BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS AND RYAN KELLY
LARNACA, Cyprus - Representatives of nearly 80 organizations from 57 countries took part in meetings here January 28-February 1 to make plans for the 15th World Festival of Youth and Students and discuss other steps in building an anti-imperialist youth movement.
The 150 delegates and observers present also drew a balance sheet on the 14th world youth festival that took place in Cuba in the summer of 1997. "Through hosting that festival Cuba made its modest contribution to reshaping the international progressive and revolutionary youth movement following the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union almost 10 years ago," said Leyde Rodríguez Hernández. Along with Lissette Díaz Castro, secretary of international relations of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of Cuba, Rodríguez represented the UJC at the meetings.
A number of other delegates expressed similar views. That gathering "was unprecedented," said Rasheed Ali of the Sudanese Youth Union during the February 1 meeting that focused on plans for the next festival. "In Cuba we had the first international youth festival that was self financed by those who came. And it was the most democratic and open, in the history of the festival movement, to all those who want to fight against imperialism."
Those present at the February 1 meeting decided that the 15th world youth festival should be held in Africa, most likely Namibia. The site will be set after final consultations with youth organizations, political parties, and the government there in the next three months. A number of delegates said that drawing on the lessons of the previous gathering will maximize potential for organizing young people from around the globe involved in anti-imperialist struggles to go to a meeting in Namibia.
Nearly 12,500 delegates from 133 countries -including representatives of 2,000 youth organizations from all over the world - took part in the 1997 gathering in Cuba. They exchanged experiences and discussed organizing common actions upon their return against unemployment, racism, immigrant- bashing, and other reactionary anti-working-class manifestations of the social relations reproduced by capitalism.
They discussed organizing solidarity with exploited farmers and workers resisting belt-tightening demands by the employers. And they talked about increasing support for national liberation struggles -from Palestine to Ireland, from Western Sahara to Quebec, from Cuba's intransigent refusal to relinquish its sovereignty to Korea's battle for unification. These anti-imperialist struggles occupied much of the discussion and debate at the Cyprus gathering.
WFDY General Assembly
The first part of the event here was a four-day meeting of the General Assembly of the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) - the highest decision making body of the federation. WFDY, with some 160 affiliates in more than 100 countries, is the main international organization that has sponsored the youth festivals.
In addition to the United Democratic Youth Organization (EDON), which hosted the gathering, representatives of 19 youth organizations from 14 countries in Europe attended - the largest participation from any continent.
They included mostly youth groups affiliated to Communist Parties in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and United Kingdom. The Bulgarian Socialist Youth Union and Young Socialists in the UK also sent representatives. The Communist Youth of Italy, affiliated to the Communist Refoundation; Young Left of Sweden; and Young Communist League of Norway -which are not members of WFDY - participated as observers.
The second largest regional delegation came from Asia. It included student groups from Bangladesh, Burma, and India; All India Youth Federation, All India Youth League, and Democratic Youth Federation of India, all affiliated to Communist Parties in that country; Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK); Korean Youth League of Japan, as well as Democratic Youth League and League of Socialist Youth of that country; several organizations from Nepal; and Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union of Vietnam.
Participants from Africa included the Organization of Revolutionary Youth of Benin, Union of Progressive Youth of Egypt, National Union of Eritrean Youth and Stu dents, Ethiopian Youth League, General Union of Libyan Students, Socialist Youth and Ittihadiya Youth of Morocco, SWAPO Youth League of Namibia, ANC Youth League of South Africa, and youth of POLISARIO from Western Sahara. Besides the General Union of Palestinian Students, most other groups that sent delegations from the Middle East were affiliated to Communist Parties in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria.
In addition to the UJC of Cuba, the Federation of Communists of Argentina; October 8 Revolutionary Youth, Socialist Youth of Brazil, and youth of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB); Communist Youth of Colombia; Youth of the Popular Socialist Party of Mexico; Youth of the March 26 Movement in Uruguay; and Casa de la Juventud of Paraguay took part from Latin America.
The only participants from North America came from the Young Communist League and Young Socialists in the United States.
Prior to the opening of the meeting at the international conference center in Nicosia, the island's capital, delegates visited the "green line," which has divided Cyprus in two since 1974. That's when the Turkish army invaded the island and occupied the northern third of the country, which Ankara has held under its control ever since. The Turkish government sent in troops that year after a right-wing coup toppled the elected government of Cyprus. The coup was backed by the military regime in Greece in power at that time.
