TO NAME THE DAY

Bild027This past Friday, when I was jogging along the embankment, I received a call on my mobile. I looked at the display, read the name of the caller and shouted “Hello, Mykola” measuring my shout to the rhythm of the run. The first words I heard this time from Mykola, my long-standing friend, were a German rhyme: Rote Fahnen, freue Leute, // Blasorchester geht vorbei. // Unser Feiertag ist heute, // Heute ist der erste Mai.   (Red flags, joyful people, a brass band is going by, today is our feast day, today is the first of May).

 My friend is appealingly odd. He never ceases to think out of the box, and is an interesting person to talk with. In 1956 we started going to school together. After seven years my parents moved to another place (“moved to town”, as we used to say, because we were living in the country at that time), but Mykola and I kept being in touch and are now proud that we have known each other longer than any other people have known us, including our spouses and children.  In those days Mykola was a passionate learner of foreign languages, which was an exceptional thing in a rural school. Later he even tried to enter the Foreign Languages Department at Kyiv University but failed. A plough-jogger couldn’t compete with city applicants trained by private teachers.  Afterwards Mykola was admitted to an agricultural school and nowadays he is a moderately successful farmer. However, Mykola never misses an opportunity to speak German or English with me, and this time he remembered a verse we, as schoolchildren, had been made to learn long ago. Incidentally, after our family had moved to town I began learning English instead, and there was less of ideological brainwashing in class, since all English-speaking countries were “bourgeois” countries, but German teaching in a village school was based on the political realities of the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik “ and it exploited communist mottoes of that country. In those days German learners in the USSR knew Ernst Thälmann’s biography better than their own parents’ life histories.

Bild026Having exchanged a few words with Mykola, I jogged on thinking about the transformations May Day has suffered.  A traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures, it had been preserving roughly that status all the way till the end of the 19th century when May Day was chosen by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the shooting of workers by the Chicagoan police in May, 1886. As a young man, I used to march in civil parades past the podium where local party functionaries were standing, and I chanted, together with my fellow-students or colleagues, something like “Long live the first of May, the day of international solidarity of all workers.”  After the disintegration of the USSR and the number of the world proletarians dwindling due to the technological revolution, the ideological charge of the holiday worked itself out. Even in Russia, the former citadel of communism, the day is officially named as Day of Spring and Labor.

Bild023In Ukraine, with its “multi-vector” course of development, May 1 is still the Day of International Solidarity of Workers (there’ a hope that things will start changing after the recent anti-communist law was adopted last month, and the day will be renamed). When local communists celebrate it, they hardly think of any “solidarity” or international workers’ movement. Being Putin’s fifth column, they keep crying for the Russian moon and choke with rage when Ukrainian independence is mentioned.

This year the communist-style May Day was banned in Ukraine, and after a short unofficial rally held near the museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kyiv the first secretary of the Ukrainian communist party Petro Symonenko (a rather affluent person, by the way) had to flee through the bushes from angry pro-Ukrainian activists. As I was watching the video of his escape, I thought that all those party functionaries on the podium in Brezhnev times would have hardly believed that such things could happen if they had been told about how the communist May Day -2015 would be celebrated in Ukraine.

Bild029After jogging I took several pictures of the Dnipro and the fishermen, and the beautiful panorama. A gorgeous morning in May… If I were to give a name for this day, I would probably name it the Day of Jogging along the Embankment with the Dnipro and Heavens Embracing Each Other. A sort of longish name, but exact.

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