vladimir Putin hosts youth festiva with Soviet-style ln a bid to woos youths

Moscow (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin is on Sunday expected
to speak at a youth festival launched in the Soviet era, in his latest
effort to appeal to young Russians ahead of the presidential election
next year.

The World Festival of Youth and Students was
initiated by the USSR and the Eastern Bloc after World War II and Russia
is hosting the 19th festival Sunday in Sochi’s Olympic park on the
Black Sea, following a Soviet-style parade in Moscow Saturday that
boasted 10,000 foreign guests.

Putin, who is widely expected to run for re-election
next year though has not formally announced his participation, will
visit the opening in Sochi along with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and
other officials.

The forum, which uses guerrilla icon Che Guevara as a
symbol, has the motto “For Peace, Solidarity and Social Justice, we
Struggle Against Imperialism.”

The event’s website says organisers expect 20,000 guests in Sochi from 150 different countries.

Russia’s embassy in Pyongyang said North Korea will also send a delegation of “Komsomol” – the Soviet youth movement.

– Re-creating 1957 –

The World Youth Festival first took place in
Czechoslovakia in 1949 and was hosted by Communist states around the
world in the second half of the 20th century. Six events have been held
since 1989, with North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela among the host nations.

The USSR hosted the event twice: once in 1985 shortly
after Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader and most famously in 1957,
when thousands of foreigners descended on Moscow for the first time
during Khrushchev’s political thaw.

Sixty years later, this year’s student parade in
Moscow echoed the 1957 festival which Russians remember as marking the
beginning of a new, more open USSR.

On Saturday, students walked through central Moscow with flags of different countries.

The rainy weather kept some people away and the spectators consisted mainly of people over 50, some teary-eyed with nostalgia.

“I finally have the chance to see this as I lived in
the Far East and didn’t have the chance to see it in Moscow,” said
71-year-old Valentina Rogova watching the parade. “All nations should be
friends. We used to have more events like this in Soviet times.”

The 1957 festival “was a breakthrough for the West and for the East,” according to Russian historian Alexander Shubin.

“The West saw that normal people live in the USSR while Soviet citizens saw what foreigners look like for the first time.”

– Presidential campaign –

This year’s festival will have a different vibe.
While hosting an exhibition on the lessons of the 1917 October
Revolution, the leftist festival’s programme also includes workshops on
how to set up a business and a display of Dutch tulips.

“It’s a borscht of contrary ideas,” political
analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. “Che Guevara does not fit in with
the protectionism of the conservative government.”

Putin, is expected to use the platform to get young Russians on his side ahead of next year’s vote.

The Kremlin has been trying hard to appeal to
the under-30 crowd and Putin’s presidential campaign is widely
anticipated to be centred around youth policy.

“He wants to show that he’s not only the
president of the pensioners, but also the president of the future,” said
political analyst Aleksey Makarkin.

The Kremlin’s campaign to woo young Russians
was accelerated by the increased participation of youngsters, including
many underage teenagers, in anti-Putin protests this year, galvanised by
internet savvy opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

“The government was worried when young people took to the streets,” said Kalachev.

“They realised that a whole generation of non-conformists could soon come of age.”

The World Festival of Youth and Students was
planned before the opposition protests took place, but also falls within
the Kremlin’s agenda to boost Putin’s popularity.

“They are trying to form a loyal pro-presidential youth or at least minimise the political activity of youths,” said Kalachev.

But the problem, analysts say, is that the Kremlin’s youth policy often copies the old Soviet methods.

“They organise meetings that last for hours, they speak at chess competitions – this is all very Soviet,” said Makarkin.

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