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Populism With A Price: Russians Weigh In On Putin's Gift Of A 10-Day Paid Holiday

Many social-media commentators welcomed the new May holidays, although some saw it mostly as a preelection populist gesture.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order making the entire period from May 1 through May 10 a paid nonworking holiday. The extended vacation will encompass the May 3 Labor Day holiday and Victory Day, which is marked on May 10 this year.

The April 23 decree was justified as a measure aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 and improving the health of Russian citizens. It adds four additional days off to Russia’s calendar of holidays for this year only.

Many Russians took to social media to express an array of pointed views on the seemingly uncontroversial topic.

Historian and politician Boris Ykemenko wrote on Telegram that “it is about time.”

“The idea of having a 10-day May holiday has been obvious for many years,” he wrote. “People have been skipping out of work and their studies as much as possible anyway. Moreover, in May people leave the city -- some rest, while the majority dig in their gardens and generally live actively. By comparison, in January they spend the whole 10 days sitting around, getting sour, and drinking.”

At the dacha
At the dacha

In recent years, Russians have gotten paid holidays between New Year’s Day and January 7, which is Orthodox Christmas.

“Russia is a dacha country,” agreed former Russian Planet editor Pavel Pryanikov in a post on Telegram. “People need lots of days off when the weather is good. A week in August would be nice, too, so people could gather mushrooms and harvest their potatoes.”

Several wags urged the Kremlin to give the country a vacation from New Year’s to Victory Day. While the satirical Twitter account Tyotya Roza went even further and announced: “Putin has declared 2021 a nonworking year.”

Navalny associate Leonid Volkov: It will mean that “for 11 days, we will have no news from Aleksei or about Aleksei."
Navalny associate Leonid Volkov: It will mean that “for 11 days, we will have no news from Aleksei or about Aleksei."

Leonid Volkov, a close associate of imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, wrote on Twitter that the Kremlin had one reason for declaring the long holiday. “For 11 days, we will have no news from Aleksei or about Aleksei,” he wrote. He noted that lawyers are not allowed to visit Russian prisoners during holidays.

Others, however, criticized the Kremlin for dumping the costs of the holiday on businesses. The opposition Telegram channel Sputnik And Pogrom, calling Putin “the president of the Bunker Federation,” estimated that each nonworking day would cost the country 130 billion to 150 billion rubles ($1.75 billion to $2 billion).”

“This celebration of life will be held at the expense of employers,” the channel wrote.

Likewise, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a staunch Kremlin critic who spent 10 years in prison on tax-evasion charges he says were politically and economically motivated, noted on Facebook that Putin “hasn’t worked one second in the private sector” and so didn’t hesitate “to hang all the costs for this on entrepreneurs.”

Political analyst Vasily Kashin wrote on Facebook that it was ridiculous “to introduce such holidays unexpectedly when deadlines have already been set without taking them into account.”

Writer and commentator Oleg Kozyrev wrote on Twitter that all around the world, a coronavirus lockdown means “clear rules and compensation for businesses.” In Russia, however, it means “rest some more and employers will pay. They’ll pay and go belly up and fire you.”

But such difficulties are a price the Kremlin is apparently willing to pay to give a “treat” to state-sector workers like bureaucrats, teachers, and the like.

“You can tell immediately that [Putin] is on the state budget,” wrote Kaliningrad journalist Alla Sumarokova on Facebook. “Only people sucking from the budget can be happy about a holiday from May 1 to May 10. Apparently, only state-sector workers and those close to them will be eating in June.”

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Ivan Belyayev.