May Day in Uzbekistan: Once a popular holiday

The older generation fondly remembers Soviet May Day celebrations and is upset that the holiday is no longer celebrated.

“May Day or as it is also called the Day of International Solidarity of Workers used the be the most joyful holiday after New Year’s,” claims 53-year-old Tashkent resident Margarita.

“There was music in the city from the early morning, everybody was in an elated mood, and there was a sense of a true holiday,” she says.

Most Tashkent residents over fifty share her opinion.

Forced to participate but everybody was happy to do so
The inseparable part of the celebration was participation in a May 1st demonstration when workers would parade in neatly organized groups along the streets of their cities.

Today it is assumed that people were forced to participate in these demonstrations under the threat of dismissal and they were not too keen to demonstrate but it is not entirely true.

55-year-old Zemfira says that when she was in medical school and later in Tashkent factory she and her classmates and coworkers “were forced to attend May Day demonstrations”.

“At school they would threaten a bad grade if someone did not show up, and at the factory you would lose your bonus,” says Zemfira.

At first everybody would grumble but afterwards they would assemble in groups and participate in street festivities after the demonstration, “everybody was overcome by a sense of celebration and would end up being quite pleased.”

“Today in order to experience that feeling again I would not just go to the demonstration, I would run,” says Zemfira.

Some would bring a bottle, some snacks
Former Tashselmash employee, 52-year-old Alisher recalls that their foreman would also threaten the workers every year that they would not get their bonuses if they failed to show up at the demonstration.

“But it was said in jest, the supervisor knew that we would all definitely come,” says Alisher.

The workers enjoyed participating in the demonstrations. Some would bring a bottle, some snacks. They would drink a bit before the demonstration and then would merrily march along Lenin street.

Then bachelors would usually go to cafes or restaurants to continue celebrating while married people would come home for a festive meal.

“There was simply a sense of celebration”
Actually workers would show up to demonstrate even when they were asked not to.

Viktor, former technician at Tashkent aviation plant, recalls that in 1983 their foreman announced that “at the top” they are not happy that their plant’s delegation stretched over four kilometers every year.

And then he appealed to the workers with a tactful request, “those who should not, please do not come.”

A May Day demonstration in Tashkent during Soviet times © archive photo
“But like hell we did not. My team, 23 people, came almost in its entirety,” remembers Viktor. “And naturally with bags of drinks and sandwiches.”

Viktor says the people participated in the demonstrations not to drink with their buddies and especially not to greet the members of government watching from the stands.

“There was simply a sense of some sort of unity, joy, and real celebration. It’s hard to describe,” says Viktor.

“I hope they don’t cancel New Year’s”
49-year-old Irina says that she enjoyed participating in the May Day demonstrations as a working adult and prior to that as a student.

“They would bring chocolate ice cream, Leningradskoe to Gazalkent, set up tables of various snacks, there was an orchestra and people danced and took walks. In short, it was very enjoyable,” remembers Irina.

Her 47-year-old friend Gulya did not managed to attend a single demonstration, as she likes to sleep in in the mornings. She regrets that now.

“I compensated by meeting up with my friends in the evenings and watching the fireworks but it’s still a pity,” says Gulya.

She is sad that good old traditions are disappearing from life and hopes that New Year’s celebration won’t be canceled too.

Is the regime scared of the working class?
55-year-old Arkadiy, former machinist at Uzbekselmash, believes that it is not by accident that May Day celebrations have been canceled.

“They are afraid of the working class. That’s why they have done everything possible to destroy it – robbing us of the most important working holiday – the Day of International Solidarity of Workers,” says Arkadiy.

He, just as many people of the older generation, never failed to congratulate their friends and family with the holiday and had a festive meal to celebrate.

He is sorry for today’s youth who “have nothing to remember”.

The government of Uzbekistan has recently decreed a new celebration in Tashkent to fill the void that the canceled celebration has left in the hearts and minds of the people.

Organizers plan to hold “cultural events and meet and greet with people from the art world, writers, poets, and theater and film actors” near the capital’s fountains on May 1.

However, those who remember how May Day celebrations used to be believe this substitution to be “weak”.

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