Monday, May 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Few Russians View May Holidays as More than a Vacation, Moscow Writer Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 3 – For an increasing number of Russians, a Moscow commentator says, the long holidays of early May, running from May Day through Victory Day, despite all the pomp, are increasingly “alien” events that many Russians view as little more than occasions for a personal vacation.
In an essay posted online at the end of last week, Yekaterina Salnikova notes that historians have established that “at the point of edge of the Renaissance and Modernity, the intensity of carnival celebrations was directly proportion to the difficulties of daily experience” (
The more difficult the year had been at that time, she continues, the more passionate the celebrations were. “Apparently, people have not changed over the course of centuries,” she concludes, with celebrations of any particular holiday saying more about how people are feeling about their lives than they do about how people view those events.
In 2010, Salnikova argues, “both holidays, May Day and Victory Day, are to a significant degree alien holidays for contemporary people although they take place as before in our streets,” and consequently, “what people will be celebrating remains a very large [and open] question,” even if it seldom asked.
May Day, she writes, relates to “the receding era of open class struggle, when the toiling masses considered it necessary to declare themselves as a real social force,” to make demands on the capitalists, and to reinforce their own “self-respect.” And in Soviet times, that day was “gradually transformed into ritual,” a “tightly organized ’voluntary’ demonstration.”
Indeed, Salnikova continues, “the May Day of late Soviet society bore in itself the joy of an official measure” which gave pleasure only when people could leave it and have “a small share of freedom”: “The toiler was tired from the lack of respect to labor and disappointed in socialism. He was happy to receive an extra day off.”
“Today,” she continues, “capitalism again without an alternative; [in Russia,] it is without an alternative not only in practice but also in ideology. The toilers are those who are unsuccessful, lacking in initiative, passive, and not having found a situation allowing them to be set apart from the masses.”
The “normal” post-Soviet Russian wants to have a little as possible with physical labor: “No one wants to toil.” “Everyone [wants] employment, to have a workplace, pay, if possible some kind of benefits, [even] bonuses-shmonuses.” And he or she wants someone else to provide basic services even during the long holidays, even though the latter thus have to toil.
“But without free time now, there is no holiday. Essentially,” she writes, “a holiday is not something to celebrate but rather something when one has the right not work so much. That’s all. An empty space which each can fill according to his own calculation, and one with no connection to the historic May Day.”
“Unfortunately,” Salnikova continues, Victory Day on May 9th is “also far from being our holiday.” On the one hand, she points out, “the world has changed. World wars have been replaced by local wars far away. Victories and defeats in them are relative. People fight not for ideology but for power over resources and economic control over regions.”
And on the other, the Moscow analyst points out, “people have lost the ability to tolerate long and terrible deprivations.” People now “physically are not in a position to follow the path and tolerance the deprivations which the older generation in the war and post-war years put up with.”
Any genuine celebration of the heroes of the past “presupposes that the new generations are ready to take them as an example.” But that isn’t the case now in Russia, and “the most important thing is that the idea of self-sacrifice in the name of great goals or one’s state has passed from the scene.”
“Everyone thinks not about how to give “his all” to the service of the motherland,” she says. “Everyone thinks about how to force the state to work more for him, the ordinary taxpayer.” And because they “feel on their own skin how the state has not done so,” “the issue of the responsibility of the citizen before the government or before the country isn’t real.”
In the medieval and early modern carnivals, people at least celebrated together, but “today for many, the holiday is expressed by going to some sort of megamarket and buying something. Everyone celebrates it at his own level,” a reflection of his “personal social well-being” and his imagination or lack thereof.
But “in every case, the notion of ‘a holiday from’ rather than ‘a holiday on behalf of something’ is more significant.” In short, a vacation and not a genuine holiday celebration. The holidays that are marked contain “ever less” real meanings which unite us.” Instead, “all of us are inheritors of holidays of past epochs.” Now, we don’t produce them, “only vacations.”

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