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AS a holiday, both seasonal and pagan, May Day goes back thousands of years. Some remnants of this ancient past still survive: on May Day, French gentlemen give their ladies bouquets of lilies of the valley. In Greece, doors and balconies are decked with floral wreaths. In Czechoslovakia, traditional vows of love are exchanged.

Police Thumb. Throughout this century, May Day* has usually served as a handy barometer of the feelings of the working class. Though the Communists have repeatedly tried to make the day their own, they have been continually challenged in the West by the Socialists, and lately by the anarchistic students of the New Left. On May Day last week both the Communists and their challengers, while occasionally clashing with each other and police, failed to project the heady fervor of earlier years.

In Moscow, for the first time since World War II, the usual parade was denuded of troops, tanks, rockets and jet fighter planes. As civilians marched with flowers and banners, and occasionally danced in the streets, Party Boss Brezhnev gave a bland, relaxed speech—and that was it. (Washington observers, though, wondered whether a military parade had been held in Khabarovsk, near the uneasy Chinese border.) In Prague, the parade itself was canceled and the populace was gently turned away from the statue of King Wenceslas in the main square, which has become a symbol of Czechoslovak resistance.

In Paris, the Communists astonishingly called off their traditional parade from the Bastille to the Place de la République, charging that a conspiracy of students and "Gaullist thugs" would have turned the route into a battlefield. The government followed through by banning all demonstrations and parades, and student protesters were nailed as they emerged from subway cars.

In Sweden, parade censors, outlawing banners "not in the interest of the working man," refused admittance to one reading "Crush Capitalism." However, they let another go by reading "Abolish Sweden." In divided Berlin, fog and rain kept most Berliners at home watching competing parades on TV. There were four in all, divided between West and East Berlin. In its typical out-of-step-with-the-times fashion, East Berlin held an old-fashioned military march-past. In Hamburg, Foreign Minister Willy Brandt was heckled by students and greeted with "Sieg Heil!" salutes.

Burning Butts. In Athens, the Greek military junta was busily playing oneupmanship with its critics: in order to forestall token strikes threatened for May Day, the junta declared it a public holiday. It also sponsored a workers' rally in Salonika, complete with government-approved signs calling for a 40-hour week and "profits participation."

There was skull cracking in The Netherlands. As 2,000 Communists gathered in Amsterdam to listen quietly to their leaders, thousands of students battled the police in the heart of the city and tried to plant Red and Viet Cong flags on the National Monument, which commemorates the Resistance of World War II. A police inspector, trapped by young toughs, was burned on the face with cigarette butts. In London, militant workers used May Day to protest the government's plan to outlaw wildcat strikes. Close to 100,000 workers stayed home, and the docks of London, Hull and Manchester shut down.

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