Lavish multi-million dollar celebrations have been replaced by ‘subbotnik’ (voluntary clean-up), planting trees and flowers
On 10 May Azerbaijan celebrated the 94th birthday anniversary of Heydar Aliyev, the perennial leader, third president and father of the country’s incumbent president, Ilham Aliyev.
A traditional Flower Festival was held in a relatively modest format.
Millions of dollars were spent on importing flowers and design of various floral compositions some three years ago. Hajibala Abutalibov, an initiator of this holiday and Head of the Baku City Executive Government, assured journalists that the holiday would become grander year after year.
“Heydar Aliyev deserves it, since he is the savior of our state and nation. Heydar Aliyev is beyond any price, therefore I don’t think about the financial side. This year there will be 2.5 times more flowers than last year,” Abutalibov told BBC in 2013.
However, a sharp drop in oil prices and, consequently, a decline in Azerbaijan’s revenues, made the government revise particularly expensive items of the state budget. Apparently, the Flower Festival also fell under the reduction items.
This year, Baku City’s Executive Government has decided to mark Heydar Aliyev’s birthday anniversary with mass landscaping and gardening works. Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, and First Vice President, Mehriban Aliyeva, as well as the employees of numerous public and private organizations, took part in a tree and flower planting campaign. Soviet-style ‘subbotniks’ (voluntary clean-up campaign) were organized at schools and universities.
The youth movement activists protested against the Flower Festival on a number of occasions. The most resonant protest rally took place in 2009. Two youth movement activists were arrested and sentenced last year for writing ‘Happy Slaves’ Day!’ on the pedestal of Heydar Aliyev’s monument (the words ‘flower’ and ‘slave’ sound the same in Azerbaijani language – qul and gül).