New Russia celebrates its 20th birthday

June 12 is the Day of Russia, the country’s national holiday. On this day, exactly 20 years ago, the Soviet leadership signed the Declaration on State Sovereignty of Russia, which marked the start of democratic reforms.

As part of the celebrations, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has presented state awards to scientists and artists for their achievements in 2009.

“Today is the Day of Russia. I sincerely congratulate you and all the Russian citizens on this nationwide holiday,” Medvedev said speaking at the Kremlin, as quoted by RIA Novosti. The origins of the holiday, he said, date back to events that took place 20 years ago and were “the beginning of drastic democratic changes in our country.” According to the country’s leader, back then the entire world was on the threshold of serious transformation. “Russia played a significant role at that time,” he said.

A whole bunch of festive events – which can serve almost every taste – are being held throughout the country. In the evening, Russian pop and rock stars will greet the crowd with a spectacular concert show at the very center of the capital – Red Square, which will be turned into a huge stage.

Meanwhile, the opposition is using the occasion to meet the potential electorate prior to the next year’s elections to the State Duma. The Liberal Democrats (LDPR) have organized several meetings in Moscow to congratulate citizens on the national holiday and, also, to distribute leaflets with info on the faction’s activities, RIA Novosti writes.

The Right Cause has staged a protest rally in the centre of the capital to say “No to the control of power over society!” the rightists’ official website reports. However, only 70 people took part in the gathering.

“Today we are celebrating the Day of Russia. Twenty years ago our country chose a free way of development,” Boris Nadezhdin, the leader of the Moscow region’s branch of the party is quoted as saying. “People took to streets, the dictatorship of Communism fell. Who could have thought that, 20 years on, the state will be limiting the citizens’ rights again?”

However, for the majority of Russians the holiday is just a chance to enjoy an extra day off in the summer and to spend time with their families or gardening at their country houses, or “dachas” as they are known in Russian. Moreover, many are still confused at what exactly is being celebrated. According to a poll carried out by the Levada Center, 42% of Russians sincerely believe it is the Independence Day and 14% have no idea at all of what the fuss is about. Only 34% of people know the right answer: the Day of Russia.

On June 12, 1990, the first Congress of People's Deputies of the then-Russian Soviet Federative Socialists Republic (RSFSR) voted for the declaration of state sovereignty. The move became a first step in the formation of a new, democratic Russia, and, at the same time, the beginning of the end of the USSR. The declaration paved the way to the creation of a democratic state based on the principles of constitutional rights, international law and equality. The idea of the document belonged to the “Democratic Russia” movement, which united the anticommunist opposition.

A year on, in 1991, yet another landmark event in Russia’s history took place: a first direct presidential election was held, bringing to power the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin. He won over 57% of the vote and started a new era in the state’s development.

The day when the declaration was adopted has been celebrated since 1992 when, by a presidential decree, it was proclaimed a national holiday. Initially it was called “The Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of the State Sovereignty of Russia”. Later it was often called Independence Day. However, many believed it was ridiculous to celebrate what in fact was Russia’s loss of its former territories. The day got its current name – “The Day of Russia” – in 1998. In 2002, the status was sealed in the Labor Code. This explains why the population is still not quite sure of what the proper name is.

Today, 25 years after perestroika began and 20 years after the Communists lost their monopoly in power, the Communists say that the day of the adoption of the declaration is actually a day of “mourning”.

“The Declaration, while claiming that Russia should get sovereignty within the renewed [Soviet] Union, contained a clause that proclaimed Russian laws were supreme to the laws of the USSR,” said State Duma deputy and Communist Party member Oleg Smolin in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda paper. The adoption of the document, the politician believes, became a huge stimulus for the collapse of the Soviet Union. “I believe that civil wars in Tajikistan, Moldova and Chechnya are largely a result of the decision made on June 12.”

However, 51 % of Russians believe that the declaration of Russia’s sovereignty yielded positive results, according to the Levada Center poll.

Natalia Makarova, RT