In the Autumn of 2018, Sean Guillory of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh conducted five fascinating interviews on youth and communist politics at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Young Communist League (Komsomol) in Soviet Russia.
The Komsomol, and youth organizations established in the late 19th and 20th centuries, was part of a general “cult of youth” where young people represented the hopes and anxieties for the health of the nation state. Indeed, youth became crucial political and culture objects and subjects throughout the 20th century.
“Youth” emerged as historical agents in the late 19th and early 20th century in response to the social, economic, and cultural upheaval of rapid modernization. As a new social category, young people became the objects of the state capture and surveillance and agents in political and cultural participation in youth specific organizations, institutions, and movements. Communist parties and states, in particular, played a pivotal role in shaping and mobilizing youth. This live interview with Matthias Neumann will discuss the history of “youth” as crucial players in the 20th century.
From 1933 to 1991, Communist Party leaders from all over the world -- including Mao Zedong, Eugene Dennis, Josip Broz Tito, and many more from Latin America to Africa to the Middle East to the Far East -- sent their children to be educated in a single boarding school in Ivanovo, Russia. They were raised linguistically and culturally as Russians, often forgetting their native tongue. Many continue to feel enormous affection and nostalgia for the place they consider their true home, and travel across continents to attend reunions every five years. Based on archival documents, the school's own private archive, and dozens of interviews with alumni across the world, Communist Neverland is the tale of this remarkable school, which tells a new story about the people who dedicated their lives to world revolution.
In the 1950s and 1960s, images of children appeared everywhere, from movies to milk cartons, their smiling faces used to sell everything, including war. Soviet and American leaders too used emotionally charged images of children to create popular support for their policies at home and abroad. This live interview with Margaret Peacock will discuss her work on the deep symmetry in how Soviet and American propagandists mobilized similar images of children to similar ends, despite their differences.
The talk examines the widespread practice of youth exchanges during the late Cold War through two seemingly peripheral actors: the Romanian Pioneers, the children’s organization of the Romanian Communist Party, and one of its most active partners in the west, the International Falcons Movement, a leftwing youth organization with national branches in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, and France. Following Romanian and foreign teens who traveled as cultural ambassadors to youth camps organized in the Soviet bloc and Western Europe, the talk examines competing visions and practices of socialist internationalism in order to illuminate the role of “soft power” during the Cold War.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, a tide of nonviolent youth movements swept across Eastern Europe demanding political change in repressive political regimes in Serbia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine that emerged since the collapse of communism. This live interview with Olena Nikolayenko will discuss these youth movements and their ability to mobilize citizens against the authoritarian governments on the eve of national elections.