History of things: Stories behind souvenirs of the 1957 World Festival of Youth and Students

History of things: Stories behind souvenirs of the 1957 World Festival of Youth and Students
Photo: The Main Archive Department of Moscow
Read on to learn about the arrival in Moscow of tens of thousands young foreigners 61 year ago and how the festival went off.

On 28 July 1957, Moscow hosted the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students. The event was unique in its scale. The Luzhniki Sports Complex, Druzhba Park, Tourist Hotel Complex, Hotel Ukraina and Leninskiye Gory (today’s Vorobyovy Gory) metro station were all built for the festival.

Themed flags and placards lined the city. The festival’s main symbol was Pablo Picasso’s famous drawing Dove of Peace, and the emblem was a flower with five petals symbolising the continents.

The foreign policy of the USSR was characterised by tension: the Cold War had been going on for 10 years. Receiving guests from across the globe, the Soviet Union was to demonstrate openness, friendliness and modernity. That wasn’t a difficult task at the height of the short and bright period of the Khrushchev Thaw, a time of creative freedom, great scientific discoveries, new music, new filmmaking and a new way of life, design, style and fashion.

In all, 34,000 people came to Moscow from 131 countries. They could visit Gorky Park and the Moscow Kremlin free of charge. Foreigners in outlandish jeans and Moscow members of the Komsomol (All-Union Leninist Communist League of Youth) got together, sharing their impressions of the festival’s events and exchanging badges. It was then that badges came into fashion. Muscovites were able to converse with the city’s guests with the help of dictionaries and phrasebooks put out specially for the occasion.

On 30 July, Udarnik Cinema kicked off an international festival featuring films by the then-young directors Vittorio De Sica, Andrzej Wajda, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Louis Malle and more. One of the five gold medals of the festival went to Alexander Zarkhi for his film The Height. On the same day, young Brits gave a concert at Luch Club, and young Finnish artists performed at the Satire Theatre.

The festival offered a very eventful and diverse programme – from seminars by architecture students to young Christians’ gathering at the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius. Concerts would give way to debates, seminars and excursions by both Soviet people and visitors. They argued, shared their experiences and tried to shape the world of tomorrow. The festival made the first breach in the iron curtain.

Many of the photos taken at that time are now part of the Museum of Moscow collection along with souvenirs – kerchiefs and badges made for the festival – and event tickets and programmes.