In the summer of 1957, the Soviet Union invited tens of thousands of foreigners to Moscow for a grand fête known as the Sixth International Festival of Youth and Students. Today, the 1957 Youth Festival is commonly referred to as a turning point in post-war Soviet history: the first major break in the ‘iron curtain’ and as such, the beginning of the end for an autarkic Soviet cultural system.’ Commentators recall the festival as a moment when not only the Soviet state, but also the Soviet people opened up to and embraced the world community. More often than not, there is a romantic or sexual tinge to these visions of a new Soviet openness. And more often than not, it is young Soviet women who feature most prominently. Mention the 1957 Youth Festival to Russians today, and you are likely to be met with a wry smile and comments about the so-called deti festivalya - the alleged cohort of biracial children born to Soviet women after the festival. This chapter examines the relationship between this representation of the festival — its distinctively risque historical mystique — and 1950s mass media culture and popular sensibilities. Romance and sex prove critical not only to how the festival has been remembered, but also to how it was represented and interpreted by its contemporaries.
- Moral Panic
- Sexual Revolution
- Soviet Leader
- Soviet Society
- Biracial Child
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See, for example, A. Adzhubei, Te desyat’ let (Moscow, 1989); Y. Brudny, Reinventing Russia (Cambridge, 1998); R. Stites, Russian Popular Culture (Cambridge, 1992); A. Troitsky, Back in the USSR (Boston, 1988); W. Taubman, Khrushchev: the Man and His Era (New York, 2003), pp. 382–3; E. Zubkova, trans. H. Ragsdale, Russia after the War (Armonk, NY, 1998).
According to official statistics, there were 791 concerts at the festival (excluding 63 ‘mass concerts’), 67 performances of dramatic, opera and puppet theatres, and 99 circus performances. Festival organisers claimed an audience of around 10 million for these events. RGASPI—m, f. 3, op. 15, d. 84, I. 3.
Courtship of Young Minds: a Case Study of the Moscow Youth Festival (New York, 1959), p. 19. While some delegates clearly came to Moscow intending to explore on their own, others may well have been prompted by the Soviets’ numerous organisational problems (missing buses and interpreters, postponed and cancelled events, etc.).
For examples of foreign coverage, see “B” et “K” n’oublient pas la politique’, Le Monde, 31 July 1957; ‘La jeunesse muscovite s’émancipe de plus en plus’, Le Monde, 1 August 1957; ‘Youngsters Fill Moscow for Fete’, New York Times, 28 July 1957; ‘Youth from 102 Lands Swarms over Moscow’, Life, 12 August 1957; ‘Leaven of Western Youth in Russia’, Manchester Guardian, 16 August 1957; ‘The Red Cue-Softer’, Newsweek, 12 August 1957; ‘I Baited the Reds in Red Square’, New York Mirror, 9 September 1957; ‘Free Speech in Moscow’, Manchester Guardian, 1 August 1957.
L. Gurchenko, Aplodismenty (Moscow, 1994), p. 299.
M. Popovskii, Tretii lishnyi (London, 1985), pp. 346–53. One of Fedorova’s sisters was sentenced to ten years in a labour colony, while another was exiled to Kazakhstan with Fedorova’s Soviet-American baby daughter, born in 1946. See also F. Razzakov, Seks-simvolyRossii (Moscow, 2000), pp. 30–47.
The widespread promotion of foreign language study in the weeks and months preceding the festival (including on radio and television) is one indication of how much the cultural climate had changed by 1957. In Stalin’s waning years, an interest in foreign languages was regarded with great suspicion. See V. Shlapentokh, Soviet Intellectuals and Political Power: the Post-Stalin Era (Princeton, 1990), pp. 70–1.
M. R. Zezina, Sovetskaya khudozhestvennaya intelligentsiya i vlast’ v 1950e–60-e gody (Moscow, 1999), pp. 236–42.
Soviet leaders had special reason to be wary of the youth festival format as the last World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) festival, held in Warsaw in 1955, was considered by some to have helped trigger unrest in Poland. See the comments of a Polish delegate to this effect in ‘Youth from 102 Lands Swarms over Moscow’, Life, 12 August 1957, p. 23. See also Radio Liberation’s analysis of the festival, ‘Radio Liberation and the Moscow Youth Festival’ (Open Society Archives, Box 300–81–1–1 /Analysis Reports 1957–68), p. 6. The Soviets were predictably inclined to attribute unrest to ‘ideological subversion’ by outsiders, and in this case, their suspicion that Western governments, the US in particular, would use the relative openness of the festival format to their advantage was not altogether wrong. According to a long-time CIA operative, the US government sponsored students (via its covert funding of the National Students Association) to do propaganda work at international youth festivals. The CIA established its first contacts with dissidents in the USSR during the 1957 Youth Festival. See H. Rositzke, The CIA’s Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and CovertAction (New York, 1977), pp. 159–63.
