50th Anniversary: X. World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin, DDR


“To elimi­nate all traces of fascism from the earth. To build a deep and sincere inter­na­tio­nal friend­ship among the peop­les of the world. To keep a just lasting peace.”

This was writ­ten in the foun­ding decla­ra­tion of the World Fede­ra­tion of Demo­cra­tic Youth (WFDY), adopted by 437 dele­ga­tes from 63 count­ries, repre­sen­ting over 30 million youths world­wide, at the first World Youth Confe­rence in London in Novem­ber 1945. Only three months earlier, the Second World War had ended with the devas­ta­ting atomic bombing of Japan by the USA. The world lay in ruins. This young gene­ra­tion confron­ting devas­ta­tion, displa­ce­ment, and bere­a­ve­ment joined toge­ther across borders on an unpre­ce­den­ted scale to prevent the youth of tomor­row from endu­ring such suffe­ring again.

A central instru­ment to deve­lop unity in the spirit of peace and anti-fascism were the World Festi­vals, which were inau­gu­ra­ted in Prague in 1947. They conti­nue to be orga­ni­zed by the WFDY to this day. In July 1973, exactly 50 years ago, the 10th edition of the World Festi­val began in Berlin, the capi­tal of the German Demo­cra­tic Repu­blic (GDR). From 28 July to 5 August, 8 million parti­ci­pants, inclu­ding 25,600 guests from 140 count­ries, took part in a broad programme of over 200 poli­ti­cal and 1,000 cultu­ral events under the slogan “For anti-impe­ria­list Soli­da­rity, Peace, and Friendship”.

The X. World Festi­val took place at a time of gene­ral upsurge in the struggle against impe­ria­lism and for socia­lism: The Viet­na­mese people had wres­ted decisive defeats from the world’s most powerful mili­tary power, the USA. The strug­gles against Portu­guese colo­nial rule in Angola, Mozam­bi­que, and Guinea-Bissau were advan­ced reso­lut­ely. In 1970, the Unidad Popu­lar under Allende’s leader­ship had won power in Chile. A world­wide soli­da­rity campaign was able to gene­rate immense pres­sure for the acquit­tal of Angela Davis. The “Basic Treaty” between West Germany and the GDR put an end to the former’s openly aggres­sive policy towards the latter. The inter­na­tio­nal reco­gni­tion of the GDR opened up scope for deve­lo­p­ment and crea­ted econo­mic relief. The 1973 World Festi­val became an asser­tive beacon for progres­sive forces around the world. The strug­gles in Viet­nam and Chile took a promi­nent place in the festi­val programme. Support for the Pales­ti­nian struggle was reaf­firmed by the presence of PLO Chair­man Yasser Arafat. Angela Davis and Soviet cosmo­naut Valen­tina Teresh­kova, the first woman in space, were guests of honour at the festi­val. Inti-Illi­mani, Miriam Makeba, Dean Read and many other artists could be seen and heard on the 95 festi­val stages. The festi­val left an opti­mi­stic mood and streng­the­ned the forces of natio­nal libe­ra­tion and socia­lism in their struggle. Yet the fascist coup by Pino­chet in Chile on 11 Septem­ber 1973, just a few weeks after the festi­val, would deal a harsh and brutal blow to this mood.

With short artic­les on the festi­val dele­ga­ti­ons from Viet­nam, Guinea-Bissau, Mozam­bi­que, Chile, USA, West Germany, and Cuba, we want to sketch a picture of the X. World Festi­val and the poli­ti­cal context of the time. For that, we have dug deep into various media sources of that time, parti­cu­larly GDR news­pa­pers. To this day, the many thou­sands of parti­ci­pants in the World Festi­val have lasting and impres­sive memo­ries of these nine days in Berlin. The strong and global unity of the youth in the struggle for peace, against fascism and impe­ria­list oppres­sion lost its strength with the collapse of the socia­list camp in 1989/90. Yet the programme, which was alre­ady adopted in 1945 in the Peace Oath at the foun­ding of the WFDY, remains relevant:

“We pledge that we shall remem­ber this unity, forged in this month, Novem­ber 1945. Not only today, not only this week, this year, but always. Until we have built the world we have drea­med of and fought for. We pledge oursel­ves to build the unity of the youth of the world. All races, all colours, all natio­na­li­ties, all beliefs. … FORWARD FOR OUR FUTURE!”

