Many Lithuanians will tell you that it is not customary to celebrate the International Workers’ Day here, because it brings back bad memories to many. Several important holidays that celebrate emancipation were twisted in the USSR. Women were officially liberated, so the authorities decided that there is no point to demonstrate for women’s rights on the International Women’s Day, it is enough to congratulate women with their liberation (nevermind that they still suffered from gender pay gap, double burden and glass ceiling). Since workers were also officially liberated, the International Workers’ Day was a big compulsory parade. But during the past years people have increasingly started seeing themselves as less post-soviet and more European. The International Workers’ Day was reintroduced as a public holiday by the earlier Social Democratic government, as by a coincidence this was also the day when Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, so this day can also be celebrated as the day when we officially joined ‘the family’. So Lithuanian workers can now demonstrate for their rights back in Lithuania, or they can pack up and move to Sweden. The International Workers’ Day is important, because being a public holiday (there are seven religious and five secular days-off a year in Lithuania, of the secular ones, three are connected to the Lithuanian statehood) it gives people time to think about their situation and join a demonstration for making it better. Yet it is far from a spontaneous and bottom-up demonstration – during the past years it is mostly an opportunity for unions and the Social Democratic Party to gain some visibility. Anyway, we are getting there.
I didn’t wake up on time for the demonstration, so I joined it at the end, near the White Bridge. Many people were sitting on the grass enjoying the sun, and I guess not everybody knew what exactly was being celebrated (a friend I met there wasn’t sure if it’s about the Workers’ Day or the EU).
This place is close to the newly developed business area, where the main highlights are the municipality building, various banks, and the shopping mall which is named Europa and was inaugurated on the day when Lithuania became an EU member. Close to the stage, where Lithuania’s only leftist rock band was giving a concert, a poster featuring all-male CEOs was advertising a private business-oriented university (you can see “Europa” on the right).
Skyders, the leftist band (the only politically active left-leaning music band that I know in Lithuania) was singing their song “The Lithuanian wildlife institute”, ridiculing the Lithuanian Free Market Institute”, the think-tank of anti-welfare hawks that advocates for privatization of everything that there is. ‘Jungle capitalism’ is a term that Skyders refer to often. The refrain is “The members of the Lithuanian Wildlife Institute are the only ones who know how to live well” – it was ironic to hear it standing close to the poster with these CEOs, the only difference between them being the color of their tie.
Their newest song is called “The oligarchs”:
Charming Tomas singing “The oligarchs” at the May Day gig today:
The concert attracted some interesting characters – this man always demonstrates, but he is the only one who knows what against.
The fact that May Day was quite popular this year owes to the sun more than to the popularity of the holiday, but I hope we will learn how to celebrate this holiday. Happy International Labor Day, dear readers!