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High Days and Holidays

The May Holidays
Elena Rubinova

Friday, May 1 International Workers’ Day

n the past May 1 was offi cially termed International Workers’ Solidarity Day. Since 1992 it has been called Spring and Labor Day. This holiday used to be a major holiday in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries and included large rallies, demonstrations and communist leaders greeting people from the rostrum of Lenin’s tomb on Red Square. It is still celebrated as International Workers’ Day, with trade unions playing a central role in organizing sanctioned demonstrations. Currently the date is marked in 142 countries across the globe, but ironically not in the US, where the holiday originated at the end of the 19th century. In modern-day Russia, with the decline of the political signifi cance of this date, many people celebrate May 1 as a day of family fun and the beginning of the gardening season. Many take a short vacation, given the fact that the fi rst few days of May are traditionally marked in red in the offi cial Russian calendar. State authorities are aware that most people try to take time off work; even the State Duma is involved in a long-standing discussion on how much time off should be offi cially allowed. This year the country will enjoy two long weekends: from May 1-3 and then from May 9-11.

Thursday, May 7 Radio Day

On May 7, 1895 Russian physicist Alexander Popov successfully demonstrated at St. Petersburg University what he claimed to be his new invention – the radio. His device used Sir Oliver Lodge’s coherer; a primitive radio signal detector. Some 50 years later in 1945, Radio Day was fi rst observed in the USSR to commemorate this signifi cant event. Doubt exists, however, as to who actually invented the radio. The Western world is convinced that it was the Italian engineer Marconi. Russians claim Alexander Popov invented the radio two years before the upstart Marconi. Some historians point out that original experiments in emission and reception of signals by means of electric oscillations were carried out in 1893 by the Serbian, and later American inventor Nikola Tesla, before either Marconi or Popov. These days Radio Day (Den’ Radio) is seen as a professional holiday for those who work in the communications industry. This year, a series of conferences about Popov’s invention and even a parade of fl oats, each representing an amateur radio station, is to be held in St. Petersburg.

Monday, May 18 International Museum Day

Whether you’re a regular museum visitor or someone who normally walks past a museum without even thinking of going in, International Museum Day and especially Museum Night can turn into a real adventure. International Museum Day was established in Russia in 1977 by the International Council of Museums and has, only recently, become popular. Admission to all museums is free and in 2007 the fi rst Museum Night was held with the aim of attracting young people more used to clubbing. Each museum will decide individually how and when to run their events, so opening times and dates will vary, but all major Moscow and St. Petersburg museums are part of this cultural tradition.

Saturday, May 9 Victory Day

Victory Day is the most sacred of all public holidays in Russia. The country celebrates victory over Nazi Germany 24 hours later than its World War II allies. Offi cially the war ended at midnight on May 8, 1945, however, by then it was the next day in Russia.

Russian historians point out that Russia mainly fought to defend itself during the war – hence the patriotic name. Almost all families in the Soviet Union had at least one member who took part in the war and the total number of casualties has still not been published. According to even the most conservative estimates, up to 30 million soldiers and civilians perished, the Soviet Union lost a third of its national wealth, cities such as Stalingrad were transformed into lunar landscapes, and an entire generation of males was wiped out. Those citizens who did not actually fi ght had to work in factories to make ammunitions and supplies, which was no holiday either. They too are honored on Victory Day. The few surviving veterans march, or are transported, along central Moscow streets proudly wearing their decorations. For decades, their traditional gathering place was the garden outside the Bolshoi Theater.

It would not be until June 24, 1945, that the USSR held a proper victory parade. Footage of old documentaries prove that it was raining torrentially when soldiers tossed the defeated German army’s banners and standards, including Hitler’s own personal standard, into a sodden mess at Stalin’s feet beneath Lenin’s tomb. The pompous and glorious parade through Red Square was held annually from 1945 to 1990, when Gorbachev cancelled such proceedings. In 1995 parades on Red Square were resumed to commemorate Victory Day, but without any military hardware. Full-scale, Soviet-style parades returned to Red Square on May 9, 2008 and coincided with the inauguration of the newly elected Russian president.

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