Unions, anarchists, skinheads and lovers get ready for May Day fun in the sun

Preparations for May Day have been under way for some time, and trade unions, socialist groups and far-right skinheads are all getting ready for the big day. As the date draws closer, the controversy grows around what - in the Czech Republic at least - is supposed to be the holiday of love. Olga Szantova reports.

When a Czech hears "byl prvni maj" - it was the first of May, he's sure to continue with "byl lasky cas" - it was the time of love. That's the beginning of probably the best known Czech poem, written by the 19th century national poet Karel Hynek Macha. Traditionally lovers come together under Macha's statue on May 1st with a flower or two.

But at the end of the 19th century the day became connected with yet another tradition. Czech workers were among the first to react to the call by the 2nd Socialist International in 1889 to dedicate the day to demonstrations for the rights of the working class, commemorating the workers' demonstration in Chicago in 1886, the leaders of which were sentenced to death.

It was this second tradition that the communist regime recognised, and lovers meeting in front of Macha's statue were sometimes punished for their counter-revolutionary demonstration of love. The working-class May Day tradition survived the fall of communism and will be commemorated this year, too. The Social Democrats are meeting in the afternoon to hear speeches by their leaders and the chairman of the country's biggest trade union organisation. That meeting will be held outside the centre of town and no problems are expected.

But the chairwoman of the Prague Social Democrats, Petra Buzkova and trade union chairman Richard Falbr might run into security problems in the morning, when they lay their wreaths on the site where that first May Day celebration was held in 1889. Only 45 minutes before they are scheduled to arrive, Czech anarchists will be laying their wreaths at the same site. Anarchist spokesmen have said they don't want any trouble, so hopefully that event will go smoothly.

That's more than can be hoped for in the other demonstrations announced for May Day afternoon. All in all five rallies are planned by various organisations from anarchists, through communists, all the way to far-right skinheads. And, it seems, whichever City Hall clerk approved the meetings had only a fleeting grasp of the geography of Prague. Otherwise it's hard to understand why extremist groups of opposing ideologies, whose members have repeatedly clashed in the past, will be holding their meetings in adjacent squares in the centre of town, at the same time. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has criticised the plans, but says the police are prepared to prevent any clashes.

So, hopefully, May Day will pass without any serious clashes. It's the first really warm and sunny weekend and many people have taken the day off for a prolonged stay out of town. And many will be coming to the statue of Karel Hynek Macha, to commemorate the first of May as the day of love.

Author: Olga Szantová
run audio