R. K. Patrick reports on the first May Day parade in Red Square since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991
MOSCOW — Last Thursday, over 100,000 people paraded through Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate May Day. It was the first time any such parade has happened in Red Square since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
To help engineer a suitably special day, the Russian government had deployed weather control technologies known as “cloud seeding” to prevent the weather from raining on their parade.
So the rain held off while thousands of Russian tricolours paraded past the Kremlin, and it seemed there was staunch support for President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea two months ago — with banners of “Putin is Right” flying in the air, alongside old Soviet flags of sickles and hammers.
Yet there could hardly have been banners saying “Putin is Wrong”. Just last month, a small group of protestors were arrested in Red Square for protesting without express presidential permission — since Red Square is classified as a historical museum, and is therefore government property.
The rather curious and somewhat scary aspect of those arrests was that the protestors’ banners were not even real, but imaginary: the protestors had been spreading their arms wide, carefully miming the holding of invisible banners.
What the police imagined those banners actually said is perhaps worth pondering about. But the point is this: if you are not even allowed to mime the holding of an anti-Putin banner in Red Square, you can hardly expect to take part in the rabidly nationalistic, zealously nostalgic revival of May Day Soviet pageantry — and so to spring to conclusions about pro-Putin solidarity in Russia on the basis of a large May Day turnout would be misleading.
The honest chaps in the Russian Interior Ministry may well estimate that at least three million people took part in ceremonies and parades in towns and cities across Russia on May Day. And they could be right in pointing out that a number of these parades happened with gusto in Crimea, Russia’s latest territorial acquisition. But even though there are no official ministries in Russia to count the number of invisible banners on May Day, it should not be a reason to forget those few bold protestors — who, on a cold April morning, were bundled into a police van: their invisible banners forced from their hands.
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