Tens of thousands of Russians lauded communism and denounced market reforms in May Day demonstrations Monday, but for countless others the highest holiday of socialism was just a day off from work.
An estimated 20,000 people in St. Petersburg marched in a light snow and two demonstrations in Moscow attracted about 5,000 people each. In Soviet days, May Day in Moscow was met with huge fanfare and a Red Square parade.
“Year No. 4, and We Still Can’t Get By,” read one placard in Moscow, referring to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
May Day was also marked with marches and speeches in many other countries, which celebrate it as an international workers’ and peace day.
In South Korea, a Seoul celebration turned into an anti-government protest when some 25,000 students and union activists demanded an apology from President Kim Young-sam for last week’s deadly gas explosion that killed 100 people. They also accused the president of oppressing labor activity.
A May Day festival in east Berlin ended with masked left-wing radicals battling police through the streets. The fighting left 72 police injured, six seriously. Thirty-six people were arrested for vandalism.
For many Russians now, May Day is mainly just a spring holiday, a long weekend to stay home or start gardening at country homes.
Old communists and other hard-liners, however, used the day as they have in past years to protest market reforms, economic troubles and the fall of Soviet power. Many carried flowers, red Soviet flags and portraits of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and dictator Josef Stalin.
The crowds ranged from students and scientists demanding higher government stipends to elderly pensioners to anti-Semitic groups.
“Death to the Filthy Rich,” read one black-and-white banner bobbing over the Moscow crowd. “Give us back the USSR,” read a placard in St. Petersburg’s Palace Square.
In other countries:
North Korea celebrated May Day communist-style, with a day off and banners praising the working class. At least 40,000 packed Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to dance and sing in praise of the new leader, Kim Jong Il, although he did not attend.
China’s leaders used the holiday as an opportunity to advertise their solidarity with the working class, announcing a five-day official work week.