The island's population of about 730,000 was nearly 20 percent Turkish Cypriots. The rest were mostly Greek Cypriots. While the population lived in mixed communities and intermarriage was common, discrimination against the Turkish- speaking minority was widespread for decades. That had been fostered by British imperialism - the country's former colonial master until 1960, which maintains two military bases and 3,000 troops on the island to this day - and aided by the bourgeois regimes that ruled after independence. For the last quarter century the island's population of Greek and Turkish Cypriots has been separated almost completely in the two parts of the country.
Ending the partition of Cyprus was a topic of discussion at the opening ceremony and at forums organized by EDON and the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), after sessions of WFDY's assembly. AKEL's bloc has a majority in parliament, while the country's presidency is held by the conservative party. One meeting on the partition was addressed jointly by a parliamentary deputy of AKEL and the foreign minister of the conservative government.
Debate on arrest of Pinochet, Iraq
In his opening report to the General Assembly, outgoing WFDY president Olivier Meier, a leader of the Movement of Communist Youth of France, condemned the "arrogant policy of domination carried out by the United States" and spoke of the spreading crisis of capitalism in Asia and Latin America, rising unemployment in Europe, and other evils of imperialism. He also said young people can be happy about progress made in parts of the world.
The two examples he gave was the departure from the presidency of Indonesia of Suharto, after popular mobilizations there last year, and the fact that Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile, "cannot claim impunity anymore. The time has come when demands for human rights gain ground the world over, and dictators have to pay for their crimes." Pinochet was arrested by British authorities in London months ago, while undergoing medical treatment there, after a judge in Spain issued an extradition order. Legal proceedings have been initiated against the former Chilean ruler on charges of ordering the murder of Spanish citizens during the military dictatorship he headed from 1973 to 1989.
In the discussion that took place during the first session of the assembly, Anne Howie of the Young Socialists in the UK presented a different view. All anti-imperialist fighters should oppose the arrest of Pinochet by London and the demand for extradition by the Spanish authorities, Howie said. "British justice is no justice. London's stance in this case is nothing but a cover to advance the so-called ethical foreign policy of British imperialism. This includes participating in the U.S. bombings of Iraq, maintaining military bases and troops in Cyprus, and participation in the NATO invasion of Yugoslavia." Howie pointed to how London has used extradition to deal blows to the Irish struggle to end British occupation of the six counties. The arrest of Pinochet by British authorities is a breach of Chilean sovereignty, she stated. "Only the Chilean people can deal with the crimes of Pinochet's regime and bring him to justice.
Howie's remarks sparked a lot of informal debate, which carried over to regional meetings of WFDY affiliates in Latin America and the Caribbean. In one such meeting, Daniel Torre of the Federation of Communist Youth of Argentina said that WFDY should back the actions by the Spanish and British governments against Pinochet. "We should support anyone who tries to bring the bloody dictator to justice."
Delegates of the UJC of Cuba and the Youth of March 26 Movement of Uruguay countered that view. "When could revolutionaries depend on the Spanish and British states to bring a dictator to justice?" asked Rodríguez of the UJC of Cuba. "We should demand that not only Pinochet and his henchmen be brought to justice but that all the imperialist powers that propped up his regime be held accountable, especially those responsible in Washington."
The resolution on Latin America adopted by the regional meeting and the assembly said that while dictatorial regimes should never enjoy impunity, the arrest of Pinochet in London is a violation of Chilean sovereignty and shows the hypocrisy of British imperialism.
In her initial remarks, Howie she pointed to the importance of organizing actions against the recent U.S.-British bombings of Iraq. While the assembly was taking place, U.S. planes bombed a site in northern Iraq at least once.
A representative of the Iraqi Democratic Youth Federation (IDYF) mentioned in passing opposition to the imperialist attacks on Iraq and to the United Nations embargo. He stressed, however, that "our people are suffering day by day because of the treatment and behavior of Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein." His group circulated a petition at the meeting condemning "human rights violations of the Hussein regime."
