Medvedev Praises Freedom, Chirac

ria novostiPutin and Chirac greeting each other Wednesday as Medvedev looks on.
President Dmitry Medvedev stressed the importance of democracy and freedom in a speech for Russia Day on Thursday.

Medvedev presided over an awards ceremony honoring scientists, scholars and artists held annually in the Kremlin on June 12, as part of nationwide celebrations including fireworks and a concert on Red Square.

Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, established the holiday after the Soviet breakup to mark the 1990 declaration of sovereignty by Russia's Soviet-era parliament, and it was widely known as Independence Day.

In the years that followed, the optimism turned to widespread regret over the Soviet collapse and consternation over the notion that Russia was dependent on outside support. Putin renamed the holiday in 2002 and used it to emphasize Russia's resurgent economy and global clout.

Medvedev focused on individual freedom as a key to Russia's future.

"June 12 is firmly linked with the values of democracy and freedom," he said. "And we understand well that the free development of our society and the self-realization of its citizens is the best basis for achieving Russia's intellectual and technological leadership and its high competitiveness."

Among those receiving awards Thursday was former French President Jacques Chirac, who was honored for promoting Russian culture.

Chirac was the only foreigner among nine figures to receive the State Award from Medvedev.

Medvedev said Chirac -- who as a young man translated Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin" into French -- was "capable of bringing people together from different nationalities."