June 12, 2019

How to Celebrate Russia Day


How to Celebrate Russia Day
Russia Day in St. Petersburg, 2007 (photo credit: Spbkinoforum)

It may end with fireworks like a host of other holidays, but there’s plenty of confusion why. So to start with a quiz, complete the sentence: 

June 12th is _____

  1. an occasion for all Russians and Russophiles to wish a happy birthday to their favorite nation.
  2. a cue for nostalgia, with its reminder of the geopolitical tragedy that was the fall of the Soviet Union.
  3. an excuse for nationalistic posturing extending beyond Russian borders.
  4. a good reason to debate all of the above.

Of course, it is all of the above. Let's start with some history.

Happy Birthday, Russian Federation

The history of this holiday is both complicated and controversial, with its origins in the dusk of the Soviet Union. Even its name causes confusion, with only about half the Russian population correctly identifying the holiday observed on June 12.

In short, the date memorializes the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Russia in 1990. As the move that established the nation’s authority and autonomy – as in, making it a separate entity from the USSR proper – the document was key in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While the official disbanding was December 26, 1991, by that point every individual republic had already seceded.

Which makes June 12 Russia qua Russia’s birthday party. What with the Declaration’s proclamations on rights, government powers, state symbols, and internal territories – not to mention the brand new name of “Russian Federation” – it was a shift that was worth cracking the sovetskoe shampanskoe for. And then buying a bottle of imported champagne to actually celebrate.

The young nation had some eventful early birthdays: 1991 saw the first open elections for president (won, of course, by Boris Yeltsin); in 1992 it gained official holiday status; and in 1994 it was dubbed Day of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Russia. The date was widely known as Independence Day between 1992 and 2002 (and is still referred to as such by 33% of polled Russians), and was bestowed the official moniker of “Russia Day” in 2002.

So does that make it a universally festive day, with vodka all around? Well, maybe, but there’s a bit more to it as well.

It’s My Party and I’ll Debate its Validity if I Want To

That’s right – not everyone breaks out the party hats for this birthday party. Three reasons:

One, some folks have more regret than relief about the end of the Soviet Union. Still (yes, still) reeling from the vast, violent consequences of that occurrence, many older Russians (86% of those over 55, according to a 2013 Levada Center poll) would welcome a return to the Soviet way. For them, the bitter memories and bitterer aftermath of the end of a way of life mean that a day devoted to the new Russia is hardly cause for celebration.

Two, even for folks who don’t long to be back in the USSR, the focus on the new Russia doesn’t pay dues to centuries of pre-revolutionary Russian history. This branch of naysayers doesn’t deny the urge to celebrate that land that stretches from Pacific to Baltic – which has retained autonomy in face of foes ranging from the Mongol Horde, to the Nazis, to NATO (as many Russians would say today). Instead, it is the 25-year-old version of that ancient state that doesn’t merit a day to itself.

Three, some feel it’s become an excuse for exaggerated displays of patriotism and politicking.

This year, meanwhile, Russia Day was met with protests surrounding the arrest and then release of journalist Ivan Golunov. And, on the almighty Google, it was met with... a Russian-themed graphic (below) by St. Petersburg artists Anya and Varya Kendel. Now that's a demo we can totally get behind.

Russia Day 2019
The Kendels' illustration offers a fresh take on the Russian tricolor.

 

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Steppe / Степь

Steppe / Степь

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955