May Day – the 1st of May in Gothenburg, 2009

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We had grand weather all through the celebrations of the first weekend of spring, but Friday 1st May was best. As indeed it should be for the International Workers’ Day! There were to be five processions and meetings for different shades of red here in Gothenburg. I took my camera and digital recorder and set off to capture the day for posterity. My latest scrimshaw – here below – is the result.

[If you want to go to YouTube rather than watching this film here, this is the URL:]

I recorded all the photos and film sequences, and all the sounds, between about noon and about 5 p.m. I’ve arranged them in approximate chronological order, except that the photos of posters that I took along my route as I walked into town for the first meeting. And the soundtrack is a bit jumbled up for dramatic purposes.

May Day: Syndicalist poster
Syndicalist poster


Truth to tell, I didn’t find any of the speeches I heard especially inspiring, so I ignored them when I made the soundtrack. Instead I used more of the Social Democrats’ marching band to end the film. I also used the Anarchists’ drumming behind the opening credits because I thought it worked well as an intro. Unfortunately, I never managed to get any film or photos of them.

The five meetings were each preceded by five marches from in or around the Iron Square (Järntorget) – staggered so they would not all be marching at the same time. Also they were marching to different points in the town centre so their different meetings wouldn’t compete for the same spot. Good for me and any other non-affiliated bystanders. We were able to compare the different groups without too much effort.

Juggling equipment

It was a little difficult to handle both the sound recording and the filming or photographing at once. My solution was to set the recorder working and stand it on the pavement between my feet while I took my pictures. Just necessary to choose a good vantage point for the filming and not wander away from the recorder.

Not only did we have a good weather, but it was also a very good natured day – at least from where I was standing. At one point I did find myself surrounded by very big policemen in outsized uniforms and helmets. They turned out to be more interested in making sure the Socialist procession passed the Anarchist party without incident. When it did they disappeared again.

May Day: Parades

May Day processions, parades or demos?

I’ve used the word “procession” in the film. I don’t know. My upbringing wants me to call them “demonstrations”, but honestly, they weren’t. As you can see from the film sequences and the pictures above, everything was very what the Swedes call lagom – “just enough” – and really rather peaceful. Even the slogans that got shouted were not particularly aggressive.

The Left Party were downright quiet – hear how their MC struggles to get them to shout “socialist” in chorus. The Communists sounded like they were caught in a time warp from the late 60s. The Social Democrats could have been parading down the high street in some country town in England (if it wasn’t for the red flags and “The International”). Only the Anarchists and their drumming and the Socialists and their slogans had a bit more bite – but the Socialists were very few, and the Anarchists really sounded more like they were playing for a carnival.

I guess it was a very Swedish May Day. And why not – it was in Sweden.

May Day: Lars Ohly and Left Party Posters
Lars Ohly and Left Party Posters


I was very happy to get a picture of the one big speaker of the day – the leader of the Left Party, Lars Ohly, in Gustaf Adolf’s Square (Gustaf Adolfs Torg) outside the city hall. Despite two terrible political assassinations during the time I’ve lived in Sweden (Olof Palme’s murder in 1986 and Anna Lind’s in 2003), Swedish politician still act as though they were immune – and generally speaking, they are. I didn’t see any police protection (though I suppose he must have it). There were lots of other cameramen clustered about, with considerably larger cameras and longer lenses than mine. No doubt they got better, sharper images, but I was pleased anyway with these pictures. (It’s the one on the right that got into the film.)

Union Jack & Anneli Hulthén
May Day: Union Jack and Anneli Hulthén

At the other end of the day, and the other end of the city centre, using my maximum zoom, I took a portrait of Anneli Hulthén. She would be Gothenburg’s Mayor if we had a Mayor. She’s the Leader of the Social Democratic majority on the City Council. I saw, but didn’t take a photo of Göran Johansson, who preceded Anneli Hulthén in the job. He was there as a private citizen, besides, I’ve taken his picture before. And, up on the parapet behind the SocDem speakers, among the massed banners of the socialist movement and Labour organisations here in town I managed a zoom photo of a Union Jack which had been carried in the procession. I suppose someone representing the British Labour Party. Not quite what I’d expected to see, I admit.

To sum up

  • The reds with the best Big Name Attraction – the Left Part with Lars Ohly
  • The reds with the best nostalgia factor – the Communists
  • The reds with most enthusiasm though least numbers – the Socialists
  • The reds (and blacks) with the best music – the Anarchists
  • The reds with the most supporters, banners, flags, and bands – the Social Democrats
  • The happiest people – the citizens of Gothenburg watching the activity and enjoying the sun. And me with my camera.
May Day: Nostalgia with the Communist Party in Grönsakstorget
Nostalgia with the Communist Party in Grönsakstorget

Revisited and revised for spelling and SEO fine-tuning. Flash based YouTube video replaced. 9 Jan 2017.

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