Russia’s Unity Day: the transformation of majority

Nov 04 2015

Ten years ago, President Vladimir Putin cancelled the state celebration of the Day of October Revolution on November 7 (also known as The Day of Great October Socialist Revolution during the Soviet period).

Many people welcomed the move; in fact it should’ve been done back in 1993. But November 7 was replaced with the state holiday of November 4, known as Unity Day. Obviously, the unification of the Russian nation was meant to take place around Putin’s personality. And it did, for a while, but nowadays Unity Day has a tendency to turn into a set of unpredictable metamorphoses.

But let’s get back to a few years ago. In spite of all the attempts to popularize new state holiday (including a documentary movie made by one of the most prestigious Russian film directors Vladimir Khotinenko), most Russians still didn’t celebrate November 4. According to state polling data, in 2009 1 in 3 Russians didn’t know which holiday the country was celebrating, 1 in 10 thought that the it was to celebrate the October Revolution, and 1 in 15 thought that November 4 was the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan.

The only ones who knew exactly what to do during all these years were nationalists. That’s why for Russian journalists, November 4 is better known as the Day of Russian March. It’s worth noting that the 2005 Russian March was the first popular nationalist rally approved by the authorities. This also marked the period of Putin’s not entirely unsuccessful flirtation with Russian nationalists.

Several years passed but for the majority of Russians, November 4 remained no more than a day off. In 2014, however, a significant change took place, as Putin might as well have been celebrating not just Unity Day, but Unity Year all year long- literally. Each day after the annexation of Crimea, Putin slowly became the Father of Nation: his administration deputy chief Vyacheslav Volodin framed this sacral status, saying, “If there is Putin, there is Russia; and without Putin, there is no Russia”.

And even though few people know exactly what the “Father of the Nation” is, it seems to be someone who is responsible for everything that happens to the nation, both triumphs and tragedies. Four days ago, after months of triumphs, a tragedy took place: a Russian airplane crashed in Egypt, killing 224 people. The airplane in question was a charter flight full of tourists who were mostly from Saint Petersburg, Putin’s home city.

The catastrophe took place on Saturday, but “the Father” didn’t appear before the Nation until Monday. Putin didn’t give a national address, but instead expressed his deepest condolences on the spot before a meeting with the Transport Minister.

Apparently, Putin didn’t think it was worth interrupting his weekend for, or perhaps he simply didn’t want to. But the motive behind his decision doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the president wasn’t there. And for perhaps the first time ever, Russians have at last achieved real unity, the people’s unity; without any fake “Father of Nation”.

This has happened before: when Muscovites sheltered each other in their homes during the smog in 2010 and the authorities did almost nothing; when up to 200 000 people poured into the streets to protest against Putin’s return; when Russians raised millions for those who suffered in the terrible 2012 Krymsk floods; when Russians raise money for cancer sufferers every day because the government doesn’t provide the medication – it happens. It happened, unexpectedly, less than a month ago when the state-owned First TV Channel began a fundraising campaign to provide firewood for the elderly. Most intellectuals have called the fact that so many elderly people live in poverty a source of shame for oil – and gas-rich Russia. Democratic Choice party activist Stanislav Yakovlev fairly said he viewed “cautious attempts at peaceful, humanitarian, nonviolent nation-building as a civil unification through a noble cause”. The current sorry state of Russian nation – building, Yakovlev said, is the idea that “we look after our own”. This works when you either protect or fight someone; there is no other option. Only two weeks before the plane crash in Egypt, Yakovlev remarked that it was lucky that there hadn’t been a repeat of the Krymsk floods.

The plane crash in Egypt could easily become a second Krymsk; only this time it’s happening not during the prosperous years of high oil prices, but in a time when Russia is in the middle of two wars and an economic recession.

12184022_1675981825949092_8580114388156581437_o

Putin has clearly demonstrated that he is not able to consolidate the nation under the noble cause of nonviolent nation-building. But would “the union over military agenda” be able to survive when even Russian nationalists, many of whom are former good friends of Putin but who have since been arrested or imprisoned, protested today against dictatorship, political repressions and even war in Ukraine?

by Karina Orlova

Many people welcomed the move; in fact it should’ve been done back in 1993. But November 7 was replaced with the state holiday of November 4, known as Unity Day. Obviously, the unification of the Russian nation was meant to take place around Putin’s personality. And it did, for a while, but nowadays Unity Day has a tendency to turn into a set of unpredictable metamorphoses.

