Once A Grand Occasion, May Day Loses Significance In Russia

May Day in Moscow used to attract thousands of people to celebrate International Workers Day. Although May Day may still be a holiday, it's much less of an occasion now.

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Today is International Workers' Day, May Day, and a holiday in many countries - that includes Russia. But it's not nearly the big deal there that it used to be. In the former Soviet Union, this was an occasion for giant parades in Red Square. NPR's Corey Flintoff has this postcard from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The Communist Party staged its usual May Day march to the Kremlin, but each year, the crowd seems to grow a little smaller, with a dwindling number of pensioners who've kept the faith from Soviet times. Younger people gathered at two other rallies that may show, for better or worse, the directions that activism could take in Russia. One was a march by nationalist groups, maybe 800 walking behind a giant banner of the Orthodox Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: They chant: Russian power, Russian power. Some are anti-immigrant, some are neo-Nazi. Closer to the center of the city in Pushkin Square, there's a very different rally, where a thousand or so activists gather under a sea of mostly red flags. Speakers exhort the crowd to fight with more fervor than the official Communist Party of Russia. This man, Alexander, says it succinctly.

ALEXANDER: We are against capitalism.

FLINTOFF: But that's an uphill battle in a city that boasts more billionaires than New York. There are other causes here, too, including the rainbow flags of gay rights activists.

MASHA: Because in Russia we have problems with tolerance and...

ALEXEI: We are equal to others, and we want same rights as others.

FLINTOFF: Masha and Alexei are protesting a proposed federal law that could ban any public expression in favor of gay rights. Outside the protest enclosure, ordinary Muscovites are ignoring politics, more involved with children and balloons and ice cream cones, on a day that's become just another day off. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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