Anyone who lived through the Soviet experience remembers the compulsory-voluntary celebrations of May Day, as ordinary citizens were handed banners with bland or sometimes incomprehensible slogans and forced to parade in front of waving and smiling Communist Party officials. It was a stunning annual display of political theater.
Inspired by such memories, Novosibirsk-based performance artist Artyom Loskutov in 2004 set up Monstratsia (a play on the Russian words for ‘monster’ and ‘demonstration’), a May Day street festival of costumes, spontaneity, and humor that revels in and spoofs the absurdity of the Soviet May Day traditions.
Each year, a growing number of people in a growing list of Russian cities takes to the streets carrying banners with slogans like “Racoons are people too” and “I’m a simple Martian — I see something and I attack it.”
The event is now marked in more than 30 cities, with participation ranging from dozens of people to several thousand.
This year, although the country is under lockdown orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, organizers took the event into cyberspace, launching the #монстрация2020 hashtag and encouraging self-isolating people to post absurdist slogans and images on social media. Thousands of responses demonstrated that weeks of lockdown have only increased the appetite for the absurd.
An Instagram user in the Siberian city of Irkutsk posted a sign with the slogan, “We were born to make Kafka come true,” referring to the surrealist writer Franz Kafka and playing on the well-known Soviet May Day slogan, “We were born to make fairytales come true.”
Another slogan from Irkutsk read “That which burns will not rot.”
Schopenhauer, Sartre, Buckwheat, Raccoons
Another user posted, from Sydney, Australia — a photograph of herself against a clear blue sky with a placard reading, “It is cloudy today.”
Another photograph showed a complex arrangement of children’s toys organized to spell the slogan, “Let me go outside.”
A user in Novosibirsk photographed a package of buckwheat, which has the reputation of being Russia’s go-to staple for emergency hoarding, emblazoned with the slogan, “There is no money, but you hang in there.”
Those words were made famous in 2016 by then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Continuing the buckwheat theme, another Novosibirsk denizen posted a photograph of a roll of toilet paper with the words, “I’m selling buckwheat” written on it in black marker.
And picking up on Medvedev’s infamous words, one user posted an image showing German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche together with Kafka and French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre with the slogan, “There is no meaning, but you hang in there.”
A user on Twitter posted the slogan, “The dinosaurs did not die — they are just self-isolating very well.”
Playing on the fact that some Monstration festivities in the past have been broken up by police because they had not been approved in advance by the authorities, one user held a sign with slogan, “They won’t disperse us.”
Another user doctored a photo from a previous Monstration parade to add the slogan, “Enough of putting up with this! Let’s put up with something else!”
One Instagram user got up before 5 a.m. to photograph herself in the middle of a major street that in Soviet times hosted May Day demonstrations of tens of thousands of marchers. This year, however, the street was eerily empty, except for a masked woman holding a sign reading, “Where is everyone?”