But let’s get back to a few years ago. In spite of all the attempts to popularize new state holiday (including a documentary movie made by one of the most prestigious Russian film directors Vladimir Khotinenko), most Russians still didn’t celebrate November 4. According to state polling data, in 2009 1 in 3 Russians didn’t know which holiday the country was celebrating, 1 in 10 thought that the it was to celebrate the October Revolution, and 1 in 15 thought that November 4 was the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan.

The only ones who knew exactly what to do during all these years were nationalists. That’s why for Russian journalists, November 4 is better known as the Day of Russian March. It’s worth noting that the 2005 Russian March was the first popular nationalist rally approved by the authorities. This also marked the period of Putin’s not entirely unsuccessful flirtation with Russian nationalists.

Several years passed but for the majority of Russians, November 4 remained no more than a day off. In 2014, however, a significant change took place, as Putin might as well have been celebrating not just Unity Day, but Unity Year all year long- literally. Each day after the annexation of Crimea, Putin slowly became the Father of Nation: his administration deputy chief Vyacheslav Volodin framed this sacral status, saying, “If there is Putin, there is Russia; and without Putin, there is no Russia”.

And even though few people know exactly what the “Father of the Nation” is, it seems to be someone who is responsible for everything that happens to the nation, both triumphs and tragedies. Four days ago, after months of triumphs, a tragedy took place: a Russian airplane crashed in Egypt, killing 224 people. The airplane in question was a charter flight full of tourists who were mostly from Saint Petersburg, Putin’s home city.

The catastrophe took place on Saturday, but “the Father” didn’t appear before the Nation until Monday. Putin didn’t give a national address, but instead expressed his deepest condolences on the spot before a meeting with the Transport Minister.

Apparently, Putin didn’t think it was worth interrupting his weekend for, or perhaps he simply didn’t want to. But the motive behind his decision doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the president wasn’t there. And for perhaps the first time ever, Russians have at last achieved real unity, the people’s unity; without any fake “Father of Nation”.

This has happened before: when Muscovites sheltered each other in their homes during the smog in 2010 and the authorities did almost nothing; when up to 200 000 people poured into the streets to protest against Putin’s return; when Russians raised millions for those who suffered in the terrible 2012 Krymsk floods; when Russians raise money for cancer sufferers every day because the government doesn’t provide the medication – it happens. It happened, unexpectedly, less than a month ago when the state-owned First TV Channel began a fundraising campaign to provide firewood for the elderly. Most intellectuals have called the fact that so many elderly people live in poverty a source of shame for oil – and gas-rich Russia. Democratic Choice party activist Stanislav Yakovlev fairly said he viewed “cautious attempts at peaceful, humanitarian, nonviolent nation-building as a civil unification through a noble cause”. The current sorry state of Russian nation – building, Yakovlev said, is the idea that “we look after our own”. This works when you either protect or fight someone; there is no other option. Only two weeks before the plane crash in Egypt, Yakovlev remarked that it was lucky that there hadn’t been a repeat of the Krymsk floods.

The plane crash in Egypt could easily become a second Krymsk; only this time it’s happening not during the prosperous years of high oil prices, but in a time when Russia is in the middle of two wars and an economic recession.

12184022_1675981825949092_8580114388156581437_o

Putin has clearly demonstrated that he is not able to consolidate the nation under the noble cause of nonviolent nation-building. But would “the union over military agenda” be able to survive when even Russian nationalists, many of whom are former good friends of Putin but who have since been arrested or imprisoned, protested today against dictatorship, political repressions and even war in Ukraine?

by Karina Orlova

Joint Call of Parliamentarians on the condition of Alexei Navalny in prison

Apr 08 2021

April 8, 2021

We, the undersigned, are shocked and troubled by the most recent news of Alexei Navalny’s condition in prison. 

Russia’s leading opposition figure is reported to suffer severe back pain with losing sensitivity in parts of his legs. It is no more than six months since he survived a vicious poisoning attack with a nerve agent that has long-term crippling effects on his health. In prison, he is systematically denied any medical treatment. On top, prison guards wake him up every hour at night, a practice amounting to torture by sleep deprivation according to his lawyers. This is why medical experts called on the Russian authorities to allow Mr. Navalny’s treatment and why he himself now resorted to a hunger strike. Let’s not forget: Mr. Navalny’s incarceration itself is a travesty of justice – he was formally sent to prison for not checking in with Russian authorities on a fabricated case (as confirmed by European Court of Human Rights) when he was recuperating in Germany from poisoning and subsequent coma.

Russian authorities with its secret services tried to kill Alexei Navalny last August, they may now be attempting the same, in a slower, even more cynical way. 

Europe has offered Alexei Navalny a place to recover from the attempt at his life. Specialized labs in Germany, France and Sweden confirmed the assassination attempt used Novichok, an internationally banned chemical weapon. Angela Merkel personally met Mr Navalny in hospital and many other Western leaders expressed their solidarity after the poisoning attack. We need to intervene again. 