Vietnam: David triumphs over Goliath

Viet­nam was at the fore­front of the anti-impe­ria­list struggle in 1973. Despite being the target of the largest aerial bombing campaign in history, the People’s Army of Viet­nam (PAVN) and the Libe­ra­tion Army of South Viet­nam (LASV) had brought the US mili­tary to its knees. In Janu­ary 1973, the USA signed the Paris Peace Accord and ther­eby suspen­ded all combat opera­ti­ons in Viet­nam. By March, all US combat troops had been with­drawn. The fight­ing now contin­ued between Vietnam’s commu­nist forces and Washington’s proxy govern­ment in South Viet­nam, which still main­tai­ned a considera­ble supe­rio­rity in terms of the number of troops, tanks, and armou­red vehicles.

By the time the Viet­na­mese dele­ga­tion arri­ved in Berlin for the X. World Festi­val in July 1973, more than one million PAVN and LASV troops and two million civi­li­ans had been killed. The task ahead was to rebuild the coun­try and libe­rate the remai­ning terri­tory from the US client state. The first day of the World Festi­val was thus dedi­ca­ted to “Soli­da­rity with the peop­les, youth and students of Viet­nam, Laos, and Cambo­dia – now more than ever!” There were mass meetings, film scree­nings, Southe­ast Asian artist exhi­bi­ti­ons, song, and dance of the peop­les of Indo­china, and even a cross-coun­try run through the city “dedi­ca­ted to soli­da­rity with the people of Vietnam”.

At the “Soli­da­rity Centre” in Berlin’s famous TV-Tower, Erich Honecker met with the Viet­na­mese dele­ga­tion. Vo Thi Lien, a young girl who had survi­ved the Mỹ Lai massacre in 1968, presen­ted Honecker with a ring made of metal from a downed US bomber. He told her: “We will complete the work of those who were murde­red. … We will always stand by Viet­nam, toge­ther with the Soviet Union and the socia­list count­ries and all anti-impe­ria­list forces.” When gree­ting the rest of the dele­ga­tion, Honecker infor­med them that the GDR had deci­ded to write off all loans gran­ted to the Demo­cra­tic Repu­blic of Viet­nam and that they should be conside­red as gratui­tous aid.

Less than two years after the festi­val, the Demo­cra­tic Repu­blic of Viet­nam libe­ra­ted Saigon and the Socia­list Repu­blic of Viet­nam was foun­ded in July 1976. Close rela­ti­ons were main­tai­ned between the new govern­ment in Hanoi and Berlin.

A member of the Free German Youth (FDJ) is gree­ting a Viet­na­mese dele­gate — Bundes­ar­chiv, Bild 183-M0813-0759

Guinea-Bissau: “Violence is the essential instrument of imperialist domination”

For Portu­guese colo­nia­lism, Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde archi­pe­lago off its coast were an admi­nis­tra­tive and logi­sti­cal hub for the slave trade in West Africa until the early 19th century. The Sala­zar regime in Portu­gal, anxious to assert its colo­nial claims even in the face of the streng­thening inde­pen­dence move­ments, feared for the loss of the colony. An inde­pen­dent Guinea-Bissau would most certainly weaken Portugal’s grip on its other colo­nies, Angola and Mozam­bi­que. Sala­zar thus waged an obsti­nate and bloody war against the Afri­can Party for the Inde­pen­dence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and the people of Guinea-Bissau: The crimes of the Portu­guese secret police PIDE (Polí­cia Inter­na­cio­nal e de Defesa do Estado) ranged from their infa­mous concen­tra­tion camp in Tarra­fal in Cape Verde to the napalm bombing of the small coas­tal country.

“Violence is the essen­tial instru­ment of impe­ria­list domi­na­tion,” said Cape Verdean revo­lu­tio­nary leader and co-foun­der of the PAIGC Amíl­car Cabral. He concluded “that there is not, and cannot be natio­nal libe­ra­tion without the use of libe­ra­ting violence by the natio­na­list forces, to answer the crimi­nal violence of the agents of impe­ria­lism.” His guer­rilla stra­tegy proved effec­tive, as did his fore­sight as a Pan-Afri­ca­nist: under Cabral, the PAIGC won, bit by bit, sove­reig­nty over first indi­vi­dual areas and finally the entire coun­try. In the areas that were gradu­ally libe­ra­ted with the help of mili­tary equip­ment supplied by the socia­list states, new poli­ti­cal struc­tures were estab­lished and the tran­si­tion to an inde­pen­dent coun­try was prepared. Achie­ving this depen­ded largely on the gene­ral and poli­ti­cal educa­tion of the popu­la­tion, which the PAIGC orga­nised in schools it had built in the libe­ra­ted areas.

