Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The 12th World Festival of Youth and Students. Moscow 1985

The 12th World Festival of Youth and Students. Moscow 1985

In 1985 I was lucky enough to attend the 12th World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow, and I recently came across the diary that my 14 year old self kept during the festival. These festivals started in 1947 and during the Cold War were held in the capital cities of various Eastern bloc countries. With 27,000 participants from 157 countries the 1985 festival was one of the largest ever held. Mikhail Gorbachev had just come to power in Moscow, so it was also being seen as an indication on the direction of travel for Soviet international relations.

There is an interesting contemporary briefing paper online from the US State department, which warns about the festival being a tool for Communist propaganda. They promised that the festival would "seek to submerge one-sided political statements, resolutions and appeals in a carnival-like atmosphere featuring sporting and cultural events." Oh, those dastardly Commies!

In 1985, at the age of fourteen, I was an active member of my local Youth CND branch and went to Moscow as a delegate from Glasgow West Youth CND. In those times a day out to Helensburgh or Dunoon usually entailed a march up to the Faslane Peace Camp or to the gates of the American base at Holy Loch. My parents were involved in trade union politics and in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. For many years our flat in Maryhill had hosted political activists and trade unionists from all around the word if they were, for example, on speaking tours around Scotland. We had Hassan from Iran, Palestinians, Iraqis fighting against Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party in the days when he was still an American ally, Portuguese campaigners against their fascist dictatorship and Chileans fleeing Pinochet among those passing through. Activists from South Africa were our most frequent lodgers taking their turn on the sofa. I cannot see a bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky without thinking back to a former cellmate of Nelson Mandela who often stayed with us. He would look across Maryhill Road at a big billboard advertising the whisky and laugh at his memories it brought from back home, of "Walking Johnnie"  as he knew the character on the bottle.
Badges I was wearing before, during and after my trip to Moscow
The opportunity then for me in 1985 to go to an international festival whose slogan was "For Anti-Imperialist Solidarity, Peace and Friendship" was something to really look forward to.

I dug out my old diary that I kept during the trip when tidy up recently. Although it is only very cursory, for me it has brought back many memories of what was a fascinating experience. There is not much documentary evidence from the festival online, so I have also put here a few photos of some of the bits and pieces that I brought back from the trip. Sadly I think I only had a 24 exposure film in the wee basic camera that I took with me and as a 14 year old, I seem to have been more interested in enjoying myself whilst there, rather than documenting what I was up to.

In this 20 minute Russian film from the festival I can briefly see myself walking into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony 11.50minutes in. The Scottish delegation stood apart from the British delegation (in the film they are walking in front of us, the red track suits of - I think - a Sheffield athletics club, rather than British communists as they were described on the BBC evening news at the time). Wearing a kilt I had borrowed from a scout leader my mum knew, I am carrying a banner with a quote from Robert Burns on it. Marching through the streets to get to the arena we learned the phrase we would chant into the night on many of the days afterwards.
Мир. Дружба. фестиваль. - Peace. Friendship. Festival.

For any students of the Cold War, those interested in the Soviet entertainment of Western teenagers or possibly any of the other 27,000 people attending the festival, I present to you my recollections of Moscow.

Moscow diary of Paul, aged 14 and 3/4

Friday 26th July 1985
"Arrived at Glasgow Airport at 11.45am and checked in. Went to the departure lounge at 1.00pm. The Aeroflot plane left at 2.00pm and we arrived in Moscow at 5.30pm our time, 8.30pm Moscow time. We got through customs by 11pm and met some guides, who were very chatty with me, because I was the only one wearing a kilt I think. It wasn't actually very comfortable wearing it on the plane but they liked it. We got a bus to Hotel Cosmos at midnight and after checking in, etc at the hotel got to my room at 2.00am and got something to eat before going to sleep."
My festival pass (big hair that day) which gave you entry to events
and free entry on public transport and a brochure from our hotel

The Hotel Cosmos had been built in for the 1980 Olympic Games held in Moscow. 
It is a huge hotel and was home to delegates from many nationalities. 
It also had conference rooms, a bowling alley in the basement and each night the foyer filled with musicians and delegates from different countries partying.
It's other claim to fame is as the setting for the finale of Timur Bekmambetov's Russian vampire film 'Day Watch'.
Clip of Hotel Cosmos from the film "Day Watch"

