Thousands March to Protest, Celebrate

MTA Communist supporter holding a portrait of Vladimir Lenin during a May Day rally on Thursday. Photo Essay, Page 12.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to central streets for the May Day holiday: some to protest low wages, some to criticize the Kremlin and some just to celebrate.

Around 50,000 demonstrators took part in a rally organized Thursday by the Communist Party, which was joined in the march by activists from left-wing groups, including the banned National Bolshevik Party.

The demonstrators, young and old alike, marched from Kaluzhskaya Ploshchad to Teatralnaya Ploshchad, where speakers, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, addressed the crowd.

"There are our replacements," Sergei, an elderly man carrying a red flag, said of the young demonstrators at the front of the march. "See how many young people are coming. They're all unhappy with [President Vladimir] Putin and [President-elect Dmitry] Medvedev."

In his speech, Zyuganov said one-third of Russians lived on 5,000 rubles ($210) per month. He called for the revival of heavy industry, including tractor production.

Pensioners carried portraits of Brezhnev and Stalin. One couple held a poster reading "No heat or light and a meager diet -- that is Putin's prosperity."

Communist supporter Anna Novolodskaya collected donations for striking rail workers.

"Even a policeman gave money," she said.

Bringing up the rear of the march was a tightly policed group of National Bolsheviks shouting chants such as, "Russia without Putin."

National Bolshevik activist Pavel Zherebin delivered a speech to the crowd, calling on demonstrators to attend a Dissenters' March planned Tuesday in central Moscow.

Another National Bolshevik activist, Tatyana Kadiyeva, marched with her 8-year-old son.

"I came because I can't stand the abuse of our rights, the confiscation of land and property," she said. "These are the only guys who stand up for the people."

National Bolshevik founder and opposition leader Eduard Limonov took part in a demonstration in St. Petersburg, where he was accosted by men who smeared his face with feces. The attackers were not arrested at the scene, Kommersant reported.

In another parade Thursday morning, supporters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party joined up with the pro-government Federation of Independent Trade Unions for an orderly march from Belorussky Station to the Mayor's Office on Tverskaya Ulitsa.

Some 25,000 demonstrators, many carrying flowers and pictures of doves, participated in the march, including workers from the construction, health, education and transport sectors.

The tone of the march was less critical of the government than the Communist rally, but it did feature flashes of populism.

Some marchers carried banners reading "No to Discrimination for Membership in Trade Unions" and "Pension Reform Under the People's Control."

A block of United Russia supporters marched close to the front of the parade. A middle-aged woman, who gave only her first name and patronymic -- Raisa Pavlovna -- called the rally a tradition.

"We came to have a good time and to support United Russia," she said.

Only the front section of the parade, dominated by United Russia supporters, was allowed to march into the heart of Tverskaya Ulitsa to listen to speeches, including one from Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Speaking outside his office, Luzhkov called state pensions "a disgrace" and said pensions for Muscovites would rise to 1 1/2 times the minimum wage in September.

The city plans to raise the minimum wage from 6,800 rubles ($285) to 9,000 rubles ($384), Luzhkov said, though he gave no specific dates for the change.

Listening in the crowd, construction worker Andrei Pronin was skeptical. "He's pulling wool over the people's eyes," Pronin said.