This process was in full swing when Cabral was assas­si­na­ted in Janu­ary 1973. The members of the PAIGC who were study­ing in the GDR at the time wanted to return home imme­dia­tely, but the party deman­ded that they stay and finish their educa­tion. Thus, a former student from Guinea-Bissau also told us that he had to expe­ri­ence his country’s long-awai­ted inde­pen­dence, which was declared on 24 Septem­ber 1973, from afar while he successfully comple­ted his studies in the GDR. The spirit of opti­mism during the X. World Festi­val, the expres­si­ons of soli­da­rity with Guinea-Bissau and the progres­sive forces of Portu­gal were promi­sing expres­si­ons of a coming change. After the inde­pen­dence of Guinea-Bissau, the Carna­tion Revo­lu­tion in Portu­gal in 1974 finally ended the Portu­guese colo­nial wars in Mozam­bi­que and Angola.

Mozambique: FRELIMO’s armed struggle against Portuguese brutality

The terri­to­ries of modern-day Mozam­bi­que had been colo­ni­zed by the Portu­guese for over 400 years. What had initi­ally star­ted as coas­tal sett­le­ments, trading posts, and forts in the 16th century had, by the begin­ning of the 20th century, expan­ded into a compre­hen­sive and highly explo­ita­tive sett­ler economy in which land was control­led by a mino­rity of Portu­guese colo­ni­zers and nati­ves were subjec­ted to forced labour. In the face of racist colo­nial poli­cies, coer­cive agri­cul­tu­ral culti­va­tion and work allo­ca­ti­ons in mines, guer­rilla groups of exiled Mozam­bicans began crop­ping up in neigh­bou­ring states. The Libe­ra­tion Front of Mozam­bi­que (FRELIMO) was formed in Dar es Salaam, Tanz­a­nia, in 1962 by various exiled groups and took up arms against Portu­guese colo­nia­lism in 1964. In this endea­vour, FRELIMO recei­ved exten­sive mili­tary and poli­ti­cal support from the socia­list states. The GDR, for exam­ple, began supp­ly­ing the FRELIMO with mili­tary and medi­cal aid in 1967 and laun­ched trai­ning program­mes for Mozam­bican mili­tants and students at East German schools.

Although outman­ned and outgun­ned, FRELIMO figh­ters used guer­rilla tactics to chip away at the resolve of the Portu­guese troops over the next decade. By 1969, FRELIMO had libe­ra­ted one-third of the coun­try, largely in the rural areas in the North, where FRELIMO had estab­lished a strong base of support by laun­ching campaigns to increase peasant access to educa­tion and health­care and cons­truct agri­cul­tu­ral coope­ra­ti­ves free from Portu­guese control. While origi­nally foun­ded as a plura­li­stic natio­nal front, the FRELIMO incre­asingly moved towards Marxism-Leni­nism by the end of the 1960s, beco­ming one of the leading revo­lu­tio­nary forces in Africa.

Nine years into the Sala­zar regime’s war against FRELIMO and seve­ral months prior to the X. World Festi­val in Berlin, Portu­guese comman­dos razed the Mozam­bican village of Wiri­yamu to the ground, slaugh­te­ring all 400 of its civi­lian inha­bi­tants. The PIDE secret police plan­ned and guided this “Opera­tion Marosca” against the fami­lies of the village for alle­gedly shel­te­ring guer­rilla figh­ters. The massacre in Wiri­yamu exhi­bi­ted the true nature of Portugal’s self-proclai­med “civi­li­zing mission” in Africa. The North Atlan­tic Treaty Orga­niza­tion (NATO), of which Portu­gal is a foun­ding member, lent the Sala­zar regime de facto support through arms supplies and poli­ti­cal exone­ra­tion on the world stage.