Saturday 27th July 1985
"Stayed in hotel until 2.00pm when we got on the coach to the Moscow Olympic Stadium for the festival opening ceremony. It was exactly like the Olympics with people walking out onto the track behind their flag. I was picked as one of the people to walk around it. At about 4.00pm we moved off. The Scottish group went around together, behind the UK group. We had a piper who is sharing a room with me and is from Motherwell.  We were all arranged on a training track near the stadium and walked through a couple of streets before we marched into the stadium. The stadium was huge. After walking round it we went to our seats in the stand to watch the rest of the ceremony. South Africa marched around behind the ANC flag and got one of the biggest cheers and also the Palestinians came in behind their flag. After the countries had all walked in there was gymnasts, dancers, bands, trumpeters, etc, etc. Gorbachev (who was there) made a speech and the Olympic flame was lit for the festival. At about 9.00pm hundreds of doves were released and the ceremony was over. We then came back to the hotel at 11.00pm and had dinner before going to bed."

Waiting with our Scotland banner to
go into the stadium, beside Lenin
Performers on the field and an ever changing series of images produced by
the well rehearsed crowd at the Olympic Stadium Moscow. 1985

Above are a couple of my photos from the opening ceremony. 
The Scottish delegation were often accompanied by our lovely banner of a dove in front of a saltire (here in front of Lenin). 
So I can say I was at one of Gorbachev's early speeches. Although it was obviously in Russian, we  were provided with a text in English. He had become General Secretary of the Communist Party four months earlier, in March 1985. He soon engaged in a series of reforms of the Soviet state (Perestroika) and attempts at bringing about nuclear disarmament.

The Olympic Stadium, previously known as the Lenin Stadium, had been renovated for the 1980 Olympics and had a capacity of 100,000. 
It is now known as the Luzhniki Stadium and has been re-fitted since with a roof, etc. It will host the 2018 World Cup Final. 

Sunday 28th July 1985
"Got up at 9.00am and got on a coach to the Soviet Club. Each delegation has its own club I think. There we were greeted by singers and dancers, and with bread and salt before going into a concert for us. There were dancers, comedians, gymnastics, singers, a man whistling, etc. After this we came home for lunch. Then we got the buses to an Anti-Fascist conference. There were lots of Soviet people at it. Then we got the buses to the Moscow Dynamo's stadium where another Anti-Fascist rally was on. There were speeches followed by dancers, etc and eventually at 11.00pm fireworks. We then got the buses home, had dinner and went to bed." 

Rally to mark the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Fascism

The Anti-Fascism conference and rally marked the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Fascism in Europe. At the rally a troupe of performers in red, waving the red flag of the Soviet Union, were pursued by the Fascists in black. Finally other performers joined the battle behind the British and American flags and Fascism was chased out of the arena. The conference theme was about the continuing fight against Fascism and it is clear from the later rally that the credit for victory in the second world war was being shared with the Soviet allies too. 
It is hard to comprehend the devastation wrought upon the Soviet Union by the Second World War, within living memory of many in 1985, and the effect it had on the psyche of the country. Almost 2000 towns were wiped off the map during the conflict, along with 70,000 villages. Over 26 million Soviet citizens died during the war, more than half of them civilians.

Central Dynamo Stadium was home to the Moscow Dynamo football team until 2008, when it was demolished and they moved to the Khimki Arena. It was able to accommodate 35,000 spectators.
 I remember being very impressed by the whistling man at the Soviet concert. A rare talent.

Monday 29th July 1985
"After breakfast I went with a few other people to the British Club by Metro. We got lost but eventually found it and there were various meetings on which we went to. We came back after lunch and I went out alone for a walk before coming back and going to sleep. We then got dinner and went to the joint Scottish/Irish ceilidh which was great fun. It went on until 1.00am and carried on later back in the hotel until 4.00am. I met one of the Dunnes strikers at it who had stayed at our house last year and chatted to her."

My father and others at the front of this 1980 torch-lit procession in Glasgow
As I mentioned above, my parents were involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and this was why I met a familiar face in Moscow in 1985.
The Dunnes Store in Henry Street, Dublin, was where 21 year old Mary Manning worked in 1984. Her trade union, Idatu, passed a policy that its members should not handle South African goods, supporting a ban called for by those opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The difference in July 1984 was that Mary took her union's policy and implemented it, refusing to check-out a customer's South African fruit. 
When suspended she and ten of her colleagues went on strike and picketed outside the Dunnes Store, including her 18 year old friend Alma Russell. 

