Day of Russia – a national holiday still in search of meaning

On Sunday, June 12, one of the country's newest national holidays is celebrated: the Day of Russia. Various festivities and concerts were held to mark the event. Meanwhile, the opposition attempted to stage an unauthorized rally.

On this day 21 years ago, the Soviet leadership adopted the “Declaration on State Sovereignty of Russia.”

Moscow authorities prepared more than 100 festive events to entertain the public. The celebrations climaxed with a concert on Red Square in the evening, followed by an impressive display of fireworks. Many locals, though, have preferred to use the occasion (since the holiday falls on Sunday, Monday is going to be a day off, too) to flee the crowded city and enjoy some fresh air at their country houses, or “dachas.”

At a ceremony in the Kremlin, President Dmitry Medvedev presented state awards for outstanding achievements in science, art and literature. Under a decree signed by the president on June 9, this year 11 Russian citizens were awarded the 2010 state prize.

Speaking at the ceremony, Medvedev congratulated everyone on the Day of Russia and wished “wellbeing and success”.

“This national holiday, as well as the tradition to award on such a high level the achievements of creative people, is directly linked with democratic values and free personality development which were proclaimed in our country,” the president said. Recent initiatives, including the modernization of Russia's economy, are based on the constitutional principles adopted two decades ago. Medvedev noted that modernization would be impossible without modern, energetic and “very talented people”.

“We sequentially widen opportunities for those who give Russia obvious advantages by influencing the development of world science and culture. As far as it is possible, we are forming conditions for the growth of their creative freedom and academic mobility which would help exchange ideas and, also commercialize them,” he said.

The award was also given to King Juan Carlos I of Spain “for outstanding accomplishments in humanitarian activities.” However, it was earlier reported that the 73-year-old monarch would not to travel to Moscow for the ceremony, as he is still recovering after undergoing surgery on his knee. The king said that he would donate the 5 million-ruble award (about 125,000 euros) to the Spanish town of Lorca, which was damaged by an earthquake last month.

In the afternoon, the opposition was planning an unauthorized rally, known as the “Day of Wrath”, in the center of the capital demanding a change in power, free elections, social justice and a more efficient immigration policy. According to Interfax, 28 protesters, including Sergey Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front movement and one of the organizers of the “Day of Wrath” in Moscow were detained.

Earlier, Udaltsov said that the Moscow mayor’s office refused to allow the gathering on June 12 on central Theater Square and suggested a different location.

Officials explained their decision by saying that the opposition rally would disrupt the festive holiday events. The opposition, however, stated that the authorities’ proposal to pick an alternate site for the protest was both illegal and groundless. No compromise was found, but the “Day of Wrath” organizing committee did not drop their plan to hold a rally. It was said though that protesters would hold no banners or flags.

Udaltsov told Interfax news agency that the Moscow central district prosecutor's office warned the “Day of Wrath” organizers of possible administrative or criminal proceedings in case they attempt to stage an unauthorized rally.

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 was a first step in the formation of a new, democratic Russia, and at the same time, the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. The declaration paved the way for 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: the 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 – 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.

According to a poll carried out by Levada Center, 40 percent of Russians know what exactly is celebrated on June 12, which is 6 percent more than last year. However, 41 percent of the population believe it is Independence Day, while 11 percent have no idea what holiday is marked and 3 percent do not consider this day a holiday at all.