The East German press had been cove­ring FRELIMO’s struggle and, in parti­cu­lar, the Wiri­yamu Massacre exten­si­vely in the months prior to the X. World Festi­val. The FRELIMO dele­ga­tion was thus gree­ted with great respect and soli­da­rity, parti­ci­pa­ting in cultu­ral events, poli­ti­cal discus­sions, and deba­tes on mili­tary stra­tegy with other mili­tants. Sérgio Vieira, who headed FRELIMO’s Culture and Educa­tion Depart­ment, led the dele­ga­tion, stating, “Our dele­ga­tion spared no effort to come to the X. World Festi­val. Some of us have walked for more than a month. This festi­val is an important demons­tra­tion of the anti-impe­ria­list struggle of the progres­sive youth of the world, a land­mark of their struggle for peace and friend­ship.” Within a year, the Carna­tion Revo­lu­tion led to the over­throw of the Estado Novo regime in Portu­gal and after Guinea-Bissau also to the libe­ra­tion of Mozam­bi­que and Angola.

Samora Machel in conver­sa­tion with coope­ra­tive farmers during a visit to the DDR in 1980 — Bundes­ar­chiv, Bild 183-W0919-0117

Cuba: The language of friendship

In 1959, the revo­lu­tio­na­ries around Fidel Castro and Che Guevara succee­ded in over­thro­wing Fulgen­cio Batista’s regime in Cuba. The USA ther­eby lost one of its suppli­ers of raw mate­ri­als, not least due to the subse­quent natio­na­liza­tion of indus­try and land reform. The US blockade impo­sed as a result, which conti­nues to this day, had a massive impact on the economy of the small island nation, which, in its imme­diate proxi­mity to the United States, repea­tedly became a focal point of the Cold War, such as during the Bay of Pigs inva­sion in 1961 or the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963.

In accordance with their capa­bi­li­ties, the socia­list count­ries set out to support Cuba econo­mic­ally. The GDR, for instance, impor­ted tropi­cal fruits and sugar, built indus­trial plants on the island, sent experts, and trai­ned Cubans in the GDR. In 1972, Cuba became a full member of the Coun­cil for Mutual Econo­mic Assis­tance (COMECON). In the same year, Fidel Castro visi­ted the GDR. There he met the workers of the Leuna chemi­cal plant in Halle, whose expert teams had been cons­truc­ting an ammo­nia factory in Cuba that had been origi­nally plan­ned by the U.S. but aban­do­ned after the revolution.

During his visit, Fidel presen­ted the GDR leader­ship with a map of Cuba. It included an island bearing the name of the former leader of the Commu­nist Party of Germany, Ernst Thäl­mann, who was murde­red by the fascists in 1944. The renaming of the island was a symbo­lic act by which the Cuban govern­ment expres­sed its “sincere inte­rest” in further deve­lo­ping “rela­ti­ons of coope­ra­tion and mutual under­stan­ding” with the GDR. Fidel justi­fied the choice of name with the histo­ri­cal role that both Thäl­mann had played for the global workers’ move­ment and that the island, loca­ted at the Bay of Pigs, had played for the defeat of the “aggres­sion of the impe­ria­lists” in 1961.

As if to under­line this, one of the figh­ters who successfully repul­sed the Ameri­can inva­ders at the Bay of Pigs accom­pa­nied the Cuban dele­ga­tion to the X. World Festi­val in 1973: the natio­nal hero Fausto Díaz had lost both legs in battle and, at a rally in Berlin, spoke to the young people present from all over the world from his wheel­chair: “This encoun­ter also proves that, in the long run, the enemy will never be able to stop the advance of our ranks.”

In addi­tion to the Secre­tary of the Young Commu­nist League of Cuba, Manuel Torres, the Chinese-Cuban revo­lu­tio­nary and presi­dent of the League of Pioneers, Juan Mok, also accom­pa­nied the Cuban dele­ga­tion. During a Chile soli­da­rity meeting he opti­mi­sti­cally addres­sed the Chilean dele­ga­tion: “When the socia­list revo­lu­tion ente­red Latin America with our victory, the (…) impe­ria­lists deci­ded that there should not be a second Cuba in the Western Hemi­sphere. They miscalculated!”

The Commu­nist Party of Cuba’s Granma news­pa­per summed up the World Festi­val in Berlin: “The streets of this city are popu­la­ted by young people who, despite the diver­sity of their language, have found a common ground, that of friendship.”

“Hands off Cuba”: Foun­ding of the ‘Soli­da­rity Commit­tee with the Cuban People’ in Berlin, 1961 — Bundes­ar­chiv, Bild 183–79632-0002

Chile: “Venceremos!”