Mary and her colleague had taken their turn on our sofas in Glasgow when she was speaking to trade unionists in Scotland about the issue. 
The strike continued long after I met up with one of our former lodgers in Moscow, ending two years later in 1987. The end came when the Irish government introduced a ban on South African produce. In 1990, after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Dublin and met up with the Dunnes strikers, who had played their part in hastening his release from prison.

Some gifts I have held on to from East German and
Cuban delegates that I met at the festival
Tuesday 30th July 1985
"Slept in till 12.00 when I got lunch. After which I went to the East Germans' club. We were greeted by singers and I was shown around by one of them. She showed me potters, glass makers, wood carvers, etc and gave me many presents. We then came back for dinner. After dinner we got the coach to the British party. It is funny that the Scottish group doesn't seem to be part of the British group really. At night in the hotel the interpreters all come to join the Scottish group. On the way to the British club the interpreter showed us some typical Moscow streets, buildings and some well known ones. The British party was poorly organised but the Reggae band Misty in Roots were really good. Dick Gaughan was singing too and Everything But The Girl are here too. They are staying on the same floor as me at the hotel. A Soviet architect I met drew me a picture and talked about Charles Rennie Mackintosh. After this at 1.00am we carried on the party in the hotel foyer and I met the East Germans again who were good fun."

Sketch for "my friend Pol" by a Russian fan of 
Charles Rennie Mackintosh that I met
Each country had, along with their standard delegates like me, a cultural delegation with them to entertain the rest of the world.
Misty In Roots I remember well, as Two-Tone, ska and reggae was what I was into at the time. Dick Gaughan was there with the Scottish delegation but being a wee bit more mature than the rest of us seemed to make his own agenda, and maybe spotting that I was a good bit younger than most of the others there, often took me under his wing a bit.

 Everything But The Girl weren't really my thing back then, but I recognised them at the hotel as a couple of the really cool and trendy girls back at school were into them. I made a point of remembering to name drop the fact I had seen them over the summer, running hand in hand along the hotel corridor, giggling. EBGT were one of several bands penciled in as "lefties" back in the day, when bands were allowed to show an ability to think as well as perform. 
Tracey Thorn's recollections of their Moscow trip in her excellent memoir "Bedsit Disco Queen" make farcical reading. She does pick out their impromptu turn in the foyer of the Cosmos Hotel as their one performance that did feel like a real gig. 
Another gig she describes, going on stage after a magician pulling doves out of a hat, rings very true of the entertainment laid on during the festival. 
I had forgotten about the daily boiled cabbage on the hotel menu until I read about it in her book. She also mentions the "near-mute translator-guides" but I think they were probably just intimidated by her and Ben. 
My memories of the guides are of them all gravitating towards the Scottish group and my festival events programme is signed with cheery bon mots from about twenty of them we were drinking with on the last night. 
I was 14 years old and having a ball. 
Others, a bit more worldly wise, may have been able to cast a more cynical eye over what they saw.

Wednesday 31st July 1985
"After getting up I went across the road to the Park of Economic Achievements. which was quite interesting. There is a great statute to Yuri Gagarin of a rocket shooting into the sky there. There was a cinema thing which surrounded you on all sides of the room, but the guide I was with didn't like the film much because it was from the point of view of a tank driver. I don't think he liked the USSR being all militaristic in the film. Then after lunch I chose to go to the Anti-Imperialist tribunal which was on in the hotel. There were people from many different countries talking. I had to leave before the end and I went to meet some Soviet lawyers until 9.00pm when I came back and had an early night at 11.30pm."

Some of my maps, tickets and event programmes
 that I have kept since my trip to Moscow

Thursday 1st August 1985
"After breakfast at 8.00am I got the bus to Red Square. We passed the tomb of the unknown soldier before going in to Lenin's mausoleum. After passing through it we walked along past the other graves in the Kremlin wall. Then we got the bus to the British Club for a meeting with the ANC about South Africa. Then after a late lunch I stayed in the hotel and wrote a couple of postcards. At 6.00pm we got on the bus to go to the Bolshoi Ballet to see Romeo and Juliet. We were really high up on one of the balconies and had binoculars on the seat in front which you could use. The interpreter complained that she didn't like modern versions of the ballet where they didn't have the full costumes but I loved being there. Afterwards I was dancing about in the hotel foyer till 3.00am."

