Russia Day still no holiday for most, but such people are fewer

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By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova
Moscow, June 13 -- June 12, being celebrated as Russia Day, is one of the official public holidays in the country's recent history imposed on the people "from above", and a majority still do not understand what it is all about.
For such people it is just an extra day off, as public opinion polls indicate. Yet, the number of those who tend to recognize the holiday keeps growing.
Just as it is the case with Russia's another official holiday -
November 4, People's Unity Day - the Russians are glad about the occasion to take their time, but many still do not understand why it was thought up. The Public Opinion fund has discovered that 58 percent see June 12 as an extra day off, and a mere 25 percent, as a public holiday.
In fairness one has to admit that just five years ago 72 percent said June 12 was just an extra day they can stay away from work. As for People' s Unity Day, a tiny 17 percent said it was an occasion worth celebrating.
Sociologists believe that personal, private holidays (birthdays, New Year and some others) are more important to Russians than official ones. May 9, the day of victory in the Great Patriotic War over Nazi Germany (the name of what World War II was for the people of the former USSR, including its largest constituent republic, Russia) is seen as a personal holiday, too.
As for the troubled days of the early 1990s, the people's attitude to those events remains mixed.
Nevertheless, as polls indicate, the number of those who know what the holiday's name and meaning is, and of those who approve of Russia's independence has been growing year in year out.
On June 12, 1990 when the USSR was still a reality, the first congress of People's Deputies of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) voted for a declaration of the RSFSR's state sovereignty.
In 1994 Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, issued a decree to declare June 12 as an official date - the day when the declaration of Russia's state sovereignty was adopted. For a long time many people kept calling it Independence Day - which made it look like Russia's replica of the Untied States' July 4. This raised many eyebrows.
In 2002 the name of the holiday was changed to Russia Day, but that did not make much difference. Opinion polls have confirmed that a great deal of confusion is still present in the minds of many Russians, though some progress has been achieved.
Only one in three Russians today know the correct name of the holiday they are celebrating on June 12. A Levada Center opinion poll has found that 37 percent of the questioned know the correct name of the holiday - Russia Day. Last year the rate was far worse, 21 percent.
A plurality of Russians (40 percent) say the holiday they will be
celebrating is called Independence Day (this heralds unmistakable
progress, because a year ago the rate was 53 percent). Another one percent of the polled think that June 12 is the anniversary of the declaration of Russia's independence, as many replied June 12 is the anniversary of the first Russian presidential election, four percent offered other answers and three percent said they do not regard June 12 as a holiday at all.
Twelve percent have no idea why June 12 is a day off.
In the meantime, politicians, columnists, essayists and observers keep discussing how one should assess the June 12 Declaration and the events of the early 1990s that followed - as dramatic transition to a national state or as "the greatest geopolitical disaster," says the daily Vedomosti.
The Russians' attitude to the events of the 1990s is changing. In
1998, 57 percent of the polled told the national public opinion studies center VCIOM that independence from the USSR Russia gained on June 12, 1990 caused harm to the country, and 27 percent replied they thought otherwise.
Ten years later the picture is totally different - 61 percent of the polled told the Levada Center pollster independence benefited Russia, and a mere 17 percent believe it was a misfortune.
Analyst Nikolai Petrov, of the Moscow office of the Carnegie
Endowment, is quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying reason number one why the number of people quite satisfied with their life has grown is the habit. "The people have lived in a country they regard as their own for the past 17 years, so Independence Day for them is a truly public holiday.
Ever fewer people recall they were born in a different country. Moreover, generations are changing. Among the respondents there are ever more people who do not know what the Soviet Union was like. They have grown up in Russia."
The deputy director of the Levada Center, Alexei Grazhdankin, told the daily Noviye Izvestia that Russians, in his opinion, still tend to see June 12 as an extra day on which they can be absent from work. Moreover, it is the first summer-time public holiday over the many decades of the country's recent history. In the Soviet era not a single day of summer was chosen for a public holiday, so the period of summer holidays then was devoid of any ideology.
Grazhdankin says little has changed since, though.
"This holiday is not ingrained the minds of Russian citizens yet, in contrast to May 1, or May 9," the sociologist said. "Its ideology is unclear. Few can recall how and when it emerged."
"The causes of this blank spot in the people's historical memory are clear," says the weekly Argumenty I Fakty. "One is the discrediting of the Communist idea and the political institutions of those days, such as the Soviets and all sorts of congresses, and the other, the negative attitude to the 1990s and the Yeltsin era. Russians have preferred to forget those days."
Regrettably, it is one of Russia's not very good traditions to impose holidays from above, by decree, relying on very arbitrary interpretations of history and in defiance of the people's attitude to this or that date, says the weekly.
Argumenty I Fakty quotes political scientist Sergei Schmidt as saying that of all holidays not very much loved by the people June 12 is not the most unfortunate one.
"At a certain point some tried to think up a brisk name. Russia's
Independence Day looked pretty good at first sight. However, it soon
turned out that the name sounded like an insult to the history of the
country, which has not lost its independence or sovereignty for nearly
half a millennium. In 2002 the holiday's name was changed to Russia Day, but that made little difference."
"The people cannot get rid themselves of the impression the June 12 holiday is somewhat artificial. And indifference towards it is unlikely vanish soon," the director of the Center for Independent Social Research, Mikhail Rozhansky said.