In 1970, the Unidad Popu­lar, a coali­tion of left-wing forces, won the elec­tions in Chile and Salva­dor Allende became presi­dent. The eupho­ria over this victory rever­be­ra­ted in the socia­list states, even though the situa­tion on the ground remained tense. The fact that the resource-rich coun­try wanted to take an inde­pen­dent path and ther­eby have sove­reig­nty over its extra­c­tive indus­tries – which had been domi­na­ted by US and Euro­pean compa­nies for deca­des – was not accepted by the West. Allende’s measu­res, such as the natio­na­li­sa­tion of the mining sector, provo­ked those who stood to lose the most: the old Chilean elites, large landow­ners, foreign corpo­ra­ti­ons, and their govern­ments. From the begin­ning, the reac­tion­ary threat hung over the progres­sive alli­ance like a dark shadow. Attacks on and even the assas­si­na­tion of repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the popu­lar front were not uncommon.

In view of the fragile situa­tion in her home­land, Gladys Marín, then gene­ral secre­tary of the Chilean Commu­nist Youth, empha­sised in an inter­view: “The Soli­da­rity Meeting for Chile here in Berlin had a signi­fi­cant inter­na­tio­nal weight because it took place at a very criti­cal time for my home­land.” She led the 60-strong Chilean dele­ga­tion, which was made up of a cross-section of the orga­ni­sa­ti­ons repre­sen­ted in the coali­tion govern­ment, to the X. World Festi­val in the DDR. Chile was one of the defi­ning themes of the festi­val, where soli­da­rity with the Unidad Popu­lar resounded again and again and Vence­re­mos rever­be­ra­ted through the crowd.

But the certainty of victory expe­ri­en­ced a bitter setback. Shortly after her return from an exten­ded trip as a repre­sen­ta­tive of the new govern­ment that stret­ched as far as Asia, Marín was forced into hiding after Pinochet’s coup on 11 Septem­ber 1973. In West Germany, the coup was met with joy and trade with the Pino­chet dicta­tor­ship subse­quently boomed. In 1974, exports from the Fede­ral Repu­blic to Chile increased by over 40 percent, imports by 65 percent. Franz-Josef Strauß, long-time member of the govern­ment in West Germany and chair­man of the Chris­tian Social Union (CSU), commen­ted cyni­cally on the coup at the time: “In view of the chaos that had reig­ned in Chile, the idea of ‘order’ suddenly sounds sweet for the Chile­ans again.”

Marín, now in exile, repea­ted her jour­neys to frater­nal count­ries. This path led her through the GDR again, among other places, where many exiled Chile­ans had found refuge, inclu­ding the later presi­dent of Chile, Michelle Bache­let. The events in Chile deepe­ned the soli­da­rity move­ment in the DDR. Imme­dia­tely after the coup, people gathe­red spon­ta­neously on the streets of Berlin and expres­sed their support for the Unidad Popu­lar. The Soli­da­rity Commit­tee of the DDR set up the Chile Centre in Berlin, which coor­di­na­ted fund­rai­sing and aid for almost 2,000 Chilean immi­grants. Inter­na­tio­nal soli­da­rity campaigns were laun­ched, inclu­ding one devo­ted to the release of Luis Corvalán, the gene­ral secre­tary of the Commu­nist Party of Chile. The Chilean delegation’s visit to the World Festi­val earlier that year had conso­li­da­ted the soli­da­rity move­ment, which would prove key in the years follo­wing the 1973 coup. As Marín told the enthu­si­a­stic youth who recei­ved her at the festi­val: “We have come to Berlin with great expec­ta­ti­ons. (…) The festi­val will further streng­then our common world­wide struggle against imperialism.”

USA: “The other America”

The US dele­ga­tion to the X. World Festi­val consis­ted of almost 300 youths. It was led by Angela Davis, who was a fami­liar face inter­na­tio­nally and to the youths in the GDR. Only one year prior had she been released from prison in a highly poli­ti­ci­zed trial entren­ched in anti-commu­nism and racism. The socia­list states had played a key role in the campaign to set Davis free, inclu­ding the GDR’s campaign in which East German school child­ren sent one million roses to the impri­so­ned Davis in the form of postcards.

