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Koivunen, Pia

Bridging the East and West – Informal Interaction at the World Youth Festivals in the 1940s–60s

The paper discusses East-West contacts at the World Youth Festivals in the 1940s–60s. The World Youth festival was a Soviet sponsored cultural and sport gathering that started in the late 1940s, and was most often held in the capitals of the Soviet controlled Eastern bloc. In the official propaganda, the festival offered a forum for world youth to meet ‘despite political or religious convictions’, stressing the slogans of ‘peace, friendship and mutual understanding’. Yet the event was designed so that finding time and space for truly free or unofficial discussions became difficult. Festival organizers preferred official prearranged meetings and especially the Eastern European delegations were subjected to constant surveillance over whom they talked with. However, despite the control, young festival participants from capitalist and socialist countries, found ways to utilize the festival and the presence of a multinational mass of people. This paper focuses on this small area of informal contacts that could bypass the Cold War boundaries. It outlines what kind of forms of informal interaction were used and who was involved. The paper is based on author’s interviews of Soviet, Finnish, British and East German festival participants, as well as archival materials of the Soviet Communist Youth League and the Communist Party.

Thurdsday 29 Oct 16.15-18.15 Session 3