Zezina, op. cit., pp. 242–60.
For figures on journalists, see RGASPI-m, f. 3, op. 15, d. 2, 1. 105. According to the Manchester Guardian, 1 August 1957, dispatches on the festival were transmitted abroad uncensored. The US State Department reported a temporary lifting of the ban on bringing undeveloped film out of the USSR. See State Department Intelligence Reports, ‘The Soviet Bloc Exchange Program in 1957’ (February 1958).
RGASPI-m, f. 4, op. 104, d. 7, 1. 126.
K. Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin (Bloomington, 2000).
K. Chernin, In My Mother’s House (New Haven, 1983), p. 267.
Although this essay refers primarily to the Soviet press, the festival was a major topic for broadcast media as well. The festival was the first event in Soviet history to receive extended live television coverage. Central Television in Moscow was given over entirely to the festival for 15 days and broadcast 221 hours and 30 minutes of coverage, including live reports on all the major meetings such as the opening ceremony, the Kremlin ball, and the Holiday of Girls. TsAODM, f. 4, op. 104, d. 30, 1. 172. Central TV also worked feverishly to distribute footage to foreign and domestic stations (via train and airplane). On 4 August, Komsomol’skaya pravda reported that filmed segments of the festival were already being shown on local TV in Kiev, Minsk, Tblisi, Riga, Tallin, Kharkov, Omsk, Sverdlosk, Barnaul and Vladivostok. There were also several full-length films made about the festival. What I have seen of Soviet footage suggests that print and broadcast media were, unsurprisingly, very similar in their tone and approach. The camera loved hugged and dancing couples as much as the page.
‘La jeunesse muscovite s’émancipe de plus en plus’, Le Monde, 1 August 1957, p. 12.
Yunost’ (September 1957), p. 66.
Komsomol’skaya pravda, 28 July 1957, p. 4.
J. Gunther, Inside Russia Today (New York, 1957), p. 36. Komsomol’skaya pravda printed a poem entitled ‘Street of Love’ on 4 August.
“My chuvstvuem vashu lyubov”, Komsomol’skaya pravda, 28 July 1957, p. 1.
For a discussion of eroticism in the mythology of Stalin, see I. C. Kon, Seksual’naya kul’tura v Rossii: klubnichka na berezke (Moscow, 1997), p. 161, and T. Cherednichenko, Tipologiya sovetskogo massovoi kul’tury (Moscow, 1994), pp. 34–43.
See S. Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe (Cambridge, Mass., 2000), pp. 180–2, 195–7. Buck-Morss draws heavily on S. Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain (Berkeley, 1995).
Lyubov’ Yarovaya, a filmed theatrical performance, was the most popular Soviet picture at the box office in 1953. For an interesting discussion of love in Soviet cinema, see the interview with Naum Kleiman in Lignes d’ombre (Paris, 2000), p. 25.
‘Povorot’, Itogi, 27 May 1997; ‘Ot korki do korki’, Novaya gazeta — Ponedel’nik, 9 August 1997.
Interview with Yevtushenko for CNN’s Cold War series published online at http://www.gwu.edu/--nsarchive/coldwar/interviews/episode–14/yevtushenkol.html.
A. Kozlov, Kozel na sakse (Moscow, 1998), pp. 106–7.
TsAODM, f. 4, op. 104, d. 31, 11. 161–2; RGASPI-m, f. 3, op. 15, d. 2, 1. 133.
A. Rubinov, Intimnaya zhizn’ Moskvy (Moscow, 1991), p. 224.
S. Belfrage, A Room in Moscow (New York, 1958), p. 40. M. Popovskii reports that women punished for their relations with foreigners during the festival were forced outside a 100 kilometre radius from Moscow. Popovskii, op. cit., p. 310.
Rubinov attributes interracial sex to ‘ordinary female curiosity’ about ‘the anatomy and physiology of healthy men with unusual skin tones and strangely shaped eyes’ and claims that patrols were particularly harsh with the Soviet women involved. Rubinov, op. cit., p. 224.
By 1960 there were over 80,000 squads in the Soviet Union with more than 2.5 million participants. See H. Ritvo, ‘Totalitarianism without Coercion?’, Problems of Communism, no. 6, 1960, p. 24, citing Kommunist, no. 10, 1960. For a description of a dance raid in Moscow in 1956, see TsAODM, f. 4, op. 113, d. 23, 11. 136–7.
RGASPI-m, f. 3, op. 15, d. 2, 11. 60–1.
The MVD reported it had about 60,000 people on hand to keep public order, including 11,275 police, 4000 police academy students from other cities, 8500 soldiers and MVD officers, 32,000 members of brigady sodeistviya militsiya, as well as workers from the firefighting service of the MVD and dvorniki. GARF, f. 9401, op. 2, d. 491, 1. 427.
