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MOSCOW, November 4 (Itar-Tass) — Russia celebrates National Unity Day on Friday. This public holiday was established in 2005 as a sign of age-old traditions of patriotism, solidarity and cohesion. It is dedicated to the heroic deed of the people’s volunteer army that liberated Moscow from Polish invaders in 1612 under the leadership of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky. These events that took place four centuries ago, in the best way underline the involvement of everyone in the destinies of the country.
This day is a holiday also on the church calendar. The Orthodox Church has been for nearly 400 years honouring on this day the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, which, according to the legend, helped the people’s volunteer corps. It is not accidentally that until 1917 this date was not only the Church feast, but also a public holiday proclaimed by the decree of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.
Having taken in 2005 its rightful place as a red-letter date in the calendar, National Unity Day, as a holiday of the whole civil society, in fact, "has replaced" the November 7 revolutionary holiday, which for nerfaly a century kept the traditions and class ideology of the 1917 October Revolution.
The parliamentary majority party United Russia, which in 2004 initiated the revival of the holiday, attaches special importance to this day. “We were the initiators of the bill on amendments to the list of holidays and memorable dates,” Chairman of the Supreme Council of United Russia, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov confirmed. He said that the party on this day will stage rallies across the country.
In Moscow, the United Russia party and their supporters will gather at the Poklonnaya Hill. “I think there are fewer and fewer citizens in our country who do not know what the fourth of November is,” said Gryzlov. “More and more people take part in this truly national holiday.”
A reception will be held with the participation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the holiday. By tradition, the country’s leaders will lay flowers at the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky in Red Square. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill will also take part in the celebrations.
National Unity Day was celebrated in the Russian Empire until 1917 and in Russia from 2005. Held on November 4 (October 22, Old Style), it commemorates the popular uprising which expelled the Polish-Lithuanian occupation force from Moscow in November 1612, and more generally the end of the Time of Troubles and foreign intervention in Russia in the Polish-Muscovite War (1605–1618). Its name alludes to the idea that all the classes of Russian society willingly united to preserve Russian statehood when its demise seemed inevitable even though there was neither Tsar nor Patriarch to guide them. In 1613 tsar Mikhail Romanov instituted a holiday named Day of Moscow’s Liberation from Polish Invaders. The holiday, held in October, was abandoned in 1917. November 4 is also the feast day for Our Lady of Kazan, the holy icon which the Russian Orthodox Church probably venerates most. According to a recent poll (2007), only 23 percent of Russians knew the name of the holiday, up from 8 percent in 2005. 22 percent identified the holiday as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation, the name of the Nov. 7 holiday in the 1990s. Only 4 percent knew that the holiday commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish invaders, down from 5 percent in 2005.
President Vladimir Putin re-established the holiday in order to replace the commemoration of the October Revolution, known as The Day of Great October Socialist Revolution during Soviet period and as The Day of Accord and Conciliation in post-Soviet times, which formally took place on November 7. His decision angered some sections of the public, particularly the Communist Party, who pressed on with celebrations on Nov. 7. Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin took a limited action of changing the name of the holiday; by completely removing it, Putin has sparked a controversy.
There have been concerns about the manifestations of ultra-nationalism during the celebrations of National Unity Day. In November 2005 and 2006, rallies were held in Moscow at which demonstrators shouted “Russia for Russians!” with anti-immigration slogans.
This year’s Unity Day is celebrated amidst the parliamentary election campaign, which in December will smoothly pass into the presidential campaign. The Liberal Democrats (LDPR), led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky will mark the holiday by a traditional rally in Pushkin Square in Moscow. The Yabloko party intends to hold events in regions. So, the party chairman Sergei Mitrokhin and party’s “namesake” Alexei Yablokov will present the party’s platform in Kazan in the Tatar language. Leaders of Just (Fair) Russia have also departed on a tour of the regions. Only the Communists (CPRF) ignore the holiday. The same as before, they called on their supporters to come for a march and rally on November 7, to mark the 94th anniversary of the October Revolution.
According to the VCIOM public opinion study centre, about one-third (34 percent) of Russians are going to celebrate the holiday this year. At the same time, the number of respondents who do not usually celebrate this date has decreased from 66 to 54 percent. Another 12 percent are undecided how to spend the day. Meanwhile, according to sociologists, the tradition to celebrate November 4 at a table with friends, as well as in theatres, cinemas or at a concert is becoming more widespread. Participation in a demonstration on the occasion of the holiday is the choice of the minority (1 percent).