti.
A complicated topic

The so-called Russian March is an annual patriotic mass demonstration in all major Russian cities and former soviet republics, held on Nov. 4. In Moscow 20,000 are turning out for pro-government youth group Nashi, and the remaining10,000 from Stal (Steel), Our Homes and other nationalist movements, RIA Novosti reported.

“This year the Russian March was hold under the aegis of the Federal Youth Agency and it became a virtual show of civil initiatives put forward by the largest public organizations in the country,” Kislitsyna said.

But Russian nationalism is a complicated term. For a start, there is the issue of ethnic Russian or “government for all citizens of the Russian Federation,” (regardless of ethnicity) as School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at University College London expert Dr Peter Duncan puts it.

The latter idea is the one the government holds onto, he told The Moscow News, and he adds that Nashi would not describe themselves as a nationalist movement – even though many of their critics do.
A tsarist festival

Putin rebranded the autumn holiday back to the Day of National Unity after a long hiatus in Soviet times. Under Communism the USSR celebrated on Nov. 7, the anniversary of the October Revolution, with the confused dates caused by the shift from the Julian to Gregorian calendars.

But the break-up of Soviet power saw red flag parades fall from favour, and there was no official holiday in autumn until Putin’s 2005 decision. Pensioners still cling on to the old ways and 29 per cent, especially men, will observe the Soviet holiday rather than the newly renamed one, say Levada.

“I don’t think this holiday really embodies any division,” liberal party A Right Cause co-chairman Grigory Bovt told Komsomolskaya Pravda. “It doesn’t contradict anything. You may say that, strictly speaking, there is no national unity…But this is no reason to cancel the holiday.”

Moderate conservative Yegor Kholmogorov was positively in favour of it, calling the Day of the October Revolution “the first day of fratricide,” and as such nothing to celebrate. He says the day of National Unity marked the end of a time of fratricide and as such is a worthy candidate for celebration.

The Day of National Unity commemorates the popular uprising which expelled the Polish-Lithuanian occupation from Moscow in 1612 and more or less ended the Time of Troubles and days of foreign invasions during the war with Poland, although the conflict didn’t properly finish until 1618.

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