1’sAODM, f. 4, op. 104, d. 31, 1. 95.
TsAODM, f. 4, op. 104, d. 31, 1. 20.
Boris Vail’ quoted in Popovskii, op. cit., p. 310.
‘Na bolote, na snegu — ya mogu, mogu, mogu!’, Moskovskii komsomolets, 14 February 2000. The sentence was three years, and the woman reported she soon had a brisk business (especially among young Komsomol volunteer labourers) in her new residence.
See Courtship of Young Minds, p. 17.
Chernin, op. cit., p. 277.
GARF, f. 9401, op. 2, d. 491, I. 433.
GARF, f. 9401, op. 2, d. 491, 1. 379.
RGASPI-m, f. 3, op. 15, d. 2, 1. 133.
Yunost’, September 1957, p. 72
Novaya gazeta — Ponedel’nik, 28 July 1997.
TsAODM, f. 4, op. 104, d. 31, 11. 161–2.
RGASPI-m, f. 3, op. 15, d. 2, 1. 133.
Although I have no way of knowing how many biracial children were born from festival liaisons, it seems safe to say that there was no cohort. Kara Lynch, producer of a 2001 documentary film on people of African descent in the USSR (Black Russians), has told me that while many of her subjects are mistaken for ’ festival’nye’ by fellow Russians, she herself has never met such a person in her many years of interviewing in Russia. Personal communication, June 2002.
The classic work on ‘moral panic’ is S. Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: the Creation of the Mods and the Rockers (Oxford, 1972; rev. edn 1980).
‘Sexophobia’ is Igor Kon’s term.
On the post-Stalin ideal of ‘the modest girl without makeup’, see N. Azhgikhina and H. Goscilo, ‘Getting under their Skin: the Beauty Salon in Russian Women’s Lives’ in H. Goscilo and B. Holmgren (eds), Russia — Women — Culture (Bloomington, 1996), p. 99. For an insightful account of the American experience of young womanhood in the 1950s, see S. Belfrage’s memoir, Un-American Activities: a Memoir of the Fifties (New York, 1994).
C. Kelly, Refining Russia (Oxford, 2001), p. 347.
Young men with a passion for dancing were apt to be labelled stilyagi. Like their fashion sensibilities, their ‘unnatural’ interest in dance operated as a mark of their alienness in Soviet culture.
Estetika povedeniya f byta: metodicheskie rekomendatsii (Moscow, 1963), p. 10.
Komsomol’skaya pravda, 6 August 1957.
S. Vladimirova, ‘Prazdnik devushek’, Rabotnitsa, no. 7, 1957, p. 3.
GARF, f. 9401, op. 2, d. 491, 1. 329. Le Monde reported that ‘an entire neighbourhood in Moscow was cordoned off’ and ‘thousands of police and soldiers … had to hold back several thousand people who were trying to penetrate the immense block of buildings and gardens …’ ‘Le festival de Moscou suscite toujours une incroyable animation’, Le Monde, 8 August 1957, p. 3.
S. I. Golod, XX vek i tendentsii seksual’nykh otnoshenii v Rossii (Moscow, 1996), p. 40.
RGASPI-m, f. 1, op. 5, d. 1009, 1. 100.
Popovskii, op. cit., p. 217.
For a report on Bratskaya GES and other mass construction sites in 1957, see RGANI, f. 5, op. 34, d. 24, 11. 1–17.
Golod, op. cit., p. 106.
E. Naiman, Sex in Public: the Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology (Princeton, 1997); A. Gorsuch, Youth in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington, 2000).
Soviet leaders were, of course, far from alone in their anxieties about commercial popular culture. For a recent work on the problem in the Germanies of the 1950s, see U. G. Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany (Berkeley, 2000). For a study of the Italian communists’ approach, see S. Gundle, Between Hollywood and Moscow (Durham, Nc, 2000).
According to S. Frederick Starr, by the mid–1950s, there were jazz bands in every little town in the Soviet Union, and ‘the jazz evening was firmly established as a community rite of the younger generation’. S. Frederick Starr, Red and Hot: the Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union (New York, 1983), p. 251.
On the notion of youth vulnerability, see H. Pilkington, Russia’s Youth and Its Culture: a Nation’s Constructors and Constructed (London, 1994), pp. 66–71.
TsAODM, f. 4, op. 104, d. 7, 1. 129.
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Roth-Ey, K. (2004). ’Loose Girls’ on the Loose?: Sex, Propaganda and the 1957 Youth Festival. In: Ilič, M., Reid, S.E., Attwood, L. (eds) Women in the Khrushchev Era. Studies in Russian and East European History and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230523432_5
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