Honoring a fresh beginning
By Associated Press
RUSSIA: With calls of unity, Russians celebrate their succession from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Published June 13, 2004
MOSCOW - Dancers twirled and soldiers in period uniforms stomped through Red Square under a massive two-headed eagle - the revived czarist national symbol - as the country celebrated itself Saturday with an elaborate parade marking the Day of Russia.
An audience - including Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president - watched as young men and women carrying white, red and blue banners spread out in the sun-drenched square outside the Kremlin, forming two giant Russian flags.
Performers in local costumes representing the Russian Federation's 89 regions danced and bowed before the grandstand where Yeltsin's successor, President Vladimir Putin, declared the multitude of nationalities unified behind the Kremlin leadership.
"We together are responsible for the fate of Russia, and hand in hand are building a free and democratic power," Putin said. "Together we want to see our country as an influential and advanced world state."
Formerly known as Independence Day, the holiday marks the Russian Parliament's June 12, 1990, declaration of sovereignty from the Soviet Union. Yeltsin, who led Russia's independence drive and was elected president on the same day in 1991, created the holiday 11 years ago.
But Russia's independence meant the breakup of the Soviet Union - an event most Russians regret and Putin recently called an enormous national tragedy. Thus, the holiday has been renamed and transformed into a celebration of Russia and the fragile unity of the huge, ethnically diverse country.
Putin invoked the "thousand-year unity of the peoples of Russia" - a country still marred by war against separatists in Chechnya - and boasted of improvements in the nation's economy and international standing.
"We have united and strengthened the country, raised its economic potential and strengthened the international position of our state," said Putin, re-elected in March to a second four-year term.
[Last modified June 13, 2004, 01:15:11]
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