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June 12: holiday for the nation
RIA Novosti
June 10, 2005

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti commentator Vasily Kononenko) - June 12 is Russia Day. Unfortunately, the name of this holiday disorients the people completely.

Only recently, the nation celebrated it as "Independence Day." The Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was adopted on that day 15 years ago, burying the Soviet Union. But the ideological roots of the holiday split society into the supporters and opponents of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin.

In December last year, the State Duma approved amendments to the Labor Code, canceling Constitution Day on December 12 because it in effect duplicated Russia Day on June 12. The amendments provided for several new holidays, such as Day of National Unity (November 4), which replaced the revolutionary November 7 holiday.

All of these changes were made with the good intention to stop holidays from splitting society into proponents and opponents of the reforms. But it takes time to get used to new holidays.

Dmitry Polikanov, an expert with the National Public Opinion Research Center VTsIOM, said the majority of the people did not view Russia Day as a national holiday. When asked, 39% of respondents said it was just another day off and 19% simply did not know what it means. Only 16% were ready to celebrate it as the day when Russia became a sovereign and independent state (also implying democratic achievements).

Political scientists claim that the people's attitude to official holidays have changed in the last years. Fewer red-letter days are now celebrated as ideologically loaded holidays. Even May 1 and November 7, which the elder generations celebrated as their "class" holidays and initial stages of ideological battles, are increasingly becoming ordinary days off. Most people in Russia said New Year was the main holiday.

Sergei Reshulsky, the coordinator of the Communist Party faction in the State Duma, said, "Russia Day is an alien holiday because the people do not understand what it means. The main holiday for Communists is November 7."

Galina Mikhaleva, the chairman of the regional department of Yabloko, said the people should be advised of the importance of the day, which, she said, marked the birth of a new, democratic Russia.

Alexei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party is against celebrating the June 12 holiday, which was established personally for Boris Yeltsin (he was elected president on June 12, 1991). He said that April 12, when Yury Gagarin became the world's first man to orbit the earth, should be made a national holiday instead.

Andrei Zubov, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said, "National holidays should be born inside society. It means that society should start celebrating them before the authorities officially approve them. The time has not come yet for the main national holiday of a new Russia. As for 'Soviet holidays,' they will pass with the older generations."