Countries really don’t leave each other alone, do they? They are always bothering each other, invading, claiming sovereignty, imposing annoying laws on the local inhabitants.
As we in America find ourselves once again celebrating the July 4th holiday and have cause to remember the grievances which compelled us to declare our own independence from Great Britain two hundred and thirty-six years ago, it might be interesting to consider the independence days of some other countries and the reasons they have for celebrating them.
Finland celebrates her independence day on December 6th. December 6, 1917 was the day Finland declared her independence from the Russian Empire. Of course, much like the United States, declaring herself independent was just the beginning. Just like the American colonies, Finland had to fight a war (see my blog post Finns Shooting Finns) before she became truly free and independent in 1918.
Sweden celebrates her independence day on June 6th. This observance was begun back in 1916, the year the Olympics were held in Stockholm. The date itself refers back to an event which took place in 1523 when Gustav Vasa was elected king of Sweden. The Swedes were declaring their independence from neighboring Denmark, who was ruled by an unpleasant fellow called Christian the Tyrant. Christian the Tyrant, who had a penchant for chopping off Swedish nobles’ heads, was the ruler of the Kalmar Union, a political entity which had been imposed upon Sweden and Norway by the Danes. Hard to believe the reasonable Danes were ever imposing themselves on anyone, but there you are.
Russia, who, let’s be honest, has bothered quite a number of countries in her day, celebrates her national unity day on November 4th. This day commemorates for Russians the liberation of Moscow from the Polish Occupation of 1612. Yes, the Poles once occupied Moscow and the Russians never forgot it, let me tell you. They brutally partitioned Poland along with Prussia and Austria in the late 1700’s and then came back again in 1939 and had another go with the Germans. Really, how annoying could the Poles have been?
But the selection of this particular holiday actually signifies something else very important to the Russians. It was the end of a time of constant foreign intervention in their country. Yes, back then other countries bothered the Russians a lot, Lithuanians, Swedes, Teutonic Knights, Poles, Mongols, you name it. And the Russians have never really forgotten all those people who came to bother them, because the fact is many came back to bother them again.
In Germany, there is no independence day per se (see my blog post Juneteenth). They celebrate October 3rd as a day of national unity. This was the day East and West Germany were finally reunited after 45 years of Division. For Germans, the problem has always been less one of being invaded, than it was of trying to come and stay together as Germans. The welter of Teutonic princedoms and principalities was only unified by Bismarck in 1871. This union was already compromised by the Versailles Treaty at the end of the First World War and completely blown away by Germany’s defeat in the Second World War and her division into the Eastern and Western zones.
Which brings us to England. There is no independence day in England. There is some muttering about making St. George’s Day on April 23rd a national holiday, but St. George’s connection to England is a bit hard to substantiate, frankly. I mean, there was that bit about him slaying a dragon way back when and then English soldiers fighting on the field of Agincourt against the French in 1415 did claim to see him amongst them, but it’s all a bit hard to prove, isn’t it?
The fact is the last invasion of England was in 1066 by the Normans and though the Normans won, and stayed, they did, over time, rather sort of melt into the local population. Since then, no one has made it across the Channel to bother the English though both Napoleon and Hitler wanted to have a try. This lack of invasion in their recent history seems to have saved the English from harboring the lurking grudge of being hard done by that so many other nations cultivate at the core of their sense of nationhood.
And so, what do we take away from all of this? People and countries generally want to be left alone. If only they could learn to leave others alone as well. Then maybe, the most important national holidays would stop being days of remembering who had fought and died trying to get rid of who. Then, maybe it could just be a day of gladness, like Thanksgiving Day, my favorite holiday, when you’re just supposed to be grateful for being on the planet, and being able to enjoy it.