(Reuters) - Russia staged a huge May Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square for the first time since the Soviet era on Thursday, with workers holding banners proclaiming support for President Vladimir Putin after the seizure of territory from neighboring Ukraine.
Thousands of trade unionists marched with Russian flags and flags of Putin’s ruling United Russia party onto the giant square beneath the Kremlin walls, past the red granite mausoleum of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin.
Many banners displayed traditional slogans for the annual workers’ holiday, like: “Peace, Labour, May”. But others were more directly political, alluding to the crisis in neighboring former Soviet republic Ukraine, where Russian troops seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula in March, precipitating the biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.
“I am proud of my country,” read one. “Putin is right,” said another.
Unlike Kremlin leaders in Soviet times, Putin did not personally preside at the parade from atop the mausoleum. But he carried out another Soviet-era tradition by awarding “Hero of Labour” medals to five workers at a ceremony in the Kremlin. He revived the Stalin-era award a year ago.
Putin has described the breakup of the Soviet Union as a tragedy and overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy in March by declaring Russia’s right to intervene in former Soviet countries to protect Russian speakers.
May Day, always an important date in the Soviet calendar and still a major holiday for Russians, has been marked by rallies in other parts of Moscow since the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, but until now parades were kept off Red Square.
Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Rossiya 24 TV from Red Square that more than 100,000 people had marched through it.
Putin has also revived the Soviet-era practice of staging massive displays of military firepower on Red Square to mark May 9, the allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, one of the most important days in the Soviet and Russian calendars.
Well, Putin has resurrected the Soviet Stalinist hymn for Russia’s national anthem; he venerates the leaders of the old Soviet Secret Police as models for today’s Russian youth; he insists on Lenin’s Mausoleum remaining in pride of place in Red Square; he has brought back gigantic Soviet-style Red Square Marches with missiles, tanks, red star hammer and sickle banners, and goose-stepping soldiers on May 9; and now he has brought back May Day parades.
And let us be clear, this May Day march could only have occurred with Putin’s support but I’m sure, as an autocrat, he gave the order to resurrect May Day celebrations himself.