The dele­ga­tion led by Davis repre­sen­ted “the other America”, as it was refer­red to in the GDR: the working class, the Black and Indi­ge­nous libe­ra­tion move­ments, the anti-war groups, and other anti-impe­ria­list poli­ti­cal forces. It included eleven members of the Ameri­can Indian Move­ment (AIM), whose occu­pa­tion at Woun­ded Knee had been brut­ally suppres­sed by the state mili­tary, exhi­bi­ting the conti­nuity of the geno­cide against the indi­ge­nous Ameri­cans. There were also Innuit and Asian Ameri­can dele­ga­tes, Hispa­nics, and Afri­can Ameri­cans, who had only recently achie­ved the dese­gre­ga­tion of US schools, despite the harass­ment and even murder of many of their leaders by the FBI, CIA, and racist vigilantes.

Just prior to the X. World Festi­val, Viet­nam had been able to expel US troops from the coun­try. Seve­ral members of the US dele­ga­tion were ex-soldiers, now turned anti-war acti­vists. In Berlin, they met with the figh­ters from the Viet­na­mese dele­ga­tion in a moving frater­nal gathe­ring that ended with a commit­ment to campaign for the release of the 200,000 Viet­na­mese figh­ters still impri­so­ned by the US’s proxy govern­ment in South Viet­nam. As Davis said, “I want to assure my brot­hers and sisters of Viet­nam that we in the US now see the struggle for the release of the 200,000 as the most important task. More than 200 revo­lu­tio­nary and progres­sive orga­ni­sa­ti­ons are invol­ved in this struggle. I myself feel a special respon­si­bi­lity in this cause, as I also owe my free­dom to an inter­na­tio­nal mass protest.”

Davis unders­cored the importance of travel­ling abroad to socia­list states with youth from the capi­ta­list West: “I believe that the US dele­ga­tion repres­ents the best part of the youth of the United States. … [Many] had previously been expo­sed to false propa­ganda about the GDR and had also had little cont­act with the socia­list count­ries. They were surpri­sed when they came here, because the reali­ties they saw here had nothing to do with the propa­ganda they had been expo­sed to for so long.”

Film still from a DDR docu­men­tary on the World Festi­val 1973, f.l.t.r.: Valen­tina Teresh­kova, Margot Honecker, Angela Davis

West Germany: A delegation of détente

More than 800 parti­ci­pants from over 40 youth and student orga­ni­sa­ti­ons from the Fede­ral Repu­blic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) took part in the X. World Festi­val in Berlin. Among them were repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of Protes­tant and Catho­lic youth, such as members of the Junge Union, the youth wing of the Chris­tian Demo­cra­tic Union (CDU). The broad compo­si­tion of the West German dele­ga­tion reflec­ted the chan­ged rela­ti­ons and stra­tegy on the part of the FRG towards the GDR.

In 1951, when the third edition of the World Festi­val took place in Berlin, the FRG still relied on repres­sive measu­res to prevent West German youth from parti­ci­pa­ting. The police used force to stop 450 young people from Hamburg on their jour­ney. Werner Tiegel, leader of the youth group “Geschwis­ter Scholl”, was driven into the Elbe River by the police and drow­ned before them. Initi­ally, the so-called “Hall­stein Doctrine” had deter­mi­ned the foreign policy of the FRG. With this doctrine the FRG prescri­bed its refu­sal to reco­g­nise the GDR, insis­ted on its claim to be the sole repre­sen­ta­tive of the German people, and sanc­tioned third count­ries if they estab­lished diplo­ma­tic rela­ti­ons with the GDR. West Germany’s goal was to isolate the GDR internationally.

By the 1970s, the West had adopted a new stra­tegy in an attempt to bring about “change through rappro­che­ment” (Wandel durch Annä­he­rung). With the “Basic Treaty” rati­fied in July 1973, shortly before the X. World Festi­val, the FRG reco­g­nised the GDR under state law (but not under inter­na­tio­nal law). This opened up new inter­na­tio­nal scope for the GDR to conclude trea­ties with other count­ries; in Septem­ber 1973, it joined the UN. The GDR had no illu­si­ons regar­ding the charac­ter of the Western states, as Honecker made clear in 1976: “Peaceful coexis­tence does not equate to class peace between exploi­ters and exploi­ted. Peaceful coexis­tence means neither main­ten­ance of the socio-econo­mic status quo nor ideo­lo­gi­cal coexis­tence.” A certain norma­li­sa­tion of the rela­ti­onship was an important condi­tion of deve­lo­p­ment of the socia­list camp, espe­ci­ally for the GDR. The “peace”, howe­ver, remained decep­tive. Neither West Germany nor the rest of NATO aban­do­ned their posi­tion towards socia­lism. Now, more subtle influence and the deve­lo­p­ment of econo­mic depen­dence were under­mi­ning socia­list society in the East. It is in this context that the parti­ci­pa­tion of such anti-commu­nist forces as the Junge Union in the summer of 1973 should be unders­tood. In their luggage they carried mega­pho­nes and some 20,000 pamphlets in which they agita­ted “to defend human rights, free­dom of travel and a free deve­lo­p­ment of culture”. Their content failed to impress the parti­ci­pants of the World Festi­val; at this moment of the 20th century, their argu­ments appeared weak and hypocritical.


