Soviet Effort to Win Neutral Students Hits Snag as Africans Protest Rules
Bulgarian Student Riots: I
In recent years the Soviet Union has been making a major effort to win friends among the students of the developing nations. Many of these young people will soon assume positions of influence in the social and political life of their countries. And it would not hurt, from Moscow's point of view, if they admired the Soviet regime and owed a debt of gratitude for past favors.
Russia's most massive projects in terms of public display and expense are the periodic World Youth Festivals and conferences of the International Union of Students (IUS). The most effective proselytizing device, however, has been the liberal dispensation of scholarships for study in Moscow, Prague, or other Eastern European cities.
Earlier this weak African students demonstrated in the street of Sofia, Bulgaria, after being prevented from forming their own student organization. The importance of the incident could, and most likely has been overemphasized by the Western press, just as the so-called riots at the Helsinki Youth Festival were totally distorted by non-objective reporting.
However, talks with African students at the Helsinki Festival who had studied in Eastern Europe, the general reaction of "neutral" delegates to the Festival, and several incidents like the Sofia outbreak would indicate that the Soviet Union is running into a great deal of trouble in its attempt to win over the youth of the new nations of Africa and Asia.
It would be wrong to assume that all, or even a large majority of foreign students studying in Eastern Europe are dissatisfied. Nor does the students' disaffection for "life under Communism" imply an increase in pro-Western sentiment.
There are two reasons for the students' unrest in Bulgaria. The principal reason, an it was in Helsinki, is most likely a rude realization that the basic aim of the Soviets' benevolence is proselytism.
A number of delegates from "neutral" countries came to Helsinki expecting to find a free forum for the exchange of differing political beliefs. Instead, they found, in the words of a Nigerian student, meetings dominated by "one-sided propaganda and invective."
The same Nigerian, former president of the Afro-Asian student Union at Moscow University, told a press conference at the Festival that many foreign students in Russia were disillusioned by the suppression of free speech in the universities. The African students in Sofia evidently have had a similar reaction.
A second major reason for the Bulgarian demonstrations was reported to be dissatisfaction with living conditions, food, and other facilities.
As in the past, it would seem the Soviet campaign is breaking down because of lack of funds. For instance, at Helsinki a number of Africans were sent to the Festival by Russia with only nonconvertible srubles as spending money, and many were forced to live in crowded quarters miles away from the center of the city