Labor day celebrations in Russia

May 1 is Labor Day in Russia. Labor Day emerged as a public holiday in the Soviet era. It retained its status even after the collapse of the communist regime, but lost much of its ideological meaning, of course.

In the Soviet era, Labor Day celebrations traditionally began with parades, with the nation's most important one held in Moscow's Red Square. Those parades were not as politically charged as ones staged November 7, the holiday commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Along with Soviet flags, placards with patriotic slogans, and portraits of Communist leaders, Labor Day marchers also carried flowers, balloons, and other spring-minded stuff. The festivities also involved picnics in parks and forests and firework displays.

In the early 1990s, the Communist Opposition used Labor Day to protest against the new democratic government's political course. In the mid-'90s, however, the holiday came to be associated with trade unions' struggle for the rights of workers. The blue banners of trade unionists then edged out the Communists' red flags.

Overtime, the general public has lost interest in May 1 rallies and parades. Many now retreat to their dachas instead, to spend the day gardening.

As for political parties, they use the occasion to promote their agendas. This time around, not only activists of the Communist Party are expected to take to the streets, but also ones representing the Rodina bloc and other leftist movements that have built their platforms on social justice rhetoric. The pro-Kremlin centrist United Russia party, now holding a majority of seats in parliament, may take part as well, in order to demonstrate its care about the man-on-the-street. And the right-wingers will most probably stage rock gigs in support of democracy and civil liberties.

It is highly unlikely that the Russian tradition of Labor Day rallying will become a thing of the past any time soon. With this in mind, the State Duma, or parliament's lower house, has decided to amend the controversial bill banning rallies outside government buildings and embassies. The passage of that bill in its first reading in early April sparked public outrage and was strongly criticized by Vladimir Putin. The President pointed out to Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov that the new piece of legislation infringed on civil liberties and must be revised. Gryzlov, who leads the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, accepted Putin's criticism. He acknowledged that the ban on rallying outside government buildings was indeed "illegitimate," as "where else can they [rallies] be held to show to the government that not everyone shares its opinion."

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