A caged dove: What is happening at the World Youth Festival in Sochi?

By Nikita Popov, Daily Storm

On Sunday, October 15, the anti-imperialist festival of left-wing youth was opened by two speeches — from the president of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, Nikolas Papadimitriou, and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Previously, “Storm” reported that initially the format of the opening was planned differently. Papadimitriou’s speech was not intended, and only after hype raised in the media, the organizers decided to backpedal and not violate the 70-year tradition of the festival. Scandals were not needed. But the fiery speech of the young Greek was ignored by almost all federal media.

WFDY President Papadimitriou, in his opening remarks, noted that according to the history and traditions of the festival, young people have always been an important part of the struggle for progress and social justice.

“We are accepted in the country of heroes who defeated fascism in World War II, and changed history 100 years ago. The centenary of the October Revolution coincides with the XIX World Festival of Youth and Students, which is important for the purposes and the very essence of the festival, for the development of anti-fascist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements,” — Papadimitriou spoke with emotion and called on the world community to refuse interference in the affairs of others states.

It’s not surprising that the media emphasized Vladimir Putin’s speech. Who in Russia should pay attention to the left agenda of anti-imperialism and social justice, which could only exacerbate the shaky relations between the authorities and millions of disgruntled citizens?

“Seven decades ago, the first festival was held. Then young guys and girls, like you, rallied for the power of dreams, the belief that the youth, its sincerity, its kindness, can melt the ice of distrust, help rid the world of injustice, wars and conflicts. And your peers did a great deal. They proved that barriers are powerless before genuine friendship, and the warmth of human communication does not depend on political, national, religious, cultural or any other differences.” With such words, speaking to the visiting youth from all over the world, Vladimir Putin declared the festival officially open.

Did the youth hear the Russian leader’s call for unity? Perhaps. Were the authorities successful in depoliticizing the festival, as they hoped? Not quite.

Symbol of peace behind bars

The opening ceremony of the XIX World Festival of Youth and Students was surreal from the very beginning. The paradox lies in this. Yes, the event was large-scale, full of pomp, and very beautiful. Only one problem: the traditional anti-imperialist symbols and slogans inherent in the previous 18 festivals were absent. The symbol of peace – the dove – was actually behind bars, representing the globe. A lavish concert, organized by a team led by Russian singer and composer Igor Krutoy, was brightly youthful and at the same time dull, meaningless. Such a concert could open any mass event, like Eurovision or MTV and Muz-TV awards, but not a festival of leftist and progressive youth concerned with social justice.

“It was done by people who earned money for it, according to their aesthetic tastes and ideas about what is beautiful. That is, it was vulgar bourgeois entertainment, where they tried to weave in serious topics, but it turned out badly,” said Darya Mitina, a member of the Presidium of the WFYS, from Sochi. “Everyone knows, even the most backward, apolitical delegate, that the symbols of the festival are Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Mohammed Abdelaziz. Their names were not heard and their images were not shown. [Instead] the festival symbols were Dima Bilan and Alexander Panayotov. It was very cheesy.”

A source currently attending the festival reports that the Russian leadership worked to the maximum to depoliticize the event, “If it were not for the Komsomol and some delegations from other countries and republics, there would be no trace of leftist ideas there. For the majority of young people this is a party. As for organizational matters, we spend most of our time waiting: for lunch, for transportation, for opening, and so on,” the festival participant says, adding that Vladimir Putin’s speech was met without a standing ovation by a large number of leftists, and a good number booed the head of state.

Organizational problems

The festival in Sochi has so far received about 20,000 participants from 185 countries. In addition, there are about 5,000 volunteers from southern Russia to help organize the event. Despite the president’s statements about the most representative forum in its entire history, it has not yet broken the record of the 1957 festival in Moscow, with almost 35,000 participants.

Of course, it was obvious that such a mass of visiting delegates from all over the world would face technical difficulties. Modern Russia has not yet conducted a large-scale international event at this level. However, the stories of the problems encountered by participants have led to reflection on the incompetence of the host party.

“People are still arriving, from here and abroad. Planes are flying in with people who the FSO [Federal Security Service] refused to admit. The Saharan plane was not allowed to land at the airport. But the representatives of Sri Lanka, half of whom had received refusals from the FSO, still arrived and said that they would participate, no matter what it cost. The leadership reconsidered and issued permits,” said Darya Mitina.

