By Sheli DeNola
A move to unite the people of Russia has become yet another barrier in a time where the nation’s politics are becoming increasingly polarized.
In early November, thousands flooded the streets of Russia to celebrate People’s Unity Day. The holiday was put in place by President Vladimir Putin in December 2004, to unite the divisive factions in Russia. But the holiday has accomplished the exact opposite, as a group of proto-fascists have adopted it as their own.
People’s Unity Day replaced a Nov. 7 holiday that celebrated the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, which is a marker of the nation’s long history of class struggle between the peasants and the upper class bourgeoisie. As one of Putin’s enactments in a campaign to restore morale and a sense of unity in the divided country, Putin replaced the holiday because it was considered to represent a time of division.
Eugene Aronoff, news editor of Russian services at The Voice of America, a U.S. government international radio broadcast, explained that The People’s Unity Day was founded on an obscure date back in 1612. The day marked the Russians’ expulsion of the Poles from Moscow and Russia.
“It has degenerated into a demonstration of the most vile and right-wing extremists,” Aronoff said. “The Fascists feel they are the only people who stand for a unified ethnic Russia. A few thousand people. They have the motto of Russia for Russians only.”
During People’s Unity Day, people with non-Russian features were advised not to leave their homes or hotels until the celebrations subside.
“Free democracy? People are not allowed to demonstrate, because they are considered anti-government, versus the proto-fascists who are handled with kid gloves because they don’t present genuine opposition,” Aronoff said.
Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin enacted a day of national reconciliation,” the original unity day, “after blowing up Parliament,” according to Michael Urban, UC Santa Cruz professor of politics with a specialty in Russian politics. Yeltsin failed miserably, and in 2000 he appointed Putin as his successor. Russia had officially become a dictatorship, Urban said.
“It’s not as bad as Pakistan,” Urban said. “By Russian standards it was a rather soft dictatorship.”
Putin was a candidate with no political experience or platform, but had connections with the KGB and the Office of Privatization. The KGB, formally the Committee for State Security was essentially the Soviet Union’s secret police.
“That’s what runs Russia — crooks and muscle,” Urban said.
Putin’s popular support stems from the increase in profit from oil revenues, which went through the roof in recent years. Through the use of propaganda Putin was able to maintain popularity, and his invasion of Chechnya in 1994 established him as a veritable hero.
“It looked like he could accomplish things,” Urban said. “Especially after Yeltsin an incapacitated drunk.”
Russia is staggering under the weight of its deceased glory; the emancipation of the Soviet State has left Russia a fraction of its former glory and size.
“The end of the Cold War was a blow to the national self-esteem; it was a huge empire that attempted to represent an ideology,” Aronoff said. “Russia was a true world power with communist factions all over the world. It was an ideological alternative to the West, the greatest military power accumulated by anyone in the course of human history.”
“To give up so much one begins to question ones place in the world. Putin restored the faith,” Aronoff added.
In establishing People’s Unity Day, the government set out to unify the Russian people, but with growing social problems many question whether unity should be the primary goal of the Russian government.
“Human rights don’t rank high in the government’s agenda; collective social reform does,” said Wayne Merry, the Russian expert for Amnesty International USA.
“Russia has the highest increase of HIV cases in any country,” Aronoff said. “Over 80 percent of the cases are people under 30.”
And as political factions in Russia squabble, the country’s problems continue on.
Said Merry, “Since 1992, the number of people dying has become greater than the number of babies born.”