We urge Russia to immediately allow medical treatment of Alexei Navalny and release him from prison. We call on the EU Council as well as EU member states’ leaders to reach out to Russian authorities to request the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, which was mandated by European Court of Human Rights’ decision in February 2021. In addition, we demand the EU Council task EU ambassador to Russia to conduct, together partners from the UK, Canada and the US, a visit of the prison facility and meet Alexei Navalny. It is critical now that Alexei Navalny’s fate became the symbol of injustice many thousands face because of increasing brutality of Russian regime against its own citizens. 

In December 2020, the EU launched its Global Human Rights Sanction Regime modelled on so-called Magnitsky Act. This law has been inspired by one Sergei Magnitsky, a brave Russian lawyer who was tortured to death in prison in 2009 – he was systematically denied treatment when he developed a serious medical condition. We still can act now in case of Alexei Navalny so we avoid commemorating later.

Marek HILSER, Senator, Czech Republic

Andrius KUBILIUS, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Lukas WAGENKNECHT, Senator, Czech Republic

Žygimantas PAVILIONIS, MP, Lithuania

Miroslav BALATKA, Senator, Czech Republic

André GATTOLIN, Senator, France

Mikulas BEK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Nicolae ŞTEFĂNUȚĂ, MEP, Renew, Romania

David SMOLJAK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Petras AUŠTREVIČIUS, MEP, Renew, Lithuania

Tomas FIALA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Liudas MAŽYLIS, MEP, EPP Lithuania

Zdenek NYTRA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Dace MELBĀRDE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan SOBOTKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Matas MALDEIKIS, MP, Lithuania

Jiri RUZICKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Bernard GUETTA, MEP, Renew, France

Jaromira VITKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Rasa JUKNEVIČIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Petr OREL, Senator, Czech Republic 

Tomasz FRANKOWSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland 

Miroslava NEMCOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Hermann TERTSCH, MEP, ECR, Spain

Premysl RABAS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Aušra MALDEIKIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Ladislav KOS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Attila ARA-KOVÁCS, MEP, S&D, Hungary

Sarka JELINKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Erik MARQUARDT, MEP, Greens, Germany

Pavel FISCHER, Senator, Czech Republic

Pernille WEISS, MEP, EPP, Denmark

Helena LANGSADLOVA, MP, Czech Republic

Roberts ZĪLE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan LIPAVSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Klemen GROŠELJ, MEP, Renew, Slovenia

Pavel ZACEK, MP, Czech Republic

Riho TERRAS, MEP, EPP, Estonia

Ondrej BENESIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Miriam LEXMANN, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Frantisek KOPRIVA, MP, Czech Republic 

Sandra KALNIETE, MEP, EPP, Latvia

Petr GAZDIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Jerzy BUZEK, MEP, EPP, Poland

Tomas MARTINEK, MP, Czech Republic 

Janina OCHOJSKA, MEP, EPP, Poland

Jan BARTOSEK, MP, Czech Republic

Eugen TOMAC, MEP, EPP, Romania

Jan FARSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Ivan ŠTEFANEC, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Roman SKLENAK, MP, Czech Republic

Krzysztof HETMAN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Frantisek VACHA, MP, Czech Republic

Ivars IJABS, MEP, Renew, Latvia

Marek VYBORNY, MP, Czech Republic

Franc BOGOVIČ, MEP, EPP, Slovenia

Zbynek STANJURA, MP, Czech Republic

Radvilė MORKŪNAITĖ-MIKULĖNIENĖ, MP, Lithuania

Petr FIALA, MP, Czech Republic

Raphaël GLUCKSMANN, MEP, S&D, France

Vít RAKUSAN, MP, Czech Republic

Juozas OLEKAS, MEP, S&D, Lithuania

Jaroslav VYMAZAL, MP, Czech Republic

Assita KANKO, MEP, ECR, Belgium

Adela SIPOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Radosław SIKORSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Róża THUN UND HOHENSTEIN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Javier NART, MEP, Renew, Spain

Andrzej HALICKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Alexander ALEXANDROV YORDANOV, MEP, EPP, Bulgaria