A few delegates joined this issue at plenary sessions and during informal discussions. Ryan Kelly, representing the Young Socialists in the United States, said that condemning the Iraqi regime and the U.S.-British bombings and UN sanctions against Iraq as equivalent in some way plays into the hands of imperialism. Washington, he pointed out, is the organizing center of assaults against the people of Iraq. U.S. imperialism not only wants to teach Iraqi people a lesson. Their actions are part of tightening the imperialist encirclement of the former Soviet Union, as does NATO expansion into Eastern and Central Europe, and the NATO occupation of Yugoslavia.
Few delegates described actions in their countries against the recent U.S.-British assaults on Iraq. The IDYF view was shared by a majority of people at the meeting. The resolution on international solidarity adopted by the assembly stated: "We feel that the [UN] blockade should be lifted... We also condemn in the strongest possible way the Iraqi government for the gross violation of peoples basic human rights causing immense misery to the Iraqi people. We demand stoppage of all military actions against Iraq and immediate withdrawal of all military troops from the area."
Korea's struggle for unification
General political discussion also took place under the point on evaluating WFDY's work since the federation's last General Assembly in Portugal in 1995. Harchand Singh, WFDY's general secretary and a leader of the All India Youth Federation, presented that report. He said that at the Lisbon meeting many delegates had questioned whether WFDY would survive the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Most of its member organizations had been youth groups affiliated to Communist Parties that looked to Moscow for political guidance.
"Since that time WFDY has been strengthened and stabilized," Harchand stated, through a number of activities, including a solidarity caravan in Western Sahara in 1996 and work through UN institutions. He said that the 14th world youth festival in Cuba was the main event that helped accomplish this goal, giving new life and continuity to the "festival movement."
Lissette Díaz Castro of the UJC of Cuba said that repeated references to the 1997 gathering in Cuba and work by many WFDY affiliates to counter Washington's economic war on the Cuban people showed the attraction of young people around the world to the example of a people that refuse to bend their knee to imperialism. "We still face many challenges to build an anti-imperialist youth movement around the world," she stated. But the objective conditions of the deepening crisis of world capitalism -from Indonesia to Brazil - and signs of resistance by students, other youth, and working people bode well for that.
One of the activities of WFDY that elicited some debate was a fact-finding mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea that the federation sponsored last July.
Hirochi Yonezawa of the Democratic Youth League of Japan, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of that country, lodged a formal objection that the written report evaluating WFDY's work in the last four years included a quite favorable description of that trip. Japan's CP, which increased its share of the votes in recent parliamentary elections, has joined the coalition government in Japan with bourgeois parties. More than a dozen WFDY affiliates took part in the trip to the DPRK, including the Socialist Youth League of Japan.
Yonezawa said it's fine to support reunification of the Korean peninsula and oppose any military threats against the DPRK. "But that trip simply served to prettify north Korea. People got only to see and hear the side of the north Korean government. There is also south Korea, and WFDY cannot side politically with the north Korean regime."
Most delegates did not share this view.
Li Il Hwan, first secretary of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, described the recent escalation of attacks by Japanese and U.S. imperialism against the DPRK, Washington's responsibility in killing millions during the 1950-53 Korean War and maintaining the division of the Korean peninsula ever since, and how the government in the DPRK has taken the moral high ground on the question of reunification.
Among the most effective in answering Yonezawa was Ju Sang Cho of the Korean Youth League of Japan. He described how millions of Koreans were forcibly taken into Japan, including hundreds of thousands of women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army. "To this day, the 700,000 Koreans living in Japan face extreme discrimination," he said. "The victory of the Korean people first against Japanese colonialism and then against U.S. imperialism in the Korean War was a major gain for working people around the world. Let's keep these facts in mind when speaking about the DPRK and Japan."
Argiris Malapanis, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States who was part of the Young Socialists delegation, said taking a "neutral" position on the north- south Korea division is unacceptable for any organization that claims to be anti-imperialist. He pointed to the January 19 State of the Union speech where U.S. president William Clinton announced the largest increase in the U.S. military budget in 15 years and his intention to end the Anti- Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia and implement some form of the "Star Wars" antiballistic missile program, giving first-strike nuclear capacity to Washington - all justified in the name of combating "rogue states" and "terrorists." The top "rogue state" on Clinton's list was the DPRK. And the target is not only north Korea but China, Malapanis said.
