Friday, November 12, 2010

Russian Teens Baffled by Communist Holiday

Back in the days when the Communist Party ran things around here, November 7th was the Day of the Revolution, a major holiday. Today the party faithful still parade through town, their ranks a only remnant of earlier strength. But to the teenagers I ran on a recent afternoon, November 7th was just another day. In fact, they were clueless that it had ever been a holiday. Here's how that went.

Sure, you can take my picture, I said. Just make sure I'm the youngest, thinnest and the most beautiful one in the photo. (Whahah!)

Well, they did try. ;)

I'd been downtown an hour or so already, perusing souvenirs from sidewalk vendors in Gorky Park and hoping to target some Communists. With my camera, of course. November 7th is their big day so they were making their presence known. They were celebrating the October Revolution, when Communist forces lead by Vladimir Lenin took over the Russian government. That was shortly after Czar Nicholas II was booted out of office and summarily executed.

Well, November 7th no longer a public holiday and the Communist Party has faded considerably. But to the die-hard party loyalists, the day remains sacred. Earlier that morning, en route to church, we had spotted a few dozen celebrants gathered near the Stella statue, waving their red flags with gold hammers and sickles. Their usual routine is to march through the city on Pyshkinskaya Boulevard making considerable racket with bullhorns and a brass band and then gather at the statue of Lenin.

Later that afternoon, I managed to catch several stragglers who were lingering after the festivities. I was still watching for Communists and sure enough, there at the Lenin statue was a faithful komrad, pleased to salute for a photo.

The placard says something about 93 years since the revolution. And that is of such significance to the three-plus generations of Russian folk who lived under Communism.

See the teens on the street would have been born after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, after Russia opened up in the early 1990's and after the USSR dissolved soon thereafter. They don't remember life before McDonald's. Their parents and grandparents would remember the fanfare of November 7th, of course, up through the 1980's. Girls would remember getting new dresses for the parade and the masses were released from school and work to celebrate in the city streets.

So then, I wanted to know what these youth were thinking. And they wanted to take my picture so we got to chatting.

Me: Is today an important holiday to you?

Them: Today is a holiday? (giggle, giggle) What holiday is it? Maybe Men's Day?

Noooo, Men's Day is in February.

Is it Russian Independence Day?

Nooo, Independence Day is in June. . .

See the man over there at Lenin's Statue? The guy with the red flag? Today's the day of the October Revolution, when Communism came into power.

Ohhh. . . (giggle, giggle)

So that was the end of that. And then it was on to questions about the America, the usual questions. Another topic entirely. . .

Oh, you need to meet Komrad So-and-so. We met earlier in the park when I was looking for souvenirs. Seems that he's a local officer of The Party.

He was chatting with the coin and pin vendor there at Gorky Park, near the statue of Lenin.

He was kind enough to let me circle around as to get a better shot at him. I didn't mention that I'd been hoping to photograph folks of his ilk. . .

The statue to Lenin. It's amazing how many Lenin statues are still standing throughout Russia and Ukraine. Probably interesting to know how many have been pulled down, too.


Rob said...

Sad that the new generation is taught little about their recent history. A people who know no past.
But really, a people with a phenomenal history.

Eileen said...

Hey Rob, good point. I'm wondering though if they have been taught but just didn't learn. ;) Agreed, a phenomenal history. And such potential. That's why I'm here, building toward the future. And, may I ask, how about you? Do I understand correctly that you're in Moscow?

Andrey said...

I was young when USSR existed but my knowledge in history is not bad.
That why I don't respect this holiday and do not think that it was a triumph.
Lenin's method of getting power was cruel and rude, lot's of people died, tons of blood was spilled, many intelligent and well-educated people were killed, country had fallen into ditch.
This is part of our history but not part of our proud.
Just my own opinion.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I remember celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution with the Trotsyites in Boston. They had some old time commrade from the 30's speak. Even then he seemed lost in the past.

Generations move on. Years ago, I was talking to some local kids in our black neighbourhood in New Haven about Martin Luther King. They attended the local school that bore his name. They did not know who he was. I was amazed as he lived large in my memory, then I realized they were born after his death. So I taught a sidewalk lesson that day, the white neigbour instructing the local black kids about a man who should have been a hero to them.

Molly said...

We're here in Donestk for an international adoption and I stumbled upon your blog. We live a couple of blocks away from a huge Lenin statue. Seemed so odd to be that it still stands and looks cared for. Of course, there is an even more prominent gold statue of an opera singer just down the street!

mary Westmacott said...

How interesting, really nice blog post, i'll be back again to see how things progress, thanks again for posting x