May Day, the greatest feast of the Soviet Union, along with the military parades on the days of the Revolution and of the Victory, virtually ceased in Moscow since 1990. Some trade unions and old Communists organized picnics or small rallies here and there in the city, but a mass event of this size, especially one which marches through Red Square, like in the good old days, has not taken place since the fall of Communism, and the residents of Moscow have not even dreamed about it. That is, until it recently came to the federation of trade unions’ mind to organize this demonstration. It is wonderful how in such a short time they could do everything so strikingly well, obtain the legal permits, print propaganda matter, and of course organize seventy to a hundred thousand participants. But well, recently, on the occasion of the lightning-speed accession of the Crimea to Russia we have already seen how quickly such things can go when the Russian people support a case uniformly, giving heart and soul into it.
A seven-year old girl holds a red star-shaped balloon. Her mother proudly says to Novaya Gazeta: “I always wanted my kids experience this feeling I had in my childhood. After all, this was the greatest feast. This joy, this community, that we are all together, we are all Soviet people… And what I am seeing now, this is so, so much like it was…” And listening to the songs and the loudspeakers, and watching the marchers and their banners, it really looks as if the Soviet Union had been resuscitated, which in fact is not far from Putin’s intention. The event, officially organized by the federation of trade unions in honor of the working class is dominated by inscriptions glorifying former and present leaders – aside from Putin, Stalin, too, and even Beria –, praising the governing United Russia party, backing official policy, rejoicing at the recuperation of the Crimea, threatening the USA, NATO and Ukraine, as well as a large mass of the orange-black St. George ribbons, the symbols of victory.
How sharply the Russians are divided by the political situation is indicated by the 1204 comments in one single day posted in response to the pictures by photo blogger Georgy Malets. Independent polls show that 80% of the country agrees with Putin’s policies, and 73% feel happy, but on the internet the ratio between the pro- and anti-Putin camp is more balanced. The comments start with much mutual cursing, which draws from the dark side of the Russian language by way of a language textbook, and which is definitely not usual in Russian blogs. The people supporting with poker-face the President, proclaim the independence of the demonstration – “it was nice weather, so people came out for a walk”, “they support the leadership which finally serves the interests of the people” – while the opposition claims to know that people were sternly warned in their workplaces of the importance of participation in the rally, and point out the hypocrisy and political character of such an event, organized from above, and taken straight from the Soviet playbook. “More and more I think”, writes one of them, “that demonstration comes from demon and srat’ (to shit).”
Finally, the parade was made more colorful by a number of nationalist groups, who, in the Soviet Union, would not have been allowed to go out on the street, let alone be near the parade. But, as we well know, when it is about the demonstration of unity and solidarity, all patriots are welcome.