As an audi­ble compro­mise, the poli­ti­cally mixed dele­ga­tion was accom­pa­nied by the folk song “Horch, was kommt von drau­ßen rein” (Listen, what’s coming in from outside) as they ente­red the World Youth Stadium. The socia­list part of the dele­ga­tion, from orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as the Socia­list German Workers’ Youth (SDAJ) or the Marxist Students’ Fede­ra­tion (MSB-Spar­ta­kus), mean­while, parti­ci­pa­ted exten­si­vely in the festi­val programme, taking part in semi­nars where they repor­ted on unem­ploy­ment and poli­ti­cal oppres­sion of West German workers’ youth and discus­sed the dangers of false compro­mi­ses in the policy of détente, and perfor­med a play on the major strikes at the Mannes­mann steel­works in Duis­burg (in 1976, the play was published as a drama­tic cantata).


With the student move­ment of 1968, the idea of socia­lism had gained strong momen­tum among West German youth. This was not the only reason why the West German press pole­micised aggres­si­vely against the World Festi­val and the broad compo­si­tion of the dele­ga­tion in advance and fabri­ca­ted the demise of the inde­pen­dence of the youth orga­ni­sa­ti­ons. From West Berlin, from the roof of the anti-commu­nist Sprin­ger publi­shing house, the parti­ci­pants of the World Festi­val were even to be trea­ted to a concert by a beat band, which was to present the advan­ta­ges of western free­dom. The socia­list section of the dele­ga­tion, on the other hand, concluded their visit to Berlin with the follo­wing statement:

“We leave the GDR on the 28th anni­ver­sary of the drop­ping of the atomic bomb on Hiro­shima. The expe­ri­ence of the festi­val, as well as this date, are an obli­ga­tion for us not to slacken in our stri­ving for secu­red peace, world­wide disar­ma­ment, and Euro­pean security.”

Young people from West Germany on their way to the Stadium of World Youth on the opening day of the festi­val — Indus­trie­sa­lon Schö­ne­weide. (2023–05-02). KS-7-NB_0891-02‑G: X. Welt­fest­spiele der Jugend und Studen­ten in Ostber­lin 1973, Bild 2‑G, SW-Foto, 28.07.1973 © Kurt Schwarz.

Conclusion: Then as now

While the US govern­ment inves­ted 13 million US dollars in the over­throw of Allende and, under the auspi­ces of the CIA and high-ranking mili­tary offi­cers, prepared the coup in Chile toge­ther with the Chilean olig­ar­chy and reac­tion­ary mili­tary, the repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the new and legi­ti­mate Chile expe­ri­en­ced soli­da­rity with the struggle of the Unidad Popu­lar at the World Festi­val. While West Germany supplied its NATO part­ner Portu­gal with weapons for its bloody war against the libe­ra­tion move­ments, those against whom these weapons were direc­ted – figh­ters from Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozam­bi­que – came toge­ther in East Germany. While the USA was killing three million Viet­na­mese in a devas­ta­ting war, using almost 400,000 tons of napalm and a highly armed puppet govern­ment in South Viet­nam, the progres­sive forces of the other America were recon­ci­ling and uniting with the repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of North and South Viet­nam in a common struggle against war and imperialism.

Five years later, when Cuba was hosting the XI. World Festi­val, Mozam­bi­que and Angola had gained inde­pen­dence in the course of the Carna­tion Revo­lu­tion in Portu­gal. The victo­rious people of Viet­nam were rebuil­ding their coun­try. In Chile, howe­ver, the Pino­chet dicta­tor­ship was in its fifth year. Victo­ries and defeats alike bring new chal­lenges, strug­gles and alli­ances. Again and again, the progres­sive youth of the world convene at the World Festi­val to formu­late tasks at hand, to orga­nise toge­ther and to express inter­na­tio­nal soli­da­rity for peace and progress – then as now.


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