Power in Peace: The International Youth Festival

The World Youth Festival is, “an event of global youth solidarity for democracy and against war and imperialism” created with the intention, “to bring together young people of both the socialist and capitalist countries to promote peaceful cooperation and mutual rejection of war.” It indeed makes a great deal of sense that in the newfound freedom of life after Stalin, Moscow would be the city to host the 6th World Youth Festival.

At this festival, youth from over 110 countries gathered to share in celebration and advocate for unity among diverse people. The symbol of this event was quite rightly Pablo Picasso’s Dove of Peace (1949) and the artwork could be seen plastered on banners and promotional posters for the event. In their chosen iconography, one can tell how intensely they wished the ideals of peace to be infused with their event.

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Poster for 6th World Youth Festival

Because of reforms instituted by Khrushchev, Russian citizens had the opportunity to offer Moscow as the host location and with this event, they were provided the opportunity to mingle with those from other nations. This can be noted as one of the first massive cultural exchanges post-Stalinist Russia. Everything from music to ideals were discussed between foreigners and friendships bloomed. The festival was an optimistic grasp at a future without war and without destruction (source).

Almost in a childlike manner, the preparation for this event filled many with glee:

“They want to greet their honored guests to the best of their ability and make the meeting with them bright, unforgettable and beautiful, so that it will be remembered for many years.”

After the darkness that had ruled over the lives of Soviet citizens and the horrors they had observed through warfare, this seemed like the end to a darkened tunnel. The future Soviet’s envisioned was not only full of the futuristic technological advancements, it was also one without war and without violence and loss. There is a very sweet optimism that encompasses this gathering. It seemed to be an accumulation of all they had hoped for but never dared to speak aloud.

The youth for whom this event transpired were the most keen of all observers. Forming committees to prepare and educating themselves on the cultures of other attendees, they awaited the huge event. Outside of educating themselves and creating gifts for visitors, “the artistic circles, whose ranks have been swelled with new young artists, have become more active. The young artists rehearse festival songs, dances and games at the clubs in the evening.” A jolly event was in the minds and hearts of everyone involved (source).

Overall, the intention of this event and the massive size of its gathering was a turning point for the Soviet Union. For the first time in memory, foreigners were allowed into the country and to mingle with Russian citizens. Western capitalism and Soviet communism met not to bear arms but rather to link them. After the times of hardship had passed, this was the preparation to move forward and never look back. But this was also the event which perhaps played a role in the puncturing of this hopeful peace. With this exposure to the rest of the world, young Russians became aware of what they lacked. The quality of life in other nations differed from their own, this they could now see. And as the youth embraced this display of human freedom, the truth of their country’s past would soon cloud that pure hope. The promise of new freedom and a future of companionship would not match their reality. As the Cold War continues, this vision of peace will come to an end.

 

EDIT: http://time.com/4176199/soviet-youth-summer-photos-bill-eppridge/ Interesting article with great visual resources!

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3 thoughts on “Power in Peace: The International Youth Festival

  1. I think one of the things that makes the Youth Festival so significant is that it happened in the midst of the Cold War. The vision of international peace and cooperation is embedded in the broader context of strategic tension. And holding the festival in the Soviet union gives the Soviets the upper hand in the rhetorical battle — they are the ones bringing youth together in the name of “promoting peace.” Wonderful video!

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  2. It seems like a cultural World’s Fair. I think it is ironic that this festival that fosters peace and cooperation is taking place during one of the most divisive conflicts in history, the Cold War. While this was a symbolic event that represented a more open Soviet society, was there any restrictions on contact with foreigners?

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    1. From what I understand, there was an attempt at restricting interactions although, how that was done I don’t know. @Dr.Nelson may be able to elaborate but my searches have not provided an answer to specifics.

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