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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Offers to Bring Back a Holiday

Under fire over benefits reform and tanking in the opinion polls, United Russia's State Duma deputies took time out Tuesday to offer Russians an extra day's holiday on May 2 -- the same holiday they abolished three months ago.

Four of the party's deputies went one better, submitting a bill that would tack an extra couple of days' holiday on the end of the May 9 Victory Day celebration.

But the extra time off, at the start of the country's traditional dacha planting season, appeared unlikely to pass before this May, if the Duma follows its procedures and allows time for the bills to be considered.

"The idea of making May 2 a holiday again is being discussed inside the faction. It can be done if we take one day off the January holidays," said Oleg Kovalyov, chairman of the State Duma's Management Committee and a senior member of the United Russia faction, by telephone Tuesday.

In December, the Duma rushed through a bill awarding an extra five days' holiday over the New Year -- borrowing one day from the May 1-2 Spring and Labor holiday and nixing Constitution Day, Dec. 12. Jan. 2-5 were made days off.

But on Tuesday, the party's faction backtracked, proposing to restore the May 2 holiday at the expense of one of the New Year's holidays, meaning that Russians would go back to work a day earlier on Jan. 5, 2006, rather than Jan. 6.

Traditionally, the long May holidays have been used by millions of dacha owners to plant potatoes and other vegetables on their land.

This year's 10-day New Year's holidays, when most Russians were confined indoors by cold weather, were marked by a sharp increase in deaths and accidents related to alcohol abuse.

In the December debate, the Duma also voted to scrap Nov. 7 as a holiday, the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, shifting the holiday forward three days to Nov. 4 -- the date said to mark the end of the so-called Time of Troubles in 1613 -- and naming it People's Unity Day.

Many, including Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, doubted the historical accuracy of the date.

Four members of the United Russia faction -- Alexander Lebedev, Andrei Samoshin, Vasily Usoltsev and Raisa Karmazina -- submitted a bill to the Duma on Monday, proposing to make May 10-11 days off, Russian media reported.

Extending Russia's most respected holiday, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, would allow for more public events that stimulate patriotism, the authors of the bill argued.

Kovalyov denied that such a bill had been submitted to the Duma as of Monday, but Andrei Isayev, chairman of the Labor and Social Policy Committee, told Strana.ru on Monday that the bill had been filed. It had little chance of becoming law, he added.

None of the May 10-11 bill's authors could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Isayev said that several regional legislatures and the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions had come up with the initiative to restore the May 2 holiday. Mironov said last month that a group of senators was also pressing for the holiday's return.

Boris Makarenko, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, said that United Russia was trying to woo voters back after losing support over the government's unpopular social reforms, which its deputies rushed through the Duma in record time last summer.

But Kovalyov said that even if the May 2 holiday bill were submitted Tuesday, procedural technicalities would not allow it to pass three readings in time for this year.

The leader of the populist Rodina party, Dmitry Rogozin, said Tuesday that he would support more days off in May, and criticized United Russia deputies for creating the longer New Year's holiday.

"Only new Russians -- those who regularly go skiing in Courchevel -- can use such extended New Year's vacations," he said, Interfax reported. "For ordinary people, it's better to have long May holidays."

December's debates on the holiday reshuffles were among the most heated in recent years, with a record number of 43 senators speaking on the issue in the Federation Council.

In the Duma, Communist Deputy Yegor Smolin appealed to United Russia to keep the long May holidays, arguing: "We want work, not drunken brawls, and potatoes, not Canary Islands."

That debate was also the occasion when United Russia Deputy Anatoly Ivanov proposed making May 7, the date of Vladimir Putin's inauguration as president in 2000, a holiday called the Day of Russia.

The proposal failed, winning just five deputies' votes, after Isayev pooh-poohed the idea.

"We are not in North Korea," Isayev said, referring to the personality cult surrounding North Korean leader Kim Jung Il.