Malapanis also pointed to the steps to create a North American command of the U.S. Armed Forces. So defense of the DPRK against attacks by U.S. and Japanese imperialism, and telling the truth about Korea, cannot be separated from advancing the interests of working people at home. "WFDY should not only be commended for organizing the fact-finding mission, but urged to organize other such initiatives."
Yonezawa's objection was not backed by any other delegate and was not sustained.
Political discussion continued during workshops and regional meetings at the General Assembly, which elaborated proposals for common action. One issue that was hotly contested was whether to support a woman's right to choose abortion. A majority among the delegates from Asia proposed deleting a statement from the main political declaration that called for "access to child care and full sexual and reproductive rights for women."
During the final plenary, Margarida Botelho of the Communist Youth of Portugal objected to that proposal as did several other delegates. Ryan Kelly of the YS in the United States said that it's the duty of anti-imperialist fighters to try to win working people who may be opposed to abortion to support a woman's right to control her own body.
The disputed statement on women's rights remained in the declaration adopted.
The resolutions adopted by the General Assembly included proposals for stepping up support to the Palestinian struggle for a homeland, the fight by the Sahrawi people for independence from Morocco, and the independence struggle in East Timor. They also called for supporting the campaign to free the 16 Puerto Rican political prisoners in the United States, stop the execution of Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, and back the independence struggles in Quebec and Northern Ireland.
At the end of the gathering, the assembly elected a new General Council, which subsequently picked new officers. The Communist Youth of Greece was elected in WFDY's presidency and the All India Youth Federation retained the post of general secretary. The UJC of Cuba continues to hold one of the eight vice-presidencies.
Next world youth festival
The last day of the event focused on discussion of the next world youth festival.
In addition to a number of those who took part in WFDY's General Assembly, another six groups sent representatives to the February 1 meeting on the festival. Those are the social democratic youth of Austria, which led a sizable delegation from that country to the 14th youth festival in Cuba, Young Socialists of Sweden, Marxist Leninist Movement/Rebel of Belgium, Young Socialists of Canada, East Africa Youth Council of Uganda, and Pan African Movement based in Uganda.
At a similar meeting in Cairo in March of last year, three proposals had been presented on where to hold the next youth festival: Namibia, Nepal, and Russia.
Valeri Azestov of the youth section of the Russian Communist Party attended WFDY's General Assembly but did not stay for the meeting on the festival. He left a letter asking for support to the proposal he made earlier to hold the festival in Moscow, but no delegate spoke in favor.
The representatives of the Democratic Youth Federation (DNYF) of Nepal had proposed at the Cairo meeting holding the next festival in Katmandu, Nepal. The Communist Party in Nepal had just won parliamentary elections with a large majority. This time, however, it was reported that the Communist Party as well as the DNYF had undergone a major split and new elections, which are scheduled for May. A couple of these delegates said the situation in Nepal is now too unstable and the competing groups do not collaborate very well. While the Nepal proposal remained on the table, its supporters did not argue for it.
"Holding the festival in Africa, and especially Namibia, can be a political symbol and pole of attraction for young people," said Rodríguez of the UJC of Cuba. He pointed to the successful national liberation struggle in that country and its interlinking with the defeat of the apartheid regime in South Africa. None of the previous festivals have been held on the African continent.
A few other delegates pointed to the role of Cuban volunteers in Angola - fighting alongside the Angolan army and fighters from SWAPO - in defeating successive invasions of that country by the armies of the racist regime in South Africa.
Rodríguez pledged the UJC's support and offered the experience from hosting the previous festival in Cuba to help organize the next such gathering in Namibia. He and several other delegates said that the principles of nonexclusion and of self-financing that were at the center of the success of the festival in Cuba must guide the efforts for the 15th festival.
The overwhelming majority of delegates at the February 1 meeting spoke in favor of holding the gathering in Namibia.
Maleachi Ilonga of the SWAPO Youth League said that his organization and the government are discussing how to come up with resources to host the festival and need three more months for consultations. Delegates from Benin, Senegal, and Morocco offered their countries as possible sites if the Namibia option does not materialize, to ensure that the next festival be held in Africa.
The meeting decided to send a letter on behalf of the groups present to all responsible organizations and institutions in Namibia expressing the support from youth groups around the world for holding the festival there. WFDY will also initiate an international delegation to Namibia to discuss plans for the festival. A final decision on the site is to be made within six months.
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