Salient: Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Vol. 24, No. 8. 1961.
"How many villages and towns are there in which young people do not know how to relieve the boredom? Where to go? How to spend one's spare time? How many people ask themselves this question every night . . . Everything has become stale; there is nothing interesting to do."
Where does this come from? An American discussion of juvenile delinquency, or a New Zealand newspaper wondering what went wrong at the Blossom Festival? No. It is taken from Komsomolskaya Pravda, the magazine of the Russian Communist Party's Youth Movement, and the date is January, 1959.
Boredom affects Russian youth in much the same way as any other country's. The difference lies in the sterner government attitude to the usual symptoms of rebellion. The " stilyagi," or Teddy Boys, are treated to constant ridicule and abuse in the Soviet Press, and in the last few years there have been several Komsomol publications telling Russian youth how it should dress itself. However, there are signs that "stilyagi" fashions have sparked off a move to manufacture smarter and better-tailored women's clothes.
The "stilyagi's" devotion to rock 'n' roll and other "decadent" music has, however, met with no such encouragement from above. Apparently Western jazz records rank with clothing and currency as favourites in Russia's thriving Black Market, and the fans go to extraordinary lengths to get tape recordings of jazz recitals picked up over Western radio stations. Bohemianism is only one, relatively harmless way of escape. Much more disturbing is the growth of juvenile alcoholism, and the resultant crime-wave, which cut down the effectiveness of youthful workers as well as creating social unrest. The government tends to hammer away at these evils without inquiring into their causes. To combat them it has tried to encourage participation in sport and in the Dosaaf, a para-military body with the rather ominous full title of Voluntary Organisation to Co-operate with the Army, Navy and Air Force. This outfit teaches its members to shoot, drive cars and motor-cycles, fly planes and sail boats. This may satisfy the outdoor types, but for others Bohemianism is often the only escape from drabness.
The Outside World
After Stalin's death overseas visits were allowed for those whose loyalty was beyond doubt. Even these, however, had a disturbing effect, particularly in the universities, on their return. Some students began openly denouncing Russian newspaper articles about Western countries as untrue. A poem by Y. Yevtushenko, a gifted and outspoken young writer, expresses the mood of many young Russians:
Western periodicals are keenly sought by students, but since libraries still usually keep these under lock and key most make do with the Yugoslav paper "Borba"— "the nearest thing to an objective view of the outside world we have," as one student put it. The appetite for travel will certainly grow as more students go to study overseas, and to Youth Festivals. Such visits as have taken place must have done a lot to remove some wrong ideas about Western political and social conditions.
In 1958 a student delegation visited Britain and lived with university professors' families. On their return the two things that they stressed in a radio broadcast (apart from the friendly reception) were that British university teachers managed without domestic help and the fact that university libraries were open until all hours and operated on an honour system, with all publications readily available.
A picture of Russian students in this rapidly changing environmeit is given by Rex Brown, a Scottish student who studied in the Soviet Union In 1958. His strongest impression was of their "warm, unaffected friendliness." He also noticed "an intense Soviet nationalism when faced by Westerners" which created a defensive attitude under criticism. "The general intellectual mood in Moscow University was one of confidence—confidence in the applicability of dialectical materialism in all its forms, and in the surefire answers its application yields." But, although most students he met were convinced Communists, some were critical of the regime and hope for something better as time went by. A few more were openly and completely hostile to It. Thus, in spite of an overt display of assurance, the tensions and insecurities of Soviet students, and the whole younger generation, do not Lie far below the surface.