The perils of building Cold War consensus at the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students

The importance of the young people to the Soviet regime is widely known. Children were to have sheltered, happy, healthy and vibrant childhoods to show the prosperity of Stalin’s reign. By 1957, the political party leader has changed and the propaganda is shifting. Fortunately, the problem of the thousands of homeless and vagrant youths no longer exists. The child labor camps and the elapse of time allowed many of these orphans from WWII to grow up. The Soviet youth are now to symbolize the organized populace peacefully and actively demonstrating against the propaganda of the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet Union and the United States fought their ‘proxy wars’ in third world countries, but also in the media. Each side attempted to highlight their own strengths and their opponent’s faults. This sets the stage for the massive campaign organized by Russia to host the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students. Russia obviously has to appear to the world as the more virtuous and successful nation. Therefore, years before the event, construction takes place to many of the buildings within Moscow and throughout the city, a rejuvenation of the landscape commences. Months before the event, the police have orders to clean up the streets of any undesirable people. The Soviet youths who will participate in the large-scale project of showing the world that the Russian people are prospering, united, active and willing participants of the government had thoroughly rehearsed the party line to respond to all questions. The grandiose events were numerous and designed to show case the achievement of socialism.
The soviets “saw this festival as a project that would ultimately present a choreographed display of Soviet popularity and moral ascendancy…and would provide a public venue for the demonstration of Soviet wealth and benevolence.” ((Margaret Peacock, The perils of building Cold War consensus at the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students ((Cold War History, 2012) 518)) Overall, the event is successful and praised by attendees, but contact with Moscow from the outside world allowed the emergence of debate on both sides. Ironically, one journalists proved that they were successful. Rinto Alwi, a correspondent for an Indonesian newspaper said that, “this is all artificial, perfected and directed from higher up.” ((Margaret Peacock, The perils of building Cold War consensus at the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students ((Cold War History, 2012) 524)) What do you think? Would the Soviets have been better off not attempting to control every detail of the event? Could all of the delegates have then been able to focus more on the magnificence of the events and less on the propagandized slogan of willing youths robotically saying the same thing? More importantly, would it have been any different if the United States were hosting such an event? Ironically, maybe the US and Russia had more in common than they presumed.

3 thoughts on “The perils of building Cold War consensus at the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students

  1. Your analysis of Peacock’s article is thoughtful and concise. In terms of whether or not the Soviets would have been better off not controlling every detail of the event, they may have set up a system for their youth delegates to follow, but releasing 34,000 youths into a relatively free space allowed for non-mediated debate and uncontrolled actions. Despite what the Soviet Union asked of its delegates, most of it became strong recommendations so that they would not appear oppressive. In order to avoid the negative connotation of Stalinist oppression and promote themselves as a “vibrant and creative contributor to world culture” the Soviets had no choice but to allow relative freedom inside the festival. On the other hand, the Soviet delegates may not have had to be controlled once inside. As the article mentions, prior “brainwashing” could have been the key to projecting a vibrant Soviet youth to the rest of the world.
    I think that the U.S. would have taken the same precautions as the Soviet Union, however they would not have been as successful. Soviet youth had fear as large reason to listen to the Party, while U.S. youth had never been exposed to governing similar to the Soviet Union. If the U.S. had tried to convince its delegates to project the perfect image of capitalism, they would have felt a much larger backlash.

  2. I don’t think it would have mattered if they controlled the events or not. As noted in the comment above, many of these Children grew up under the Stalinist period. They had been conditioned to live in fear about the uncertain prospects of their future. Had the Soviets not controlled the events of the festival, the children would have remained with what they were most comfortable with.

  3. These interpretations of this event are riddled with the usual anti-Soviet paranoia and the deep American fear of communism. Of course Moscow tarted the city up and built new buildings to accommodate the visitors! It was only 12 years after the end of the war and there was rebuilding to be done on a scale never experienced in the US. Just last year Glasgow flattened its east end to accommodate the Commonwealth Games, forcibly removing people from their homes and right now men, mainly immigrant labour, are dying in droves in Qatar to build for the world cup. Does anyone call that propaganda? No that’s just Western business as usual.

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