MOSCOW (AP) – Russians marked the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution on Sunday with marches, Communist rallies and protests against a parliamentary proposal to scrap what was once the most sacred Soviet holiday.

Some pro-Kremlin lawmakers have proposed replacing the Nov. 7 holiday with a new holiday on Nov. 4 to be called National Unity Day. Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is expected to consider the measure Wednesday in the first of three required votes.

“This day was and will be a landmark event, and its celebration cannot be abolished,” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. “People suffered for this holiday, and no one has the right to trample on our history.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, former President Boris Yeltsin also wanted to scrap the holiday. In a compromise, it was preserved but renamed the Day of Accord and Reconciliation.

At least 8,000 Communist Party backers and members of the ultra-nationalist National Bolshevik party gathered Sunday at a square that used to be named after Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and marched across Moscow toward a statue of Karl Marx. They carried the Soviet hammer-and-sickle flag, a giant portrait of Lenin and banners such as “U.S.S.R. – our Homeland,” and sang Soviet-era songs.

Criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s government, changes to social benefits and complaints about inequality dominated the speeches.

But some also chanted, “America, hands off Lukashenko!” a show of support for the authoritarian leader of neighboring Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who has resurrected Soviet-era symbols and institutions and honored now disgraced Soviet-era officials. The United States has accused Lukashenko of human rights violations and threatened Belarus with sanctions.

In Red Square, aging veterans wearing long, belted World War II military coats marched in formation, retracing the steps they took in 1941 when Soviets defiantly celebrated Revolution Day in spite of the Nazi forces massed about 33 miles outside Moscow.

Protesters from the Communist Party and other left-wing groups in the Siberian city of Tomsk carried posters reading, “Hands off Nov. 7!” the Interfax news agency reported. In the Far Eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk, about 600 people gathered in the main Lenin square to sing Internationale, the socialist revolutionary anthem, the ITAR-Tass said.

A poll of 1,500 Russians by Romir polling agency found that 77 percent were against scrapping the Nov. 7 holiday. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percent.

The holiday was also marked in other former Soviet republics. Three hundred elderly people rallied in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, the only country in former Soviet Central Asia that has preserved both the holiday and a statue of Lenin on one of the capital’s main squares. About 1,000 Ukrainians also marked the Soviet holiday, but some bystanders were cynical.

“Those who make revolutions don’t like to work,” said Oksana Levina, a businesswoman in Kiev. “The principle of equality kills all initiative.”

AP-ES-11-07-04 1024EST



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