May 1 holiday casts around for new format

IT WAS only a decade and a half ago, at this time of the year, that banners were being prepared, parade routes were being laid out, and slogans were being thought up in anticipation of Work Holiday celebrations - socialist style.
This week, most Slovaks will celebrate the first day of May in Slovakia by just relaxing, visiting friends and relatives, and, weather permitting, going to cottages and planting vegetables in their gardens. Historically, however, the 1st of May meant something completely different.


PIONEERS salute the workers of the world before 1989.
photo: www.mix.sk

IT WAS only a decade and a half ago, at this time of the year, that banners were being prepared, parade routes were being laid out, and slogans were being thought up in anticipation of Work Holiday celebrations - socialist style.

This week, most Slovaks will celebrate the first day of May in Slovakia by just relaxing, visiting friends and relatives, and, weather permitting, going to cottages and planting vegetables in their gardens. Historically, however, the 1st of May meant something completely different.

During socialism, May 1 became one of the most important holidays of the era. All larger towns were required to host a parade made up of banner-carrying students (from elementary school all the way up to university), factory workers, sportsmen and others. Participation, as with most things run by the state at that time, was mandatory. The procession snaked through the towns' streets and ended up passing by a "tribunal" where all the Communist Party big-wigs sat and observed. All of this was broadcast live on state-run television.

Alcohol was not sold during the parade, but around noon, at the end of the celebrations, the real festivities began as pubs and bars opened and quickly filled up.

"We rather enjoyed it. First we did a bit of marching, and then a lot of drinking," laughs 55-year-old William M. from Bratislava. "They didn't allow alcohol during the parade because they were afraid that people under the influence would start chanting the wrong slogans, meaning anti-socialist ones."

Further back in history, May 1 was a time to erect máje (the Slovak equivalent of maypoles) and kiss under fruit trees in blossom. The whole month, the harbinger of spring, was reserved for lovers and their love for each other.

Máje were built by young men in the gardens of their girlfriends, or the objects of their undisclosed affection, as a symbol of their love, on the last day of April. These ribbon-decorated trees, which perched on the tops of poles, also conveyed the message to other would-be suitors, "Hands-off, she's mine!"

The communists pushed this tradition further by erecting huge maypoles in front of factories, a practice still continued by some companies to this day. Many young people still search for a tree in blossom on this day. The tradition ordained that lovers kissing under a particular kind of blossoming fruit tree, depending on the region, would stay in love forever.

"For us it was pear trees, and do you know how hard it was to find a pear tree where I lived?" recalls Martin, 28, from Trenčín region.

In an attempt to also keep the socialist tradition alive, the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) has planned "not so much a celebration but more like a demonstration to change the current Slovak situation of high unemployment and so on" said Ján Breznický, secretary of the regional KSS party committee.

"[KSS leader] Jozef Švec, among many others, will be speaking on SNP Square in Bratislava, where we expect up to a thousand people to show up," Breznický added.

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