Czechs and the Labour Day

Празнование Первого мая во время социализма

May 1st is still a national holiday in the Czech Republic - Labour Day Holiday - though not many people in this country observe it as such. The years of May Day parades and socialist slogans extolling the virtues of work have put them off all that.

For close to half a century there was no doubt at all as to what one would be doing on Labour Day. There was a parade to be attended. This meant putting a smile on one's face bright and early, getting into some suitable clothes, grabbing a red banner, flag or carnation and making one's way to Letna Plain - where thousands upon thousands of people would congregate for the official start of the May Day Parade.

Somewhere mid-way down the plain was the tribune, where all the important Communist party leaders stood - and from the lofty height of the tribune - they raised their hands in greeting to the river of socialist workers streaming below them, smiling and waving to show how happy they were to be working and living in Communist Czechoslovakia.

That is not to say that they smiled and waved throughout the long parade for the sheer joy of it- merely when they came close to the tribune -so that there were constant and -seemingly endless - outbursts of good cheer just below the Communist party officials.

Once one got past the tribune and far enough down the street it was easy to slip away down one of the many side streets and people just wandered off in various directions - mostly to enjoy a stroll in the spring weather, buy the kids a balloon and hot dog or seek refreshment at one of Prague's many pubs.

Somehow or other May 1st always dawned bright and sunny and people would crack jokes about it saying the Communists surely had a pact with the Devil for good weather on May 1st. In any case it always looked good to have the sun shining down on the Labour Day Parade when it appeared on the prime time news on national television that evening. For those unfortunate enough to be ill on that day and miss all the fun - there was a live broadcast of the parade on TV throughout the morning - but healthy people weren't supposed to watching it - they were supposed to be out there making it happen.

As a result, most Czechs have an inbred cynicism for "organised mass events" and on most national holidays they simply leave Prague for a pleasant and undisturbed weekend at their country cottage. Twelve years after the fall of Communism, the Communists and Social Democrats still observe Labour Day with an open air rally every year -but only a smattering of people attend.