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© Photo The Moscow News/Olga Kirsanova

Celebrate spring with a Soviet tradition

by at 26/04/2012 20:25

Walking through a Moscow park on a late April Saturday morning, you should not be surprised if you see whole crews of people raking leaves, planting trees and bushes, or sweeping walkways.

One of the few Soviet traditions to be retained after the fall of communism, and one of the few not to be frowned on, subbotniki were first held in 1919 by railroad workers wanting to please Vladimir Lenin by working without pay during the weekend: the name derives from subbota (Saturday).

Communist training

The pleasant social environment of today’s subbotniki belies the sinister development of the events after the early years, when the first enthusiasm had passed and people had become less interested in working for free. The Soviet government came to consider subbotniki as a means of mass communist training, and participation, while still technically voluntary, was essentially compulsory. People who refused to participate were deemed insufficiently committed to the wider community and the nation, and were often shunned or even punished.

Social activity

Last year’s media subbotnik

© RIA Novosti. / Iliya Pitalev

Last year’s media subbotnik

Those days are long past now, however, and subbotniki are a healthy outdoor activity, bringing people together to clean and spruce up their neighborhoods after a long Moscow winter, preparing the city for the May holidays.

The first Moscow subbotnik this spring was held on April 21, and had more than 1.2 million participants, including government officials, teachers, professors, school pupils, university students, and journalists. The city provided special cleaning equipment, and, according to Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov, almost 3,000 trees and more than 8,000 bushes were planted, more than 22,000 apartment building facades were washed, and 24,000 square meters of flower beds were built.

Some subbotniki take place in city parks, too. People build new birdhouses, clean squirrel houses, paint benches, and pick up garbage.

Neighborly feeling

Despite the criticism that a subbotnik is “the day when those who never litter clean up after those who never clean up after themselves,” participants said that it’s not only morally satisfying, but also makes a person feel together with his neighbors, like they share a mutual home.

The next subbotnik will be on Saturday, April 28. The cleaning frenzy can be joined in any of the following parks: Moskvoretsky, Bittsevsky Les, Kuzminki-Lyublino, Losiny Ostrov, Lianozovsky, Vorobyovy Gory, Serebryany Bor, Biryulyovsky Arboretum, Butovsky Lesopark, Tyoply Stan, Troparyovsky, Zhulebinsky, Pokrovskoye-Streshnevo, Tushinsky, and Izmailovsky. Park managements are reported to be preparing entertainment and surprises for the most active crews.

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #31"
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