August 01, 1999

Holiday Mania

In a fit of workaholism, former Politburo member Yegor Ligachev once uttered a phrase which made him the butt of many jokes in the press: “Chertovski khochetsya porabotat na perestroiku” (“I have a helluva of a desire to work for perestroika”). The remark led many sharks of the plume (a.k.a. journalists) to speculate sarcastically about exactly what work Ligachev might wish to do for (or against) perestroika. Their attitude was understandable. By that time, Yegor Kuzmich had earned a well-deserved label as a stubborn hardliner. Which led the father of perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev, to look for a way to get rid of his overzealous rival. Ligachev was subsequently awarded the “kiss of death” portfolio: agriculture. Shortly thereafter he got the axe. 

Paradoxically, today, in the post-perestroika era, when every Russian has at least the opportunity (though not the right tax and legal climate) to work for himself and his family (rather than “for perestroika”), workaholism a la Ligachev has still not caught on widely. What has caught on is a proliferation of prazdniki (holidays). Most recently, President Yeltsin issued an ukaz making April 30 the Day of the Firefighter. This brings to 43(!), according to Kommersant Daily, the number of new holidays instituted by President Yeltsin. Of these, 14 fall on memorable historical dates connected with the successes of the Russian and Soviet army, now called “Days of Russia’s Military Glory.” 

As Yegor Kuzmich once said to archrival Yeltsin: Boris, ty ne prav! (“Boris, you are wrong!”) For even before Yeltsin got holiday-happy, Russia had 31 holidays, commemorating everything from Border Guard Day to more significant holidays like New Year’s. So now there are a total of 74 official holidays (or one in every five days of the year). And this pandemic of prazdniki comes at a time when what the country needs is a non-stop subbotnik  (work Saturday) to clean the economy’s stables, not more excuses to go on a binge. 

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