The BBC reports from Moscow:
The new holiday [Nov. 4] marks the end of Polish occupation in 1612.
I suppose some Russians think so along with the BBC. Yet “the end of Polish occupation” is too vague and inclusive to be acceptable.
What ended on or about that day in 1612 was the occupation of Moscow (though not its Kremlin, yet) by a joint force of Polish irregulars and unruly Russian Cossacks. The force that recaptured Moscow was the so-called Second Militia led by prince Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, a merchant from Nizhny Novgorod, together with Cossacks commanded by prince Trubetskoy. The Second Militia was not a regular army, non-existent in pre-Petrine Russia: it had been formed and financed by Russians desperately hoping to end the civil war and foreign invasion known as the Time of Troubles (1607-1613). Kuzma Minin had led the fundraising drive, donating all his possessions to the militia.
That grassroot movement aimed to restore order and peace to Russian lands above all. A military victory over Poland and Sweden would only possible after that. (Indeed, the regular Polish army captured Smolensk in 1612 and held to it until 1654.) As the Moscow throne was vacant, the Russian mind put installing a legitimate tsar on the top of its priority list, and indeed, a new tsar (Mikhail, the first of the Romanovs) was elected in 1613. More details in my entry on Ivan Susanin.
I have just discovered a column (in Polish) by Polish journalist Waclaw Radziwinowicz (published in Gazeta Wyborcza) entitled “What is Russia going to celebrate?” It goes as far as call the Second Militia “a 17th-century Orange Revolution.” That aside, Radziwinowicz makes a crucial point: in contrast with other Russian “victory days”, the victor on November 4 was a popular movement — and that deserves to be celebrated.