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Moscow Times
January 16, 2007
Deputies Pining for 44 Days of Christmas
By Kevin O'Flynn
Staff Writer

It may have felt like time stood still during the nine-day New Year's holiday. But if some State Duma deputies get their way, next January's respite from the real world will be even longer.

Their long-shot proposal is to move the country back to the pre-revolutionary, Julian calendar, adding 13 days to the year 2008 -- in Russia, at least.

Deputy Alexander Fomenko, of the People's Will-SEPR-Patriots of Russia faction, is spearheading the effort, which would reset Russia's calendar beginning Jan. 1 of next year.

"We need to go back to our past," Fomenko said in a recent interview, "to before the revolution of 1917, when that cruelest of Westernizing projects was first implemented."

The bonus holiday would come at the very beginning of the year, with Russia adhering to both calendars for nearly two weeks before switching to the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar favored elsewhere.

The prolonged January would run 44 days.

The Bolsheviks moved Russia to the Gregorian calendar in 1918, centuries after most European countries had changed.

Pope Gregory XIII proposed the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century to replace the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. It was soon adopted by most European countries.

Moving back to the Julian calendar would send a clear nationalist statement, Fomenko said.

Many of Russia's most important historical events -- for instance, the October revolution, which now falls in November -- are celebrated on the wrong day, he said.

"All the real civilizations, like China and Islam and the Jews, have their own calendar," Fomenko said.

Indeed, the Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar, celebrating Christmas on what the Gregorian calendar calls Jan. 7 and New Year's Eve on Jan. 13.

This creates scheduling problems for pious Orthodox churchgoers. "It is means the faithful are forced to witness all kinds of bacchanalia on the New Year's holidays," he said.

"The church is in favor," he added. "We know that."

But the church has refused to take a position on the calendar debate.

"This is not a church initiative," church spokesman Father Sergei Zvonaryov said. "We believe that before such a decision is made -- which affects the whole of Russian society -- it deserves to be debated by those who are nonreligious and those who belong to the Orthodox faith."

The Church experimented with the Gregorian calendar in 1923. But that lasted for only one month, after which the church reversed its decision, Zvonaryov said. The controversial move had threatened to split the church.

On top of any religious or cultural benefits, Fomenko said the Julian calendar was more astronomically accurate -- even though it was the accuracy question that led the pope to switch to the Gregorian calendar in the first place.

The Julian calendar loses one day per century, meaning that if Russia reverts to its old ways the gap separating the two calendars will grow to 14 days in the early 22nd century.

Calendar reform has often been met with heated opposition. When Britain changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1751, cutting 11 days from the calendar, there were said to be riots and cries of: "Give Us Our Eleven Days!"

One political analyst said Fomenko was just trying to build publicity for himself.

"He's appealing to nationalist and Russian Orthodox feelings and to those who are against the West," said Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

Petrov put Fomenko's odds of success at zero, saying "the closer we get to elections, the more active the deputies become -- especially those who aren't so recognizable -- as they try to show voters and party leaders that they are playing an important role."

Fomenko's proposal is also supported by deputies Sergei Baburin, Nikolai Bezborodov and Sergei Glotov, all from the People's Will-SEPR-Patriots of Russia faction, which is known for its nationalist-populist leanings.

This is not the first time, incidentally, that Fomenko is pushing his plan to turn back the clock 90 years. Last year, the proposal was immediately rejected.

But Fomenko is more hopeful now, saying that with the parliamentary elections on the horizon, "anything can happen."