June 12 is Russia Day, a day that commemorates the country’s declaration of sovereignty amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. An official holiday with a hazy meaning, as well as a connection in most Russians’ minds to a time of political and economic chaos, Russia Day has rarely generated much public excitement in the post-Soviet era. But this year is different, and it could end up marking a milestone in opposition politics.
Thousands of Russians assembled across Russia on this June 12, answering a call by anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny to re-purpose the holiday as a day to protest graft. Authorities arrested hundreds in Russia’s two main cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Navalny himself was among those taken into custody.
This symbolic reframing of political mobilization is only one way in which the June 12 protests represent a significant change in strategy for the Russian opposition. Navalny is intent on rebranding protesters as patriots.
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Yana Gorokhovskaia holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in Russian Politics at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. Evgeny Feldman is a Moscow-based freelance photographer. His work is featured here (http://www.feldmanphotography.com) and here (http://navalny.feldman.photo).