Programme from the Bolshoi ballet production of Romeo and Juliet 1985

I know! I got to see the Bolshoi Ballet. They performed Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and I can't remember much about it, other than like the guide I was a bit disappointed that they hadn't appeared on stage in elaborate costumes with grand stage sets. I remember crowds of people outside too, as we came in asking if we had a spare ticket, a very rock and roll atmosphere in the street outside if I remember rightly.

You can see that dancing about in the hotel foyer until the wee small hours was a recurrent theme. Wearing a kilt and hanging about with my roommate and his bagpipes meant that we were always drawing a crowd, even if the East German girls had a bit of a tendency to find endless comedy in trying to shove a hand up your kilt. Stella Artois was (curiously) the beer on sale in the hotel I recall. My diary is a bit hazy on detail here, as I knew full well that I would be coming back and reading it to my parents when I got home. 

Friday 2nd August 1985
"I got up fairly early and after breakfast went with Dick (Gaughan) and four of the interpreters to Gorky Park because there was lots of things on here that they all wanted to see. Here there is various exhibitions and concerts from each of the different Soviet republics. Then we came home for lunch and I went to the Progress Books shop and bought some books. After that I just rested and after dinner went to the Soviet State Circus. It was very good and there were lots of Soviets watching it. The floor of the circus could sink away and then a swimming pool was lifted up and some seals did tricks, then that lifted away and an ice rink came up. There were lots of dancing skaters and then an ice skating bear, which was a bit strange. It went on till 12.00pm. After this we came back to the hotel and partied till 2.00am."

Soviet stamps marking the festival which we were all given,
with the mascot, Katya, featuring prominently

The Russians do like their circuses and this was a memorable circus experience.
 Although, I can still recall the strange sight of that big bear standing on its hind legs, with its feet in a pair of leather ice skates that made its feet look too wee, skating about on the ice.
The ornate mosaic-ed Moscow metro system has made no impression on my diary, despite me using it many times during the week. 

Saturday 3rd August 1985
"After breakfast a dozen Scots and a dozen of the interpreters took a coach out to the Olympic Village for the big match, singing "Flower of Scotland" all the way. The 1985 World Cup final - USSR v Scotland (+1 Englishman). I was in defence. The game was drawn at 3-3 with the Sassenach having to get taken to hospital in the process (I think he broke his ankle). Then we drove to the Lenin Hills to see views of Moscow. There was a wedding group up there too. Following this we got a guided tour of Moscow on the way to the hotel for lunch. In the afternoon I stayed in the hotel until 5.30pm when we went for the bus to the closing ceremony. It had ballet, acrobats, dancers and more fireworks. We all had torches to hold and waved them about once it got dark. The atmosphere was really electric and at the end they put out the Olympic flame. Eventually we got back to the hotel at 1.00am and I went straight to bed."

Closing ceremony, 12th World Festival of Youth and Students, Moscow. 1985

Sunday 4th August 1985
"In the morning I went around the Park of Economic Achievements again with a couple of the guides as it is just across the road from the hotel. We seen various farm animals, rockets, etc and the huge statue of the man and woman holding a hammer and sickle in the air. After that we returned to the hotel at 2.00pm for lunch. After lunch we got the bus to the Kremlin and got a tour of it before posing for photos in Red Square. We then came back to the hotel and made some presentations to the guides from the Scottish group. Then we packed and had a subdued party through the night until 5.30am when we left to get the plane home and said goodbye."

The Scottish delegation at the 12th World Festival of Youth and Students,
in Red Square, wearing our "Scotland at the WFYS" T-shirts

Reading my diary again has brought back some great memories for me of my time in Moscow at the festival. There must be other documentary evidence of this Scottish group being there, as there were photographers with us from the Cranhill Arts Project, part of our delegation who were premiering a film at the festival about Glasgow, which they had made.
("Clyde Film" is available to watch on the National Library of Scotland website here.)

The guides would talk openly about their country I thought, and about their hopes for the new president. I was sure that Oliver Tambo was there from the ANC and that Yasser Arafat was at one of the meetings I was at, but I have made no mention of him in my brief diary entries, so who knows?

