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  • I spent far too many of my childhood years participating in May Day parades. We were generous with our parades in Romania. It did not so much rain on our parade, as rain with parades, so frequent were they.

    For instance, the 23rd of August was the Romanian National Holiday back then and the parades got more elaborate, culminating in massive choreographed shows in a stadium. Usually, you could wiggle out of that by planning to be away on holiday. May Day, you couldn't. You would show up for work and be coralled into buses, taken into the town centres, given little red flags and told when to wave and what slogans to say. At school we usually had the day off. Ostensibly, this was so that we could watch the parades and our Beloved Leader's self-satisfied grin on TV. But in practice, we were often told to show up in our uniforms and join the parade, or else our marks, our exam results, our families might suffer.

    The last May Day parade was particularly excruciating. We stood for hours roped off in one square with police barriers and were not allowed to leave even to go to the toilet. (Contrary to Western countries, the police were there to keep us from dispersing!) Then they told us they had got the wrong square and we needed to be somewhere else. So we had to dash (in an orderly fashion, prodded by policemen and party activists) to another square, unfurl our flags and shout out slogans all over again. Our voices were tinny, our feet sore and our backs started aching.

    This was in the days before mobile phones, so when, finally, the parade was over, we could not just call our parents and ask to be picked up. They could not have driven to the city centre anyway; most of the main streets had been closed to traffic. There were no buses. I hobbled back home in a daze. I don't think I have ever worked so hard in my life. Without any results, without any benefits, without actually doing anything.
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