Friday, May 2, 2008

May Day 2008

JenniferMy goal for today was simple: find a real May Day celebration with some real communists. Signs around town advertised a variety of rallies one could attend, and I picked the one in the poster on the right, partly because of the picturesque location (Engelska parken, right behind the University library). When we got to the meeting point (10 minutes late), it looked like this:

This is a May Day rally?

We waited around for a while to see if anything would happen, but nothing did. Greatly disappointed, we got on a bus to head back down Drottninggatan into town... when a rally came to us.

This looked a little more promising! The bus driver grudgingly let us and several other people hop out. This group looked like the group featured in the poster on the left, above, as their signs called mostly for US withdrawal from this and that. Nothing particularly communist about that, but hey, at this point, any rally would do.

The organizers of this group were no dummies, as they had their very most attractive young ladies womanning the bullhorns and handing out leaflets. They led us to a large amphitheater-like area below the castle. I sat at the top of the bowl to listen to the speechifying, while Joe went off to "try to get pictures of the crowd," as seen at left. (Don't worry, he claims to have learned the lesson of Comrade Bingo.) Some introductory remarks were made in Swedish by one of the red-clad organizers, and then, for the main attraction, they had a genuine Palestinian to give a speech. He started by apologizing for speaking in English, then thanked the Swedish people for their support over the years, and then said a bunch of other stuff too. He got polite if not enthusiastic applause. The next speaker, another local, actually opened her speech by addressing us as "Kamrater," which caused some snickering in the group sitting behind me. After her came a young man with a guitar, who sang stirring songs about something. He was actually very good, but those of us near the back of the group were distracted by drums and another march going down Drottningsgatan:

Here at last, about an hour later than advertised, were the people who were meeting in the English park. Their banner proclaims (in English) "Bangin' On The System." Their message remains unclear.
And then, while watching this march, yet a third group came into our view across Drottninggatan, massing in the area behind Akademihotellet where we first stayed when we got here. This group had a oom-pah band dressed in white uniforms, playing marching music. For today's purposes, oom-pah band trumped young man with guitar, so off we scurried to see this bunch were up to. This third group had lots of signs, a variety of causes, and a fast-growing crowd. I was handed a piece of A4-sized paper with slogans to chant, and a red piece of A6 that said across the top "Rött kort åt regeringen." I saw the word "Socialdemokraterna" on the same card and had a moment of panic, but a glance at the multi-ethnic crowd with sensible shoes reassured me that I had not accidently joined some skinheads.

This group was handing out signs, and I think they had pre-made blank signs, so that you could also write your own message if you preferred. A very egalitarian "bring your own cause" sort of crowd. And I saw some signs that you probably don't see much back home, for instance "Högre skatt" and "Nej till privat sjukvård." My personal favorite was in rhyme: "Uppsala utan bussar är som kärlek utan pussar."

After we got back, we sat to sort through the various literature we had been given to figure out who was what. Here's what happened:
  1. The first group (the ones who started behind the library and then marched out and interrupted the second rally) turned out to be Syndikalisterna (who knew there were still syndicalists around!).
  2. The second group (the ones we saw out the bus window, who had the rally just below the castle, and a real live Palestinian and the cute bullhorn girls) was Vänsterpartiet, the actual communists, even if they don't call themselves that anymore.
  3. The third group (the one that met behind the hotel, had the oom-pah band and the most people, and also interrupted the second rally) was Socialdemokraterna [volume and work warning! as of today, this site plays a loud video first], which was Sweden's ruling party for decades before losing in the 2006 elections.

Phew! What a day! I set out hoping to see just a communist or two, and I got parades of them, with Social Democrats and Syndicalists to boot. Really, I wish these revolutionary groups would get their acts together and coordinate better so that they don't overrun each other so much, and... oh. Right. Well, left-leaning groups in Sweden do have one thing in common: they all start late. Too much fun yesterday at Valborg, I suppose.

Oh, and remember the poster on the left, at the start of this post? That turned out to belong to Group #2, the communists. Here's what had happened to it by the time we walked by it again on the way back to the bus stop:

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