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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 22, No. 10. September 14, 1959

Youth Peace Gathering Divides Down the Middle

Youth Peace Gathering Divides Down the Middle

For the first time in the history of the so-called World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship this fete took place in a non-communist country, Vienna, the capital of neutral Austria, from June 26 to August 4 of this year.

More than 17,000 youths from 112 countries attended.

Besides these 17,000, who had come to Vienna to take part in the festival, there were also over a thousand in Vienna, who refused to take part in the festival.

This paradoxical situation is explained by the pre-history of the Vienna festival. According to the custom practised until now, an invitation of the youth and student organisations of the host country is the proper thing for the meeting which takes place every two years. This invitation was lacking in Austria, however, when the International Preparatory Committee chose Vienna and the Austrian government gave its consent for reasons of foreign policy.

Within the student and youth organisations of Austria it was then decided to do something against the propaganda spectacle.

"We are against the Communist festival," the work community "Junges Leben" confirmed, "because this festival is trying to hide bloody oppression under the mantle of a meeting of a dancing and singing youth, because Austrian youth is against having our neutral Austria and our beloved Vienna misused as a facade for the Communist camouflage fete, and because Austrian youth condemns the horrible oppression and bloody persecution of belief by Communism ..."

Counter Attraction

When the original plan to prevent the festival's being carried out in Vienna proved to be impossible, the view that the festival was excellently suited for the meeting with great numbers of young people from the East Bloc and under-developed countries, to enlighten them about the true character of the festival, and to give them a picture of the ideas and way of life of youth in western countries gained favour.

Thus the so-called "Guest Programme" came about.

Austria's Federal Youth Ring and the Austrian National Union of Students invited youth organisations from the Western World, above all from West Germany, to work together with them towards this goal. The result was at the end a many-sided and successful "Guest Programme."

For example, rides in special buses to the Hungarian border were arranged, to give a picture of the reality of the Iron Curtain by letting the participants see the barbed-wire fences.

In big Jazz concerts in Vienna's Music Hall, Ella Fitzgerald, "The First Lady of Jazz," did a counterpoint to the folklore fostered predominantly by the festival, and in various Viennese cinemas "uncensored films" were running, among them Orwell's ing in East Germany in 1953 and the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

In 11 so-called Information booths, little modern wooden barracks, as well as in a co-operative exhibition, "Austria's Youth Introduces Itself," the festival participants could supply themselves with information material and various printed matter.

Meanwhile, the sponsors of the festival limited themselves in their programme pretty exactly to the set-up of the Sixth World Festival in Moscow. Here, as there, there was no end to daily culture programmes, gala evenings, friendship meetings, and seminars in the International Student Club. Whereas in previous festivals the capitals of the East-Bloc countries always offered a lively and harmonious side-scene, this resonance was sorely lacking in non-communist and neutral Vienna.

To be sure good numbers of curious Viennese stood on the kerbstones of Ring Street as the great parade went by. But the incessant shouts of "peace and friendship" received only an occasional echo, especially wherever groups of the communist Free Austrian Youth had gathered.

Called off

The festival disintegrated into countless single meetings, at which the sponsors and the delegations often remained "1984" and "Animal Farm" and film strips on the uprisamong themselves. At times an event had to be completely called off because not enough spectators had appeared. More than once it happened that non-conformist visitors were not granted admission or that western publications, student newspapers, etc. were torn from the hands of participants and destroyed.

The success of the festival and that of the "Guest Programme" is oppositely estimated, naturally, by the two sides.

Photo of youth peace gathering

Western and eastern participants often came together in front of the information centres of the non-communist Austrian youth organisations for lively discussions, in which citizens of Vienna also took part.