It turns out that with a great deal of perseverance, problems are being solved in one way or another. But not all of them. People complain about long lines for transport, for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Basic logistics is extremely poor. Many representatives of delegations had problems with housing: instead of a single hotel room, people were provided with triple rooms already packed, others were offered beds in hallways. Also, some representatives of the National Preparatory Committee still have problems with accreditation to the festival.

“At the moment I have not yet been able to obtain credentials. This question won’t be resolved, probably, until the end of today. I can now honestly admit that until this moment we have been under a regime of silence, unable to comment on the situation,” member of the Presidium of the National Preparatory Committee of the WFYS Alexander Batov shared with “Storm.”

Despite the presence of technical problems, the main issue for the left was and remains the content and direction of the festival, noted another member of the Presidium, Darya Mitina.

“There is a clear desire to isolate the left side of the forum as much as possible from the rest. It is very noteworthy how the media commented on yesterday’s opening ceremony. In all media it is reported that at the opening ceremony of the festival President Putin spoke and the rock band One Republic performed. Although there were two speeches, and the first one was by the president of the WFDY, Nikolas Papadimitriou. It was met with a flurry of applause. Putin, in general, was also applauded, but only politely.”

Although the Kremlin pushed away the left side of the festival, the left managed to defend its agenda on the eve of the October Revolution centennial. This was the comment made to “Storm” by the head of the KPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] Central Committee on Youth Policy, Yaroslav Listov.

“Today there was a parade of participants of the WFDY member organizations, led by the Leninist Komsomol — about 7,000 people. A large meeting devoted to the October Socialist Revolution was held. It was addressed by Gennady Zyuganov, Nikolas Papadimitriou, Minister of Education of the Republic of Belarus Igor Karpenko. At the end of the conference, Zyuganov handed the leadership of the WFDY and leaders of youth organizations a commemorative medal marking ‘70 Years of the Festival Movement.’ And special mention should be made of the daughter of Ernesto Che Guevara, Aleida Guevara, who was present at this conference, since Che is a symbol of the festival.”

Numerous exhibitions organized by the Communist Party with the support of other left organizations also speak of the anti-imperialist nature of the festival. One is “The Face of Imperialism,” which presents the history of imperialism every year since 1945, from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the war in Syria. “Not a single year has passed when imperialism has not conducted wars, catastrophes, coups, massacres and tortures,” Listov said.

Youth for Putin — or vice versa?

It would be very good for the Kremlin to use an international festival in its own interests. The Russian authorities could benefit from holding such an event on the territory of our country, political strategist Abbas Galyamov said.

“First, it allows you to put the words ‘Putin,’ ‘future’ and ‘youth’ side by side. For a politician seeking a fourth term, this is important. The second reason is that the name of the festival has the word ‘international’ and young people from all over the world participate in it. In this regard, Kremlin propagandists get the opportunity to emphasize that under Putin, Russia has once again became a center of attraction and a major international player.”

Galyamov is echoed by the head of the Political Expert Group, Konstantin Kalachev. The political scientist recalls that since 1947 the festival has been an event of youth of left political orientation. It was an expression of the idea of ​​peace between peoples and the struggle against imperialism in all its forms. The festival should show that the youth of the whole planet are with Russia, that Putin is an idol for young people of all countries, skin colors, nationalities and religions.

“But when Russia is friends with right-wing parties in Europe, it would be strange if the festival was held in the same left traditions as in Moscow in 1985 or in 1957. After all, we are not now a country promoting socialist ideology … But Russia is not the best place to call for a world revolution. Yes, for the USSR it was a cozy and comfortable format. But Russia proposed to make the festival a holiday for the youth of all countries. Which it seems to be,” the expert assures.

Unfortunately, we can state today that young people and the state speak different political languages. The Kremlin manages to keep the bull by the horns, but only for the time being. No officials can offer any vision for young people and Russia’s future. Therefore, it is necessary to drug the youth with candy and entertainment. But again – only for the time being. Otherwise, the patient will run a high risk of diabetes. And who will then build the future of the country is unclear.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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