The early 17th century went down in Russian history as The Time of Troubles – a difficult inter-dynastic period marked by anarchy, hardship, internecine strife and an invasion from Poland and Lithuania. Many historians also describe it as Russia's first civil war.
Dr Oleg Ayrapetyan teaches Russian history at the History Department of Moscow State University:
"The Troubles 400 years ago quickly translated into total political and economic devastation for all parts of and all ethnic groups in Russia. The popular uprising led by Minin and Pozharsky united the Russian people across social classes, ethnicities and faiths. Indeed, it’s quite natural for all people to want to build their lives in a predictable environment that includes law and order and opportunities to attain prosperity."
'Our Motherland and Faith are in peril! Let us sacrifice all we have, including our lives, in order to have Moscow liberated!' These were the words of Kozma Minin at the time. The popular force besieged Moscow, forcing its Polish garrison to starve and take to eating cats, dogs and mice. On November 4th, the insurgents stormed Moscow’s inner walled city, Kitay-Gorod, forcing the Poles to surrender. Kozma Minin entered Kitay-Gorod with the Kazan Icon in hands.
Dr Ayrapetyan again:
"The expulsion of the invaders on November 4th did not end the Troubles. The end came the following year, when a national assembly established the Romanov Dynasty by picking Mikhail Romanov as Tsar. With monarchy and a monarch back in place, the civil war quickly petered out and orderly rule returned to Russia."
In 2005, the Russian government made November 4th a public holiday. Deputy head of the Russian Lower House’s education committee, sociologist Dr Vladimir Burmatov explains the significance of the new annual occasion:
"Russia is a diverse assemblage of ethnicities, languages and faiths. But marking national occasions like People’s Unity Day helps all Russian citizens realize that they are one people with a shared past and a shared future. True, it takes time for a new public holiday to find its place in people’s psyche. But I am confident that the Russian government is going to be helpful with this."