Moscow enjoys a sudden traffic tide-out: no jams, the Metro is empty – this is all due the National Day of Unity. The holiday, bringing Russians back to the legendary medieval past, drove thousands out into the streets to fly their colors high.
This is only the seventh Unity Day for Russia and many residents still mistakenly take it as an Independence Day or even the October Revolution Day. The confusion comes from the abolition of the Soviet holiday which was marked on November 7. In 2005, this old Soviet holiday was replaced by an even older, pre-revolutionary holiday which takes us back to the dark 1600s.
On November 4, 1611, Count Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin sparked a rebellion to fight the Polish troops that occupied several Russian cities, including Moscow. Most of Russia’s territory was under the rule of Polish King Sigizmund II. But what is so special about these two people? Minin and Pozharsky brought together classes distant from each other at that point in time: the aristocracy and the commoners. Kuzma Minin reportedly was the son of a salt producer.
The key city in the Unity Day celebrations is Nizhny Novgorod, the fifth largest city in Russia, as this is where Minin and Pozharsky started their rebellion. Nizhny Novgorod was the place where President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin set out to on Friday.
Laying flowers at the Minin and Pozharsky monument (another such monument stands in Red Square in Moscow) President Medvedev praised the heritage of Russia’s pre-revolutionary history.
“Next year, we will celebrate the anniversary of those distant events, as well as a number of other dates. I’m referring to the 1,150 years of Russian sovereignty and to the 200 years since the end of the 1812 Patriotic War,” he said. “These dates mark not just the most important events in Russia’s history, but they also remind us about the meaning of consolidation and the lessons that are important to our life and Russia’s future.”
Colorful parades, historical reconstructions, festivals – sometimes with free hot cakes – marked Unity Day across Russia. In Moscow, over 30,000 people turned up for some 120 events.
Russian March and the other Russian March
Still, the biggest rallies have been held by political movements. Party marches on Russia’s Unity Day seem to have become a tendency. Perhaps, the most massive demonstration was held by the pro-Putin movement Nashi.
Assembling in the All-Russia Exhibition Centre in Moscow, the rally boasted some 15,000 people from over 50 Russian cities. The rally finished with a national dance and cuisine exhibition.
“Different peoples and cultures have won glory for our country. We must overcome our differences. Nationalities should get closer together and treat each other with respect,” a rally participant told RIA Novosti news agency.
The demonstrators stress that this was the only “true” Russian march. But the day has been marred by a neo-Nazi rally, which has also become traditional on November 4 and has been first to name itself “The Russian March.”
Watch RT’s Jacob Greaves reporting from the Russian March
At least 7,000 people turned up for the seventh neo-Nazi march in Moscow, many of them youngsters and teenagers. One man was spotted walking his three-year-old daughter. Slogans voiced here included “Russia is for Russians,” “Foreigners, get out” or “Moscow is no Caucasus”. Security was tightened along the route with police helicopters following the mob.