May Day celebrations in the Czech Republic

projev předsedy komunistické strany Miroslava Grebeníčka

Compared to previous years, May Day celebrations in the Czech Republic were much quieter this year. And that is despite the fact that parliamentary elections are just seven weeks away and some parties used May Day meetings as part of their pre-election campaign. Pavla Horakova has more.

Town of Decin - Social Democrats, photo: CTK
In the centre of Prague only a helicopter buzzing overhead and a few dozen anarc hists marching through the streets indicated that Wednesday was anything special. Gone are the days when Czechs had to join compulsory May Day demonstrations and marched en masse through the streets of towns and cities, greeting local communist functionaries and carrying portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Left-wing parties continue to pay tribute to Labour Day but their meetings are by no means compulsory. The ruling Social Democrats invited popular singers to Prague's Exhibition Grounds and devoted the meeting to their pre-election campaign. Ten thousand supporters of the Communist Party gathered on Letna Plain, where May Day demonstrations took place in the 1980s. What brought them there was disagreement with the current political system but as psychologist Karel Humhal suggests, nostalgia is an important factor, too.

Letna Plain - Communist Party, photo: CTK
"Some people loved to participate in the preparations of May Day events, some people were looking forward to it because they could meet their friends there. I myself have very nice memories of May Day parades from my childhood. People took it as a folklore festival. I remember civic associations being there, sportsmen, there were floats, the procession was very colorful and attractive for children."

Labour Day is traditionally observed by anarchists, who organise demonstrations against capitalism and the state. Far-right extremists, meanwhile, also hold their own demonstrations. In previous years clashes between the two groups often ended in violence, but this May Day was relatively peaceful and Prague was spared any major incidents. Around 400 anarchists and an equal number of far-right skinheads gathered in Brno, the second largest city in the country, but police managed to keep the two groups apart and nobody was injured, although stones were thrown at the police. Psychologist Karel Humhal says young activists and extremists have different motivations to participate in demonstrations than the generation of their parents.

"Young people who belong to various interest groups to put it mildly, they have a completely different motivation. They take participation in May Day demonstrations as an opportunity to express their opinion, to let the public know about their aims and policies. They want to make themselves more visible."