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Vol. 81/No. 45      December 4, 2017

(special feature)

Discussion and debate mark world youth festival
in Russia

SOCHI, Russia — The 19th Festival of Youth and Students, held here at Olympic Park Oct. 15-21, was organized by the government of Russia with the aim of winning youth in this country and around the world to see Moscow as a progressive force in world politics — a global power holding Washington’s hegemony at bay.

The World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) agreed two years ago to a proposal from the Russian government to host the festival with the perspective of organizing activities around a range of political questions similar to those at previous youth festivals, most recently in Ecuador in 2013 and South Africa in 2010.

To a much greater degree than those in recent decades, however, this festival was dominated by programs organized by the host government. Events promoted economic, political and cultural interests of the Russian government, as well as sporting competitions and art programs, academic and scientific seminars, a film festival and numerous exhibit halls. The opening and closing ceremonies pointed to festivals held in Russia in 1957 and 1985, which Putin supporters promoted as a source of Russian national pride.

Festival organizers reported 30,000 participants from 185 countries. This included more than 12,000 delegates from across Russia, as well as 5,000 volunteers to facilitate the event. Thousands more came from countries and territories in Moscow’s “near abroad” surrounding Russia, as well as delegations from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

A few thousand delegates were brought by member organizations of WFDY. Many of them organized and attended some dozen parallel sessions of their own each day, featuring discussion of revolutionary Cuba, solidarity with anti-colonial struggles in Puerto Rico and Western Sahara, and other topics. Delegates from the Americas organized a “Casa America” room where solidarity forums and presentations on books by revolutionary leaders such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were organized.

Broad-ranging discussion

While Moscow used the event to advance its world standing, the most striking feature of the gathering was the openness and breadth of political debate and discussion.

Top Moscow figures spoke and fielded questions at well-attended meetings. These included President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and vice chairman of the State Duma, the parliament. Participants, both from Russia and elsewhere, were able to challenge these speakers on issues from military intervention in Ukraine to the Syrian civil war and more — something uncommon in Russia, to say the least.

During informal discussions, many Russian delegates described how they and millions of others here are affected by the world crisis of capitalism. Most supported the Putin government, but many said they didn’t agree with various of its policies and methods. “We have elections but we know beforehand who’s going to win,” one Russian delegate told us, a view echoed by others.

Communist workers and youth found a thirst to hear more about life and politics in the U.S. and interest in discussing a working-class perspective to confront the economic devastation and wars that capitalism produces.

The Russian government organized a five-day program on “Global Politics, Their Agenda and How to Protect International Peace.” It was opened by two panels where Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke.

“We hope that the objective tendency for multipolarity will grow stronger, with new economic and financial powers rising on various continents and translating their power into political influence,” Lavrov said. “Russia will undoubtedly become one of the poles.”

“Russia’s influence has increased,” he said.

The discussion and debate took up developments in Catalonia, Ukraine and Crimea, Syria and the Middle East, Korea, and the government of Myanmar’s brutal assaults on the
Rohingya people.

This and other panels promoted Moscow-dominated international economic forums such as the Eurasian Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a counterweight to Washington and the European Union.

Two “Global Politics” events featured Liberal Democratic Party leader Zhirinovsky. Prominent in Russian politics since the 1990s, Zhirinovsky is a xenophobic backer of using Moscow’s military power against peoples asserting their national rights, from Chechnya to Ukraine. Some participants objected to his glorification of the czarist monarchy that ruled the Russian empire until 1917. “When will you leave power?” another asked.

Delegates challenged Zhirinovsky on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Lenin and the Bolsheviks “created Ukraine,” he complained. “It was dangerous and nothing good came from it.” He also opposed allowing neighboring nations to voluntarily disassociate from Russia, saying the only way to keep humanity working together is “through force and violence.”

Discussion also took place on the rights of women and environmental destruction in Russia.

Capitalism or socialist revolution?

Delegates also debated whether capitalism or socialist revolution like in Cuba is the road forward for humanity.

“The solution is to increase economic growth, and that will increase jobs,” argued Xu Beining from China, speaking on unemployment at a WFDY-organized panel. “Steady growth in China has given a platform for employment stability for the last 40 years.”

“The capitalist system is in crisis, and the only way out is for workers to build a leadership capable of taking power,” responded Pierre-Luc Filion, a member of the Young Socialists in Canada. “Workers produce all the wealth, but it’s not organized in our interests.” He pointed to the Cuban Revolution as a living example of the capacity of working people to organize society based on human needs.

“Cuba is the example today, it’s an internationalist country,” Artem Lepeshkin, a history student from Moscow active in the Committee for Friendship with Cuba in Russia, told us during a discussion. “They were able to face the crisis after the collapse of the socialist camp because they organized through mass organizations — from Committees for the Defense of the Revolution to women’s organizations. They involve everyone.”

“Che Guevara explained that building socialism is not only an economic question but a question of consciousness,” said Cuban writer Iroel Sánchez at a program on Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. That consciousness is expressed internationally, he added, with the revolution’s commitment that “we don’t give what’s left over, we share what we have.”

Debates and discussions spilled over to literature tables set up by youth organizations from around the world in the sprawling Media Center, the main venue for programs, where participants in all aspects of the festival programs met and talked. Exchanges continued day and night in dining halls and housing dorms.

At tables set up by delegates from the Young Socialists in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, participants bought more than 800 books in English, Spanish, French, Farsi, Arabic and Russian by V.I. Lenin, Fidel Castro, Leon Trotsky, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela and other revolutionaries, including leaders of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S.

The Cuban delegation of more than 200 had a large display of books and other items for sale.

Media Center hallways were also lined with booths promoting Russian banks and other companies, showing off the latest robotics and advertising gimmicks. Russian festival hosts provided each delegate with a smart phone with a Russian phone number.
Related articles:
Festival goers show thirst for political literature
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