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Economic and Moral Reasons Combine to Drive European Students to Band


The Following is the first of a series of four articles written especially for the Crimson by Mr. Francis Deak a special student at the Law School. Mr. Deak is vice-president of the Confederation International des Etudiants and is still actively engaged in this work. In the succeeding articles he will describe the organization and activities of the Student Federation.

On December 12, delegates from 250 universities and colleges drew up and accepted the constitution of a National Student Federation. Such organizations have been existing in nearly all the countries of Europe for several years and have shown great activity so that one may well ask why the students of American begin only now to participate in this movement. The answer, to my mind, is very simple: because the situation of students in Europe is essentially different from that in America and because the ground for such students unions was far better prepared.

Two Categories of Student Life

Let us consider for a moment these conditions of European student life. I may divide the courses of the rapid development of the European Student Federation into two important categories: economical and moral.

The financial situation of European students after the War was the worst possible. The irrational economic policy of most countries during the War and the waste of energies for unproductive purposes, resulted in reducing nearly the whole of Europe to a condition which made it a difficult task for even the victorious to re-establish the sound basis of their economic policy. This economic debacle, the deterioration of money, affected the middle class first, especially the government employees, pensioners, rentiers, and through these the children, just those who made up the bulk of European university students. The cost of living increased beyond measure, revenues in spite of the continually increasing number of zeroes decreased in gold value and purchasing power.

Students Went Without Food

It is quite evident that the impoverished state of the middle classes has made them unable to give the necessary support to education. We must further take into consideration the wholly different kind of university life, for, with the exception of England, European universities do not have the college system and hence all the conveniences which usually accrue to such an organization. The want of lodging grew during the War to one of the most difficult questions for students. American students will not easily understand that in 1919-1921 in some countries like Germany. Austria, Poland and Hungary, we had not even food enough for students.

Under these conditions the students in their desire for knowledge and fight for existence took matters into their own hands. Being anxious to continue their studies they looked for help, not only through work which would still allow them to do so, as was the case of many industrious students before the war, but also they sought assistance from a general change of system, that is to say by cooperation between students with the ultimate aim of welding as large a number of students as possible into a self-supporting unit with the most speed.

But there has been a moral motive for the organization as well, and I should like to point out that this moral motive was much the more important of the two; in fact we can realize the whole importance of this student movement if we take into consideration this moral background.

The War built unnatural barriers between the nations of Europe and these barriers have also been sustained since the war. It was as a natural reaction to what we may call this long embargo upon their countries that students began to destroy these artificial barriers. Many thousands of European students went back from the War with the horrible experiences of this cataclysm; was it not natural that they began to think how can we prevent the recurrence of such a disaster? I do not mean that this was the feeling of the masses of the students. In some of the new countries the students have been the most war-like portion of the population, yet nevertheless, there were many students in each country who hoped to bring a new spirit of understanding into the intellectual groups and educate the coming generation in this new spirit. The logical consequence of these ideas was the feeling of responsibility, the feeling that we must go ahead and create not only this new spirit itself, but also institutions and organizations through which this spirit be most extensively spread.

How great a part this moral motive played in the foundation of the European student federations I can demonstrate best by citing the example of the student organizations of the neutral countries. Switzerland, Holland, Denmark and Sweden did not need any organizations for economical reasons. There has been no economical debacle there and if they felt the consequences of the financial disaster in Europe it was not in 1919 or 1920 but later, and certainly not so strongly as Germany or Hungary. Nevertheless in all these neutral countries there grew up a strong centralized student body, and you will agree with me that the reconciliation of the students of the belligerent countries which was carried out chiefly by the student federations of these neutral nations was a fine work, justifying fully the existence of these organizations.

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