Wednesday, April 25, 2012

May Day

One sunny Sunday morning a few years back I found myself in the island port of Naxos.

Not being in a churchly mood, I had no plans for the day, but was out for my usual breakfast of Nescafé and toast at an outdoor table under the trees in the small main square that looked out onto the harbor.  Settling in for a normal several-hour breakfast I noticed that they were putting up a stand in the paved area between the square and the harbor and decorating it with a banner that called for the downfall of the King and an end to fascism.  While no foreigner should ever claim to have any particular understanding of Greek politics, I was pretty sure that had nothing to do with anything that was going on at the moment.

Then I realized that it was May Day.

What had once been in the West a time of innocent young girls frolicking around a tall phallic symbol is nowadays in many countries a time to celebrate the international solidarity of the working class, now, as always, writhing under the heel of capitalist oppression.

May Day  --  Protomaia, as the Greeks call it  --  has at times in Athens been a rough thing, with militant red crowds burning cars and harassing Americans to demonstrate their commitment to the brotherhood of man.  And the islands, I knew, were a traditional hotbed of the KKE,  -- the Communist Party of Greece  --  though in the islands I would expect that even the communists would be a nicer sort.

As the signs and scaffolding went up, the loudspeakers played music and, whatever I might think of their politics, I do like their music.  The Greek communists have some fine, rousing tunes and stirring marching songs.  I had once even purchased some of their tapes and today they were playing the good stuff.

As this was happening, tables in the square were filling, first with groups of young girls and then with their families coming from church.

Any fear that I might have had that I might be trod beneath the boot of an aroused proletariat was quickly put to rest by the almost somulent pace of the demonstration.  There was no fire in them.  Speeches were read, and not well.  One need not understand the language to tell from a speaker’s pacing that he has reached the end of his sentence, but still has words left over.  As if realizing that the historical moment was slipping from their grasp, other speakers tried to shout louder as they read their speeches, but it only made things worse.

Almost exactly an hour after the demonstration began, it ended, and the demonstrators began to drift away, leaving the square to families having their after-church lunch, almost all of whom, I had noticed, had ignored the demonstration.

The story is not intended to say anything about the current situation.  It’s just something that once happened and says nothing about what may be happening today, though I suspect that whatever is happening today, things will eventually get back to where they once were, and you will be able to attend a demonstration if you wish, or have a quiet lunch at an outdoor table under the trees in the town square, whether it’s the first of May or not.

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