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East: May Day Shows Decline Of Communism

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, 4 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Once upon a time, May Day celebrations symbolized the might of Communism in the East. Today, they confirm its downfall.

According to official estimates, about 170,000 people took part in about 300 rallies throughout Russia. Years ago, millions marched in Moscow alone.

In Ukraine, only about 4,000 people showed up at a rally in Kyiv, with slightly larger crowds in the industrial center of Donetsk and in Simferopol, the capital of ethnic Russian-dominated Crimea.

In Belarus, about 5,000-to-10,000 marchers went through the streets of Minsk under a heavy guard of uniformed and plainclothes police.

And, in the Caucasian republic of Georgia, about 300 people were said to have gathered for a "rally" to mark the occasion.

In Poland, about 2,000 took part in the march on the streets of central Warsaw, with lesser rallies held in other cities.

In Bulgaria, about 10,000 took part in a rally in Sofia, while, in Hungary, several organizations held separate events.

In Croatia, the celebration took the form of a labor union picnic in a Zagreb park.

In all countries, however, workers and many others used the traditional workers' day as an excuse to enjoy a long weekend of relaxation.

In most cases, occasional meetings and marches were organized by the remnants of various Communist parties and other leftist groups. But, at times, these groups held competing gatherings at the same time. This was the case in Moscow, for example, where Communists and labor unionists stage separate events.

In several countries, however, the left-wingers were also exposed to attacks, both verbal and physical, by their right-wing opponents. This was particularly the case in Poland, where post-Communist and Socialist marchers encountered hecklers and provided, at times, targets for flying eggs and fireworks.

Many gatherings were marked by nostalgia for "good old times." Marchers in Moscow and Kyiv carried Soviet-era flags and symbols, including portraits of Lenin and Stalin.

But, in other places, rallies were focused on more immediate issues, such as preparing for an important Bulgarian Socialist Party congress in Bulgaria, or, campaigning for legislative elections in Hungary.

In Poland, the leader of the post-Communist party, the organizer of the largest marches, used the occasion in Warsaw to send "greetings to the American left," which he implicitly identified with the Democratic Party, and thanked U.S. President Bill Clinton for supporting Poland's entry into NATO.

And, in Croatia, President Franjo Tudjman was booed by trade union picnickers, when he called on them to have "more confidence in yourself and your government."

In Hungary, the head of the Communist Labor Party, Gyula Thurmer, told the May Day rally that his party does not want a return to a Communist government, but advocates "a normal life, work and (conditions) to make ends meet."

In the Baltic republic of Lithuania, during days immediately preceding and including the May Day itself, there was an international fashion festival. Well-known Western fashion couturiers attended to show their products, as well as more than 40 fashion designers from the newly independent Eastern countries, which once formed the Soviet Union. The Lithuanian public was reported to have been delighted.