Ondřej KOVAŘÍK, MEP, Renew, Czech Republic

Andreas SCHIEDER, MEP, S&D, Austria

Leopoldo LÓPEZ GIL, MEP, EPP, Spain

Sergey LAGODINSKY, MEP, Greens, Germany

Antonio LÓPEZ-ISTÚRIZ WHITE, MEP, EPP, Spain

Marketa GREGOROVA, MEP, Greens, Czech Republic

Lolita ČIGĀNE, MP, Latvia

Marko MIHKELSON, MP, Estonia

Renata CHMELOVA, Czech Republic

Bogdan KLICH, Senator, Republic of Poland

Transatlantic Interparliamentary Statement on Unprecedented Mass Arrest of Russian Pro-Democracy Leaders on March 13, 2021

Mar 25 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 25, 2021

Contacts:
Honourable Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, OQ, Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights
+1 514.735.8778
Natalia Arno, Free Russia Foundation
+1 202.549.2417

TRANSATLANTIC INTERPARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT
On unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders on March 13, 2021

“We, the undersigned members of the foreign affairs committees of legislatures around the world – the duly elected democratic voices of our constituents and countries – unreservedly condemn the unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders. 

A violation of the Russian constitution and of the country’s international legal obligations, these unjust and arbitrary arrests are an assault on the last bastion of the Russian democratic movement. United in common cause, we call for an end to Putin’s punitive persecution and prosecutions of Russian civil society leaders, the release of all political prisoners, and the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Russia’s architects of repression.

The crimes perpetrated by Putin’s regime against the Russian people and against the international community have been deadly and are well-documented. Left unchecked, its internal repression has often morphed into external aggression. Wars, murders, theft, embezzlement, nuclear blackmail, disinformation, election interference — they are so numerous and now so well-known, that we feel no need to enumerate all of them in this letter. Under the cover of Covid restrictions, we have seen a further intensification of these trends.

Last year, Putin’s regime illegally amended the Russian constitution, executing a constitutional coup, allowing Putin to stay in power indefinitely and thereby formalizing the Russian transition to authoritarianism. 

In January, he arrested Aleksey Navalny, who was punished with a nearly three-year prison term for not meeting his parole obligations because he was out of the country convalescing from a state-sponsored assassination attempt. Putin then brutally suppressed the nation-wide protests that emerged in Navalny’s support, arbitrarily arresting thousands, and launching criminal prosecutions against them.

On March 13th, security services entered a perfectly lawful Congress of elected municipal deputies and detained nearly 200 people for not adhering to the Kremlin’s command of how to interact with local constituents. In today’s Russia, disagreeing with Putin is not tolerated, and those who do find themselves in jail or worse.

Some of those detained included elected leaders like Ilya Yashin and Maxim Reznik, pro-democracy reformers Andrey Pivovarov and Anastasia Burakova, and popular politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. Mr. Kara-Murza is a top public intellectual and opposition leader whose transformative work on behalf of the Russian people has had a global resonance. His vision and values – eloquently conveyed with a uniquely compelling moral clarity and commitment, often before our respective legislatures – led to his earlier being targeted by the regime for assassination, attempts on his life that he survived twice. The work of such courageous leaders continues to be a source of inspiration in our pursuit of collective peace, security, and dignity for all.

For a society to succeed it must have a set of principles and values that guides it. Most notably, this includes a legal system that honors the rights of all its people and not solely for those who deem themselves leaders and the sycophants who profit from them.

Sadly, these recent developments demonstrate yet again that only Putin’s criminality and impunity prevail in Russia today. The way the regime runs its politics is indistinguishable from the way it runs its foreign policy and its business dealings. To indulge such malign behavior by the Kremlin toward those it disagrees with is to encourage its corrosive behavior in all these other areas.

The democracies of the world have a choice: maintain a normal relationship with a rogue state, continuing to send the message that its treatment of its own citizens is to be overlooked, and its malicious activities are to be condoned. Or, sending a clear and compelling message: that until the Kremlin reverses its troubling trajectory, the current status quo will be unacceptable. This includes targeted sanctions against Putin and his corrupt and criminal cronies – such as canceling access to our banking system, business ties, and safe harbor in our best neighborhoods and schools – ensuring that they cannot enjoy the liberties in our countries that they deny their compatriots in theirs. 

For the sake of a free Russia and a free world, we trust democracies will make the right choice.”

Rasa Jukneviciene, Member of the European Parliament

Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament

Miriam Lexmann, Member of the European Parliament

Pavel Fischer, Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of the Senate of the Czech Republic

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Richards Kols, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Latvia

Žygimantas Pavilions, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Bogdan Klich, Senator, Chairman of the Foreign and European Union Committee of the Senate of the Republic of Poland

Eerik Niiles Kross, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Emanuelis Zingeris, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Benjamin L. Cardin, Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Bill Keating, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations and Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment

Brian Fitzpatrick, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations

Kimberley Kitching, Senator, Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Deputy Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia

Chris Bryant, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Bob Seely, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.