Between October 14–22, Canada’s progressive youth will have a unique opportunity to gather in Sochi, Russia, for the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students. They will gather along with tens of thousands of progressive youth from across the world, united under the slogan “for peace, solidarity and social justice, we fight against imperialism – honouring our past, we build the future!”
The WFYS is the biggest youth anti-imperialist forum, with a history going back to 1947. Its first edition was held in Prague, a highly symbolic place, where on November 17, 1939, nine university students were assassinated and 1200 anti-fascist students were sent to concentration camps by the nazi occupation forces. Organized mainly by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the former International Union of Students, this first festival launched a strong movement aimed to unite the youth of the world on the basis of the struggle and mobilisation for peace and against imperialism.
In its 70 years history, the Festival movement has been a key player in bringing awareness to the youth and student movement across the world on the need to mobilise in the anti-colonial struggle. In fact, Festivals were the occasion for youth from African, Asian or other colonies in the 1950s to be recognised as representatives of their countries rather than ‘their’ metropolis, allowing them to meet with young activists of the anti-colonial movements who eventually became leaders of the newly independent states of Viet-Nam, Algeria, Angola, etc.
The World Festival of Youth and Students also has a proud history of defending civil and democratic rights, whether it be in the US – for instance, in 1973, Angela Davis participated to the Festival in Berlin – or in South Africa where the ANC Youth League always provided a high participation.
After the counter-revolution in the USSR and in the Eastern Bloc, the Festival movement suffered a crisis, and so did the anti-imperialist movement in general. However, in 1997, with support from Socialist Cuba (even with the personal help of Fidel), Cuban Youth stepped up and organised the 14th Festival in Havana, in a difficult period characterised by the dogma of the ‘End of History’ and by the brutal dismantling of Yugoslavia, the only country consequently resisting the European Union’s ‘Drang nach Osten’.
Two years after the Festival in Havana, NATO was bombing Yugoslavia, but this same year, Hugo Chávez overthrew the pro-US government of Venezuela and engaged his country into a socialistic project of development, showing that another path is possible in Latin America. Eventually, Venezuela’s example paved the way to the election of progressive governments in Latin America. This all shows that the Cuban youth were right, despite the difficulties of the Special Period, to mobilise efforts to revitalise the Festival movement.
The rise of these new anti-imperialist forces paved the way for a new future to the WFYS. Since 1997, four editions of the Festival were organized in Algeria, Venezuela, South Africa and Ecuador. All of these mobilized between 5,000 and 10,000 young anti-imperialist and progressive activists, who clearly stood against NATO-US imperialism, for peace and social justice, but also in solidarity with all the people struggling against imperialism and colonialism such as Western Sahara, Palestine and Cuba. The most recent 18th Festival, organized in Quito in December 2013, was the occasion for the youth of the world to see the Citizen’s Revolution and honour the legacies of Kwame Nkrumah and Hugo Chávez Fías.
This year’s edition will take place in an international context where imperialism’s aggressiveness in search of new markets, new access to resources and cheap workforce to fulfill its never-ending appetite, is leading the world to the verge of a globalised war, to the destruction of our environment and to the rise of misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism and the ultra-right as it dangerously plays with fascism as a foil to safeguard its interests. As a result, attacks on the youth are reaching a point never seen since 1945.
As mentioned in the Pan-Canadian Call for Participation in the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, approved by the Central Committee of the YCL-LJC last March, “Globally, the current system offers lives of poverty, precarious employment, unemployment, migration, criminalization, imperialist war and little access to education.”
The youth, however, are resisting. Here, against tuition fees, for fair wages, for sustainable development, for full gendered equality, against racism and islamophobia, for national equality and for peace. In Syria, the youth fight to live in a sovereign country and to stop a war that has forced millions to flee the country. In Palestine, the youth is struggling against Israeli apartheid and colonization. In Cuba, the youth fights to maintain the gains obtained through the socialist revolution and resist the criminal blockade imposed by the US for over half a century. In Greece, the youth resist the successive memoranda imposed by the Syriza-ANEL government. In India, the youth are at the forefront of the actions against the fascistic Modi government, as illustrated by the student actions at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
This is the youth that will participate in the WFYS. To them, Canada’s youth will be bringing a strong message of solidarity, showing that Justin Trudeau and his pro-corporate government does not speak on our behalf. This message will be more than just words. As mentioned in the Call for Participation to the Festival, we will “bring our struggles against imperialism at home to those struggling around the world” as we believe that the youth’s struggle experience in Canada is an important contribution to the strengthening of the anti-imperialist character of the Festival.
This year’s edition will also be special because the programme of the Festival will count a celebration of the Great October Revolution as one of its main items. This will be the occasion to reiterate the importance of this event, which literally changed the world, and to show that the October Revolution remains an example for tens of thousands of young activists from across the world.
The Festival will also be the occasion to honour the commitment of three anti-imperialist and freedom fighter who continue to inspire millions of youth in their struggle: Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara and Mohammed Abdelaziz. Fidel and Che led the Cuban Socialist Revolution and liberated this Caribbean island from US domination. Their internationalist commitment them both figures for the youth of the world. A commemoration of the 50 years since Che’s assassination will also be part of the programme. Mohammed Abdelaziz, who passed away a year ago, is the historic leader of the POLISARIO front and of the Government of Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony. As such, he led the resistance of the Sahrawi people against Moroccan occupation for over 40 years.
As a member organization of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, the main political force behind this Festival, the YCL-LJC Canada is currently constituting and organising a strong and diverse Pan-Canadian delegation to which “all young people struggling for a better world of peace, solidarity and social justice” are welcome to join. To this date, the mobilization to the 19th WFYS has been endorsed by organizations such as the Communist Party of Canada, the Canadian Network on Cuba and the Canadian Peace Congress.
Young communists and allies will take this summer’s opportunity to organize fundraising and promotional activities to popularize the Festival movement and raise awareness of the dangers of war and the crimes of imperialism, and about the need to organize, unite and fight against this main enemy of the peoples and of the youth.