Controversy marks the anniversary of the collapse of the USSR in Russia
June 11, 2012
Few Russians know what is commemorated on 12 June, Russia Day. The majority thinks it is a date that should not be celebrated.
The 20th Russia Day was celebrated last Tuesday (12). It is a contentious day for both foreigners and most Russians: the holiday was named Russia Day only in 2002, and even today Russians still mistakenly call it Independence Day.
A survey of 1,600 Russians conducted by the Levada Centre in 2011 showed that 41% of the respondents believed that the holiday was "Independence Day", while 40% said it was "Russia Day".
The reason is that the country's citizens associate the word "sovereignty", from its former name "Day of adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Federation", with "independence".
Russia Day was established as a result of numerous tragic events that began on 12 June 1991, the historical significance of which can only be assessed by future generations.
On 19 August that year, the State Committee on the State of Emergency (in Russian, GKCP) tried to remove Mikhail Gorbachev from his position as head of state of the Soviet Union and put an end to "perestroika".
The Muscovite attorney Sergei Kolivanov remembers well how he tried to save Gorbachev while he was on holiday on the Black Sea. "I was not able to learn to swim, so my father said, pointing to a cliff: 'Behind there is the summer house where Gorbachev is being kept captive by bad people. Do you want to free him? Then, you have to swim there'. That's when I learned", he says.
The GKCP declared a state of emergency, put the military on the streets of Moscow, appointed members of the military as governors of the Soviet republics, censored the media and suspended constitutional human rights and liberties.
Through the then President Boris Yeltsin, the government of the Russian Republic, the largest republic in the USSR, called the GCKP's actions a coup d'état and asked residents of Moscow to go out on to the streets to defend the White House (the centre of government of the Russian Republic). For some, this resulted in death.
"My husband was a doctor and he arrived home after working all night in an ambulance. But when he found out that tanks had entered Moscow, he went to the White House, saying that blood might be shed and that it was his duty to help the injured", says his wife, Ludmilla Pogodina, 41.
12 June was declared a holiday in 1992. But Russians do not consider the date important. A study carried out amongst 1,601 Russians between 20 and 23 April showed that only 3% considered the date to be one of the main national holidays.
"I don't care that much about the holiday. But I'm grateful for the 1990s because now I can work in public relations, something that didn't exist at that time. That is progress", says student Andrei Grechak, 20.