The 1st of May is observed in many countries as a public holiday. Even here in Scandinavia the day is celebrated with public gatherings, speeches and demonstrations. For most of us though, it is still a normal working day.
However, I remember clearly that this was a BIG day in the former communist bloc, where I grew up.
Sometimes when I recall periods of time from my past, they seem almost like they belong in some other life. Thinking back now, reaching into my memory, some of the recollections are as amusing as they are surreal. Some of the reminiscence, so proximate in some ways, due to its strange content seem so very distant nevertheless.
In my childhood, most of which was spend in the former Czechoslovakia, the 1st of May was labelled as International Workers' Day and celebrated avidly.
I recall this day particularly at the time when I was a pioneer. Already from childhood, the doctrines of communism were projected onto us through this youth organization, which was loosely based on the scout movement. However, the pioneer movement was political. As a child, I really did not have any clues about politics and the pioneer organization and our membership in it was something very natural to me and my peers at that time. Although considered "voluntary", everyone joined. Not to become a pioneer was unheard of and would most likely have grave consequences.
As far as I recall, at the age of around nine or ten, we joined the movement through an "inauguration ceremony" and thereby left the organization of so called "Little Sparks", which preceded the pioneers. Being a member included wearing a uniform, which changed slightly over the years. In the seventies when I was a pioneer, it consisted of a light blue shirt and dark grey-blue trousers or skirt (girls were not allowed to wear trousers). The red scarf that had to be tied in a particular way around the neck, leaving one end longer than the other and a pioneer pin worn on one pocket of the shirt, completed the uniform.
The pioneers were an important part of the communist society and were even depicted on the old ten crowns bank note, as seen here. Each school class elected a leader of the pioneers and I recall being a leader for a few years. It was an extreme honour and prestige to be elected. The duties of the leader were versatile; such as organizing meetings and "after school" activities, helping the teachers, appointing various tasks between members and taking care of the class message board and the yearly scrap book. Most importantly, it meant actually leading your class when marching during ceremonies and even reporting to higher-ranking officials within the organization, at special occasions. There were slogans and pledges, which we had to memorize and repeat in greetings that were accompanied by a salutation, identical to the one of the military; raising your right hand with outstretched fingers to your forehead, with the palm pointing downwards.
Our uniforms were always worn during particular commemorations and observances, most of them of political nature, usually including celebrations linked to the communist party. The 1st of May day was one of them. We would gather in front of the school in the early morning, carrying flags and special flowers and large signs with political slogans and inscriptions. The whole school would start marching at one point, in an organized fashion into the city to join the official 1st of May parade that consisted of workers, academics, students - everyone in the active age had to participate. I recall how we would be freezing at times, as May would still be cold and even rainy.
To be honest, I never paid much attention the slogans we were shouting. "Long live the communist party!", "Long live the Soviet Union!" I remember always just having fun with my friends; we told jokes, laughed at the weather and waved at the onlookers. When the familiar tunes of the Internacionala would be streaming out of the speakers, we would sing along with everyone else, not really paying attention to the lyrics or the meaning of the occasion. We were children and as any children anywhere, we were innocent.
Today I am not sure to what extend the pioneer organization still exists. Called Pionýr in the Czech republic, it seems to still be active, although it is non-political. It's slogans, it's logo and it's focus has changed and would probably have very little to do with the movement I once took part in.