What to make of May Day?

File Photo of Russian Tanks on Parade

(Moscow News – themoscownews.com – Simon Speakman Cordall special to The Moscow News – April 29, 2013)

Overshadowed by dramatic Victory Day celebrations, the May 1 holiday has yet to be redefined in the post-Soviet landscape

There were four pivotal dates on the Soviet calendar; January 1, May 1, May 9 and, the anniversary of the revolution, November 7. Times, like regimes, do change, however ­ and with the anniversary of the revolution now largely consigned to the dustbin of history, May’s holiday season also seems to be undergoing a fundamental shift.

Andrey Skripnik is excited. He’s just seen a T-34 on Tverskaya Ulitsa and shows everyone the footage he took on his iPhone.

The sense of expectation ahead of May 9’s Victory Day is palpable, as well it should be. Moscow’s Victory Day Parade remains a fixed point in the year, as set in the collective consciousness of the capital as New Year and Easter.

“It’s very important,” Anastasia Moguchaya, 33, an executive in the television and radio industry, told The Moscow News. “I’ll take my son to watch the parade, after which we will go to the military museum. I want him to meet the veterans and understand what happened”.

Russia’s sacrifices during World War II are legendary. Of an overall population in 1939 of around 110 million, over 20 million ­ military and civilian ­ lost their lives during the conflict. The full scope of the impact of such a seismic demographic shift is hard to grasp. This year’s Victory Day events in the capital, running at an estimated cost of some $3.4 million, reflect the fact that the generations born since still grapple with it.

Elsewhere, receding under the shadow of the Victory Day preparations, Workers’ Day (or May Day, to give it its traditional title), seems to be struggling to find a place for itself in the post-Soviet present. In contrast to the triumphant socialist youth of their posters, this year’s May 1 marchers are likely to come from a more mature demographic than the poster children they carry before them.

“It’s always the same scene at these marches. Nothing changes,” Stanislav Rudasev, 77, a retired engineer, told the New York Times last year. “It’s all pensioners. We’re waiting for a new generation.”

It’s a far cry from the heyday of 1922 when the correspondent for the British newspaper, The Communist, feverishly reported, “Everybody talked about the great day, “next Monday.” And what a day! Everyone, men, women and children, seemed to be out of doors… All the prominent buildings had special decorations of red bunting and green leaves in which were embedded the photographs of Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and other heroes of the proletarian revolution.”

While May Day rallies still draw thousands, for many, the nature of the holiday has changed.

“Families would get together and celebrate May Day.” Evgeny Ivanov, 57, an engineer recalled. “Now it is purely political.” Those politics, like those of the communist party itself, are struggling to attract a younger audience whose opposition owes more to Navalny than it does Marx.

“It’s a workers’ holiday ­ a time for this worker to go to the dacha, relax, and have a barbecue” joked Alexey Marchenko,a 22-year-old IT specialist.

At the time of writing, a scant 759 people have committed to attending the Communist Party’s May 1 rally. It’s a long way from the numbers of old and a dramatic fall from grace for one of the Soviet Union’s f lagship celebrations.

Its descent is highlighted by the rise in popularity of the day marking perhaps the same regime’s greatest achievements, the defeat, at unimaginable cost, of Nazi Germany. Where the workers figure in is anyone’s guess at the moment.

May holidays tips

Have a classic Easter:

The Mariinsky Theatre will be holding the 7th Moscow Easter Festival, which will run from May 5th to 16th. In all, there will be over 90 concerts, each divided into four parts; symphonic, choral, chamber, and bells. Details here: http://en.easterfestival.ru/

Meet the unknown Karl Briullov:

The Pushkin Museum will be hosting a collection of Briullov’s lesser known works (hence the title), including sketches and other pieces from his time in Italy. Runs to May 12

Spend quality time with ants:

35 of a projected overall 200 picnic spots will be open in time for the May holidays. Sandwiches and moods can be spoiled at Fili and Severnoye Tushino Parks.

Lots of speaking, no smoking:

May 1st sees London’s speakers’ corner divide and relocate to the Russian capital, with designated areas of dissent opening at Gorky and Sokolniki Parks. However, those seeking the true revolutionary look should think twice before sparking up. Smoking is banned at Sokolniki from May 1st onwards.

Watch out for traffic:

Bear in mind the annual exodus to the countryside over the May Holidays and, if you plan on driving over this period, plan accordingly. Much of the city center will be closed from May 1st through to May 7th, then again for Victory Day itself on May 9th.

Be careful, as protests will occur:

The Communists will gather on May 1st on Kaluzhskaya Ploshchad, starting at 11 a.m.

The Slavic Union (SS) have scaled back on their intended May 1st 2,000 man blitzkrieg of the city, opting instead for a more intimate gathering. Those who like their ultra-nationalism served with an accompaniment of acoustic ballads, as performed by Dennis Gerasimov, could do worse than spend May 1st around Oktyabrskoye Pole metro. Those that don’t are probably best advised to stay away.

Rather than launch any specifi c May 1st event, the popular opposition will be keeping the bulk of its powder dry for May 5-6th, (the anniversary of last year’s troubled rally). The May 5th march will follow Kaluzhskaya Ploshchad along Yakimanka and Polyanka to Bolotnaya, where a rally will be held. A further rally will be held on Bolotnaya Ploshchad the following day from 6pm ­ 8pm.

Traffic disruptions are likely to occur, and protest routes may also change ­ so watch the news if you plan on driving in the center.