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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Give This Important Day Its Due

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It was a three-day weekend; that much was clear. However, few people seemed to have a clear idea exactly what we were celebrating on Tuesday. Most of those who took a guess called the holiday by its popular name, Independence Day.

Inevitably any country undergoing a transition as profound as Russia's will experience confusion over such matters. Last winter we passed through the tortured debate over state symbols, capped off by the restoration of the Soviet national anthem — albeit patched up with some lame, post-Soviet lyrics. The controversy over burying the body of Vladimir Lenin still smolders, the moment of reckoning yet to come.

But it is truly unfortunate that the June 12 holiday has been caught up in this. This holiday, which some clueless bureaucrat has saddled with the official name Day of the Passage of State Sovereignty, actually does signify something worth keeping in mind and focusing on at least once a year.

On June 12, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies adopted a brief declaration that — in admirable, if perhaps idealistic — terms laid out the purposes and goals of a nation rejecting seven decades of stifling communist ideology. This declaration affirms the fundamental values of democracy, human rights and civil liberty that should be underlying every step in the present transition.

It is a shame that more people — from lawmakers to average citizens — do not cite this document in debates over issues ranging from the import of spent nuclear fuel to the Kremlin's proposed bill on political parties to the ongoing war in Chechnya. We can't help but think that Russia would look a lot more like a participatory democracy with an accountable government if the sentiments of the 1990 declaration were a little clearer in our minds.

Over the last year, we have witnessed several government moves that contradict the lofty ideals amid which post-Soviet Russia was born.

We watched the Central Elections Commission cynically nullify an attempt to hold a referendum on the question of importing nuclear waste. We have seen much-needed judicial reform stymied. We have seen state-controlled Gazprom take over the private NTV, re-establishing a Soviet-style de facto state monopoly of national television.

In such an atmosphere, it isn't surprising that Russians spent Tuesday scratching their heads and wondering what we were celebrating. But it's too bad. June 12 is indeed a day worth commemorating, and the 1990 declaration is a document that should not be forgotten.