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Cablegate: Blue Skies, Balloons and Blather - May Day In

VZCZCXRO4038
PP RUEHBW RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #1242/01 1231333
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 021333Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7904
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 001242

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI ELAB RS
SUBJECT: BLUE SKIES, BALLOONS AND BLATHER - MAY DAY IN
RUSSIA

REF: A. MOSCOW 1192
B. ST. PETERSBURG 83

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Under clear blue skies over most of the country,
Russia celebrated the beginning of the spring season amid a
cacophony of traditional labor-oriented messages coming from
all political perspectives. The holiday, solely dedicated to
labor during Soviet times, has become a celebration of
spring, and an opportunity for political leaders to
demonstrate their political mettle on issues working people
and pensioners care about. This year's celebration was
notable for United Russia co-opting the event for its own
political purposes and the ugly intrusion of real working
class economic issues into the celebration. While
"provocateurs" and anarchists disrupted some events, the
Kremlin's mostly hands off approach to the marchers helped
avoid international condemnation in the days leading up to
the May 7 inauguration of president-elect Medvedev. Turnout
for events around the country was relatively low as most
Russians opted to take advantage of a long holiday weekend
and took to their dachas instead of taking to the streets.
End Summary.


DAY OF SPRING AND LABOR
-----------------------

2. (U) The first of May, known as International Worker's
Solidarity Day under the Soviet system, is now celebrated by
Russians as the Day of Spring and Labor. It is an event
intended to be celebrated with parades, concerts, food and
drink. The holiday is observed from the 1st to the 3rd of
May, so many Russians use it as an opportunity to get out of
town and begin their traditional warm weather habit of going
to summer cottages on the weekend. The holiday has not lost
it origins as a day dedicated to working people. Nearly all
political parties, with ruling-party United Russia leading
the way, used the day to promote what they are doing on
behalf of workers and retirees. State television reported
that 1.5 million people participated in events around the
country.

UNITED RUSSIA CO-OPTS DAY OF SPRING AND LABOR
---------------------------------------------

3. (U) Befitting its near-total dominance of the political
landscape, United Russia had the most visible presence during
the holiday. In Moscow, the party joined with the Federation
of Independent Professional Unions to promote its "Strategy
-- 2020," and to reaffirm the need for wage increases to keep
up with inflation.

4. (U) The party claimed 25,000 people participated in their
Moscow March along Tverskaya, a major Moscow artery, although
this figure was not substantiated in any reporting. Party
leaders, including Chairman of the Duma International Affairs
Committee Konstantin Kosachev, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and
representatives of United Russia's youth group Molodaya
Guardia spoke at the event.

5. (U) In Yekaterinburg, the holiday was a United Russia
affair with bureaucrats, students and pensioners taking part.
A total of 25,000 people were expected to participate in the
party's rally but, according to consulate officers, only
10,000 showed up. The head of United Russia in Yekaterinburg
and the head of the official trade unions led the rally. The
Yekaterinburg holiday rally, which had typically been held
near the Lenin monument, shifted venues and message.
Eschewing any reference to the Bolshevik origins of the
holiday, the participants extolled Putin and called for
"decent work and decent salaries." A much smaller counter
demonstration was held by members of the Communist Party and
the now-defunct Pensioners' Party.

6. (U) The Communist party geared up its creaking party
machine to celebrate its traditional role as advocate for
labor and the working man, with rallies across Russia
boasting the usual sea of red flags, senior citizens and
strident speeches by the party leadership. In Moscow, party
leader Gennadiy Zyuganov and his top lieutenants led a march
and rally at Teatralnaya Square, adjacent to Red Square,
which included an estimated four to five thousand
participants. Based on reports of the party's press service,
Zyuganov broke no new ground in his address to the crowd,
blaming the Putin administration for the continuing drop in
population, for the failure to invest in infrastructure, and
even for forest fires that have been raging across parts of

MOSCOW 00001242 002 OF 002


Russia in recent weeks. He lamented the condition of
pensioners living on five thousand rubles a month, and
complained that the government had not provided new equipment
to the military. Zyuganov vilified the West, condemning NATO
expansion into Ukraine and Georgia, the "split of the Serbian
people" through recognition of Kosovo, and promised support
to the Abkhaz in their conflict with the Georgian government.
The party claimed a bevy of rallies throughout the country,
with up to 10,000 participants in the party stronghold of
Krasnodar and similarly strong showings in Rostov-on-Don,
Belgorod and Novosibirsk.

7. (U) Just Russia used the occasion to demonstrate both its
left-wing credentials (part of its on going effort to court
Communist Party voters) and its problems with Moscow
authorities (part of its attempt to demonstrate its status as
a persecuted opposition party). The holiday provided the
party its first opportunity to publicly display its new
colors -- yellow and green. At its recent party congress
(ref A), the party had abandoned the traditional red of
socialist parties and adopted green in an effort to attach
itself to the burgeoning ecological movement in Russia. The
party claimed thousands of participants at its march and
subsequent rally. Originally Just Russia planned a march
down Tverskaya but city authorities moved the march route to
the less central artery of Tsvetnoy Boulevard. Leaders
decried this change and used it to bolster their claim that
they are an opposition party, and therefore suffer the whims
of Moscow authorities. Like the Communists, Just Russia
decried the rate of inflation and called for increases in
wages and pensions to compensate.

AUTHORITIES TOLERATE MOST POINTS OF VIEW
----------------------------------------

8. (U) The day's events were notable for the level of
tolerance exhibited by law enforcement. While the usual
large numbers of militia (more than 100,000 according to the
Ministry of Internal Affairs) were present on streets
throughout Russian cities as they would be for any large
gathering, their presence was less threatening and their
mission appeared to be one of maintaining order, as opposed
to preventing marches from taking place. An "Other Russia"
contingent led by Garry Kasparov was allowed to march down
Nevskiy Prospekt, the main avenue through central St.
Petersburg unmolested by police, who also took no action
against "provocateurs" who threw objects and otherwise
taunted Other Russia participants during the march (ref B).

9. (U) Small groups of anarchists were detained throughout
Moscow for participating in unsanctioned events. In addition,
an altercation took place at a concert held at the Russian
University of Friendship of Nations. The concert, at which
there were 10,000-15,000 spectators had to be stopped when a
fight broke out and law enforcement intervened and seized
weapons. There were detentions in other cities as well.
According to news reports, activists with ties to Yabloko and
the Communist Party, who chanted "Putin, you're fired," were
detained in Saratov.

10. (U) The Movement Against Illegal Immigration marched in
central Moscow under banners calling for higher wages, as
well as their xenophobic standbys: Russia for Russians,
Moscow for Russians, and calls for the expulsion of illegal
immigrants and reduced quotas for foreign workers. According
to newspaper reports prior to May 1, the march was sanctioned
by Moscow's mayor. Marches by the movement were planned for
other cities including Volgograd.

COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) With only a handful of days to go before Dmitriy
Medvedev becomes president, the Kremlin's low-key approach to
the range of demonstrators helped avoid another spate of
international criticism of what has been its policy of
severely constraining the right to free assembly and
political speech. Most Russians were focused more on the
warm weather and long holiday weekend than on the relatively
minor political displays taking place on the streets.

BURNS

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