For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian workers carrying patriotic signs marched on Moscow's Red Square Thursday. Elsewhere in the Russian capital, communists observed their traditional holiday. And other groups held their own May Day rally.
One holiday, two celebrations. Communist supporters gathered in traditional fashion to proclaim the righteousness of the proletariat. On the other side of town, members of Russia’s anarchist, feminist, and LGBT groups rallied for equal rights in the workplace at an alternative May Day event.
Around 5,000 supporters turned out for the Communist rally. Pensioner Kapitalina Bundina-Komarova, whose first name Kapitalina come’s from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, expressed a common sentiment,
"The fall of the Soviet Union was very bad," she said. "And the nation’s leaders speak about it publicly."
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov spoke of long-lost Soviet-era unity, paying particular attention to the political turmoil in Ukraine.
"Without federalization and close interaction with Russia, Ukraine will never pull itself out of the crisis," said Zyuganov.
Zyuganov, who is not on EU or U.S. sanction lists, had strong words of defiance for U.S. sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine.
"Obama should calm down," he said."Russia is not afraid of sanctions since as a nation, it is historically, culturally, and economically self-sufficient. Russians can survive the worst possible conditions."
Support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine was evident at the Communist rally, but despite the battle cries, it was peaceful and orderly.
The same could not be said for the alternative May Day rally. Several people were detained by police during scuffles as rally-crashers interfered with the LGBT supporters.
Activist Marta Kromova explained why the LGBT community was embracing the Communist workers’ holiday.
"Members of the LGBT community face discrimination in hiring practices, "she said. "Also, there are many known cases where people have been fired due to their orientation."
Around 250 people attended the alternative rally, which was highlighted by the presence of a samba drum band.
With the official demonstration in Red Square and this alternative rally, May Day in contemporary Russia is no longer just a communist holiday.