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the "carnival-like atmosphere" that the Americans promised us we were going to be exposed to.
Мир. Дружба. фестиваль. - Peace. Friendship. Festival.


  1. Zdravstvyi!
    What a joy to find this! I was verifying the date of the closing ceremonies where Gorbachev announced the USSR would never be the first power to use nuclear weapons and saw the title. I was there along with 4000 journalists. At the time,I worked at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa and they used the Festival as an opportunity to send me over. I also had two weeks of «touristing» after the festival. Though I have hundreds of photos, this film brings back so many wonderful vivid memories. I can't wait to show my grandchildren the blue ball that opened up after three hours of mystery and the constantly changing panorama provided by the children and their colour cards.
    Thank you so very much - Spacibo!!!!! (hope you see this)
    Vankleek Hill Ontario Canada

    1. Glad I could help bring back some memories of your time there.
      Merci Monique.

  2. Tristan Middleton1 May 2017 at 01:49

    Have just been reading your blog about the 12th World Festival. I was part of the YouthCND delegation from London. I was also the Sassenack in the football match - I tore my ligament in my knee and spent the last days with a cast on lying in bed in the Hotel Cosmos - I also remember the singing of Dick Gaughan + having Misty in Roots as part of our delegation. Good to share the memories.

    1. I tried to organise a reunion dinner for those who formed the Maltese delegation but out of 20 only 4 of them turned up. 2 of them are no longer around!

    2. The majority of those whoi formed part of the Maltese delegation in 1985 are now in their 60s and unfortunately 2 of them are no longer around.

  3. Thank you 14 year old you who recorded the magical experience in Moscow 1985! I was part of the Irish Delegate and can remember well our great get-togethers with our Celtic cousins, particularly the Celie where I was one of a few that attempted to put on display of Irish dancing! One of my prized possessions is a swapped Scottish delegate tee-shirt with the small insignia on the front and still have it, safely in attic. I remember trying to teach a Japanese guy how to Reggie dance at the concert you mentioned. Stayed in Cosmos Hotel on 7th Floor.

  4. This is fantastic! I was there with the British delegation and remember the Scottish contingent well. I spent a lot of time with the Greek Cypriots in the delegation. Your diary almost mirrors my experience. I also went to a meeting with the Kampucheans and with the Youth ANC. We spent one evening dancing outside the Cuban Club. I have a photo of someone in a kilt (playing bagpipes I think) in the Cosmos Hotel one evening.

  5. Love this - I was with the U.S. Delegation. I failed miserably at keeping a diary and appreciate your entries. Thanks for the great memories!

  6. I was there with the British delegation too, we flew out of Glasgow. I have all my photos and lots of souvenirs too. I remember being mobbed for autographs in Red Square just because we were wearing the ID cards on lanyards. So many memories from that week. We went to visit refusniks living on the outskirts of Moscow and were followed both ways, very obviously, it was quite surreal. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  7. My wife Anne attended as part of the Scottish delegation (she is second from the right in the second row in your photo of Red Square. She took a bunch of photographs which I will share on facebook. The first few sets are here (your blog post was most helpful in identifying the dates of each event.
    These are from the closing ceremony, the football match and the last day.

    I will post others as I scan them.

    1. Wow! These are brilliant. I had a camera with a 24 exposure spool in it and didn't take many great photos, so I am delighted to see these, and can see myself among the footballing ones. Thank you so much for sharing these.

    2. I have added these images plus the latest set to flickr as the quality is better (you can download the original versions for printing if you want). I will add more over the coming weeks.

  8. I am glad that you like the pictures.
    Here is another set from the opening day ceremony (I think):

    I have a few other sets to go.

  9. I have added another set, I am not sure of the exact date and also some of the locations, if you have any information that would be helpful.

  10. Hi,

    It's so amazing to find someone who was there and is now sharing their memories! I was there too. It was something, wasn't it? I described the festival, some activities around it and the feeling in my novel, Of Our Own Device :)

    Do you mind if I share your post with my friends who studied in the Soviet Union at time ? they'll be thrilled to see this :)


  11. How I wish to return to Moscow!

  12. I was there with the u.s. delegates. I also stayed at the cosmos hotel . I saw swan lake at the boishow . I love it there. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Hallo!!!Me too I was in Moscow with the italian delegation.I still remember the wonderful days spent during the Festival.It was an unfergettable experience!!!


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