1st May - International Labour Day (from 1890). A national holiday in Poland, a public holiday.
There is some controversy over this day in fact. Polish people are divided into groups with different opinions about this holiday. This is because during the communist era the 1st of May was celebrated as a manifestation of support for the Labour Union, the workers, the Party and our socialist country which included everlasting friendship with the Soviet Union whose troops were occupying our country at that time. Colourful marches were organised on that day in all the larger cities and more spectacular ones in capitals of communist countries with the biggest one held in Moscow. Of course presence was obligatory. Red flags, paper cut outs of doves of peace, pictures of party leaders and ‛fathers of socialism' from the Soviet Union were carried by workers, pupils, nurses and representatives from labour unions gathered in their groups. A high moment was when the representatives of the Party stood and took the salute as the crowd passed by. On one hand it was a bit of fun but only for those who were young and remember it in that colourful way. In fact it was a form of terrorizing the population. Those who did not join their colleagues on the march through cities and towns on 1st May were punished at work by salary cuts or a decrease in privileges, students could not sit their exams, and other means of forced coercion. During the Stalin era these restrictions were much more severe. People were imprisoned or just disappeared. There were, however, always some forms of manifestation of Polish independence against the harsh Soviet rule.
The 1st May in one way was a day when workers could rest and perhaps show the results of their work and try and find some peace with their families in what was a very difficult moment in the history of Poland. As can be seen there are different memories and opinions among Poles nowadays and today the 1st of May is considered by the majority as just a holiday, a day off with a chance to spend some time out of the city and enjoy the first warm days of the year and in a sense to try and forget the past. There are occasional marches by left wing political organizations but really no one cares about the original significance of this day and its initial importance is melting away under the heat (we hope) of the May sun to become just another day off to enjoy.
Last update March 2009