Is the Day of National Unity relevant for Russians?

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November 5, 2015 – 

Marat Ramazanov, PolitRussia – 

Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski

In 1584, Ivan IV (“the terrible”), who ruled the country for many years, was laid to rest. There were still 14 years to go before the beginning of the Time of Troubles, but its preconditions could already be traced. Fyodor Ivanovich I was unable to independently govern the country for health reasons, and Prince Dmitry could not take his seat on the royal throne because of his young age. 

In 1591, Dmitry died, and his brother Fyodor died in 1598. The ruling Rurik dynasty was cut short, and representatives of the Boyar families already officially assumed the main roles.

In spite of this, a new Tsar eventually appeared, Boris Godunov, but for many years he failed to gain a foothold and his kin failed. Crop failure, famine, and the economic plight of the state incited the people against the Sovereign. The Boyars, desiring to strengthen their power, also strove in every way to thwart the Tsar.

In the end, rumors of the “accidental survival” of Dmitry were applauded by many. False Dmitry I, supported by the Polish king, was sent to Moscow at the head of foreign soldiers. But even after the death of Boris Godunov and the removal of his son Fyodor, the imposter failed to enter the Kremlin. 

However, the Time of Troubles had only begun to fully come into its own. A series of coups brought a “semi-Boyarship” into power, which swore to the son of the Polish king, Vladislav, whose 8,000 troops settled into the Kremlin and China-town in 1610.

In addition to the Poles who entrenched themselves in the Kremlin, the country was threatened by the Swedes, who settled on the lands of Novgorod.

The country was in a distressed state. There was no Russian Tsar (if we don’t consider the imposters), the elite in the form of the Boyars had betrayed the country, and the people were unsuccessful in resisting the Poles – in spring of 1611, the first militia was met with failure. 

In fall of 1611, in Nizhny Novogorod, the village elder Kuzma Minin began to form a second militia, which was later to be headed by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky. 

In the spring of 1612, the militia was sent to Moscow, but the Poles weren’t without help – help was sent by Hetman Khodkevich. Nonetheless, on November 4 (October 22), China-town was successfully taken. Prince Pozharsky went there holding in his hands the Kazan icon of the Mother of God. In 1613, the Zemsky Sobor, composed of representatives of various lands and estates of the Russian Tsardom, elected Mikhail Romanov as Tsar. This event marked the official end of the Time of Troubles.

In 1649, Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich, the son of Mikhail Federovich, arranged the celebration of October 22 as the Day of Our Lady of Kazan, dedicated to the liberation of Moscow and Russia from the Poles. It was not celebrated widely, but ever since that time the holiday was consistently marked on the calendar of the church. The church marked it and in the Soviet years it remained a religious holiday and one of our days. 

The red letter day

Since 1918, in the beginning of November a different holiday has been widely celebrated – the day of the Great October Socialist Revolution. For more than seven decades, this massive national holiday was celebrated on a grand scale. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union it was decided to reject socialist ideals, and the holiday of the revolution became inappropriate in modern conditions. In 1996, Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on renaming the holiday. Since that time, November 7 has been celebrated as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation. 

For old time’s sake, despite the rejection of the ideals of socialist revolution, it was unusual for many people for the beginning of November to be without parades, rallies, and demonstrations. Many desired to gather, feel themselves to be one people, and feel themselves linked to significant historical dates. The impersonal Day of Accord and Reconciliation poorly coped with such a task. Considering the day of the October Revolution, after which the Civil War began, to be a day of reconciliation and harmony wasn’t quite right. 

The long-forgotten old calendar 

In 2004, the Inter-religious Council of Russia proposed to celebrate a Day of National Unity in remembrance of the liberation of the country from foreign invaders during the Time of Troubles.

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Here one can find another, hidden pretext. In the 1990’s, we had some kind of a similar Time of Troubles. The role of the interventionists was perfectly fulfilled by international consultants, largely influencing political decisions, and instead of a “semi-Boyarship,” a “semi-Bankship” operated.

Of course, in the 21st century, it’s not enough to take the conditional victory at China-town for a full victory. Some figures of the era of the 1990’s still lead major state corporations, yet the “Time of Troubles of the ’90’s” is gone. The symbolism of historical parallels very successfully forms the basis of a holiday. 

What is the main point of the celebration? In the years of the USSR, it was clear to every “child of October” that November 7 was to be celebrated. With the Day of National Unity, the situation is somewhat different. More than 400 years separate us from those events. It is unlikely that many citizens know their ancestry prior to the beginning of the 17th century or know for sure about their ancestors’ involvement in this victory. But the essence is not so much in the specific event.

The majority of Russians can consider themselves to be participants in the history of Russia, and every day we are creating this history with our hands. In the 17th century, our ancestors united and didn’t allow Russia to be turned into the Eastern part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the beginning of the 21st century, we didn’t let Russia be built on the terms of a vassal in the globalized world of Pax Americana. 

The Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, Aleksey, supporting the idea of celebrating a day of national unity, noted: “This day reminds us how in 1612 Russians of different faiths and nationalities overcame divisions, overcame a formidable foe, and brought a stable, civil peace to the country.”

Indeed, this holiday can be considered to be a day of the unity of the people. Practically every day, we play some kind of role – we are children and parents, spouses, someone’s relatives, superiors and subordinates, representatives of various professions, etc. On November 4, we remember that we are all representatives of the Russian (or, if it’s appropriate for some, All-Russian) people. 

After 1991, when the USSR collapsed, there was a ban in the constitution on having a state (compulsory) ideology, and we began to very much need points of support for the preservation of our national identity. These points of support can be found in historical events, which at one time really did unite the people.

Of course, some figures are trying to replace the essence of such an important holiday for the country. Grigory Yavlinsky was quick to call the holiday “Day of Civil Society.” There’s nothing wrong, of course, with civil society, but given the sense which liberals invest in this concept, in which a civil society overthrows a legally elected government, it is not at all appropriate to use this term in relation to the Day of National Unity.

On the Day of National Unity, Russian nationalists love to hold “Russian marches.” However, giving this holiday a narrow ethnic coloring is not at all right. In such a case, this replaces the idea of national unity. And when more than 33 million of our citizens (comparable to the population of Canada) are out of work, what kind of national unity can there be? 

Traditions and meaning

During the short period of celebration, some traditions have managed to develop. On this day, the head of state lays flowers at the monument to Minin and Pozharsky. Also, November 4 is usually celebrated with a solemn reception in which the president congratulates all Russians on the holiday and assigns state awards for the preservation and popularization of Russian language and culture abroad. 

In may cities around the country, religious processions and “Russian marches” are held. The marches are attended not only by nationalists, but also by patriotic movements. In recent years, mass marches, rallies, concerts, and various flash mobs have come to be. In 2014, a procession in Moscow brought together around 75,000 people. Also, various monuments associated with the history of Russia are opened on the Day of National Unity. 

The Day of National Unity is an occasion for all citizens of the country to realize and feel themselves to be one people. At rallies and marches, this is felt more than at home in front of a monitor. The Day of National Unity is another occasion to show our enemies that we are united and that we represent a real force to be reckoned with.

November 4 is a day when, after marches and concerts, it’s possible to read classics of Russian literature, like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, or begin to study works on Russian history such as those of Karamzin, Tatischev, and Lomonosov, instead of sitting at home watching “entertaining garbage” in the form of foreign tv series. 

The Day of National Unity is a good occasion to feel oneself linked with the history, culture, and victories of our great Homeland.  

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