By Paul Goble
There are five reasons why the Day of Russia that country’s population mark today without fully understanding what it means has not and is unlikely to become an equivalent of Independence Day in the United States or Bastille Day in France, according to Maksim Artemyev.
A scholar at the Russian State Humanities University, Artemyev says that in order to understand why that is so, one must consider how and why the holiday came into existence and why defining it more broadly would raise questions that the Kremlin would much prefer not get asked (ura.news/articles/1036271227).
The formal occasion for the Day of Russia holiday, the historian points out, was the adoption on June 12, 1990, of a declaration of state sovereignty by the RSFSR Supreme Soviet. First, that declaration was entirely unexpected by Russians and understood first and foremost as part of BorisYeltsin’s effort to weaken Mikhail Gorbachev rather than something more.
Second, this proclamation of sovereignty, which by the way until 2002, was commemorated by a Day of the Adoption of State Sovereignty by the RSFSR), then became yet another step toward the disintegration of the USSR, which “today is recognized as ‘the most serious geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.’”
Third, Artemyev says, “the declaration on its face was absurd: the USSR was historical Russia.” Its demise cost the country half of its population and left 25 million ethnic Russians in foreign countries whose borders represented “a legitimation” of the discredited policies of Lenin and Stalin.
Fourth, the vote in 1990 showed a fundamental confusion: even the communists voted for it, given that the results of the voting were 907 for, 13 against with nine abstentions.
And fifth, the Russian government has approached all holidays in an ad hoc and highly politicized way, simultaneously preserving Soviet holidays and marking what are anti-Soviet ones and changing the names and supposed content so often that no one can take any of them seriously or as anything more than a day off.
Holidays emerge for the population over a long period of time, during conditions of stability and as the people get used to and integrate them and their meaning into their own lives, the historian says. But in Russia “on the other hand,” given its atomized population, rapid changes, declining standard of living, there is as yet no basis for such real holidays.
That is why the Day of Russia hasn’t become a real holiday for Russians, one like the national days of the United States or France. And as long as that is the case, Russians will relate to June 12 – and other official holidays as well – either “ironically” or “fatalistically,” and view them as little more than a day off.